R.I.P. "Acid King" Owsley Stanley

Owsley Stanley died at age 76 this past weekend, following an automobile accident in Australia, where he has lived with his wife for the past 30 years. Revered in the 1960's for the quality of his acid, his name may not be as familiar as Ken Kesey or Timothy Leary, but he was a legend.

Among a legion of youthful seekers, his name was synonymous with the ultimate high as a copious producer of what Rolling Stone once called "the best LSD in the world … the genuine Owsley." He reputedly made more than a million doses of the drug, much of which fueled Kesey's notorious Acid Tests — rollicking parties featuring all manner of psychedelic substances, strobe lights and music. Tom Wolfe immortalized Stanley as the "Acid King" in the counterculture classic "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" (1968).


He was an engineer for the Grateful Dead and so much more. Later in life:

Described by Cutler as a man who held "very firm beliefs about potential disasters," Stanley relocated to Australia because he believed it was the safest place to avoid a new ice age. ...In his later years he was mainly a sculptor and jeweler, and his works were sought by many in the music industry, including the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, Cutler said.

"He was a very sophisticated man," Cutler said, "an amalgam of scientist and engineer, chemist and artist."

Here's something I didn't know:

Born Augustus Owsley Stanley III in Kentucky on Jan. 19, 1935, he was the grandson of a Kentucky governor and son of a naval commander.

(According to the NYT Times, his grandfather was also a congressman and a Senator who was a vocal opponent of prohibition.)

On the first time he took acid:

He got his first taste of LSD in April 1964. "I remember the first time I took acid and walked outside," he told Rolling Stone in 2007, "and the cars were kissing the parking meters."

One of his labs was raided in 1967 and spent two years in a federal prison between 1970 and 1972,after the judge revoked his bond. That's where he learned metalwork and jewelry making.

His wife sustained only minor injuries in the accident:

In addition to his wife, he is survived by sons Pete and Starfinder; daughters Nina and Redbird; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Another good read: The Arts Desk, RIP The Acid King. And the San Francisco Bay Guardian has a podcast with Wavy Gravy on Owsley.

He survived throat cancer in 2004 and a heart attack, which he believed came from eating broccoli and led him to switch to a diet heavy in meat. How sad that a traffic accident took his life. I wonder if otherwise, he wouldn't have lived to be 100.

As Ken Kesey famously said, "You're either on the bus or you're off the bus." Owsley was not only on the bus, but for a long time, its driver. R.I.P. Owlsley.

Just for fun, here's Tina Turner's 1978 version of Acid Queen:

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  • I wonder (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Edger on Wed Mar 16, 2011 at 08:26:34 PM EST
    how many eyes had been opened wide because of him to what philosopher Alan Watts described in the mid sixties this way:

    We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms- Most of us have the sensation that "I myself" is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body--a center which "confronts an "external" world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. "I came into this world." "You must face reality." "The conquest of nature."

    This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not "come into" this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean "waves," the universe "peoples." Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated "egos" inside bags of skin.

    RIP, indeed.

    Having in his life done more good work and having had more powerful effect than many, he now becomes one of the "ancestors" future historians might write about?

    this is from Bill Hicks (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Capt Howdy on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 01:07:57 PM EST
    With this new sobriety he could look back on his experiences objectively, but unlike so many stars he didn't rail on about the hell of drug addiction, instead using his awareness to enlighten. "I've had some killer times on drugs" he would say, promoting their legalization. One of his most inspired routines picked out the irony of the U.S. government losing the so-called 'War On Drugs'. He went on to rail against news coverage which always focused on bad drugs stories, Hicks instead hoping for a different perspective: "Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here's Tom with the weather."

    there is a doc bio coming out about Hicks called American: The Bill Hicks Story that I am looking forward to very much.

    Seventeen years after his death, Bill Hicks has taken a permanent place in the cultural landscape and is widely recognized as one of the greatest American comedians of the modern era. Described as many things - philosopher, social satirist, even preacher - Hicks was ultimately a performer who, for many, changed what comedy could be. He believed that comedy played a vital role in any free and just society, and that the comedian, a free spirit detached from political or corporate agendas, was able to voice what others wouldn't, challenging convention and presenting ideas that would stimulate the minds of the audiences. Hicks had no difficulty making people laugh- but what he really wanted to do was make them think. His life tragically cut short at the age of 32, Hicks' timeless material lives on, revered today by both comedians (many who cite him as an influence) and fans alike. Hicks' remarkable journey is brought to life in the documentary feature AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY.

    Hicks, like Carlin, (none / 0) (#10)
    by Edger on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 09:16:14 PM EST
    is one of the most clear minded people I've ever heard speak....

    Wavy Gravy (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Capt Howdy on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 09:13:18 AM EST
    is in his mid 70s.  
    we are disappearing.  becoming an endangered species.

    to paraphrse Rumi (none / 0) (#8)
    by jondee on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 03:53:28 PM EST
    Dont grieve, everything you think has been lost comes around in a new form..

    I always loved what Dylan (none / 0) (#9)
    by jondee on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 04:01:24 PM EST
    said at one point in an interview: "groovy people don't need acid, and the ones who do need it will never take it.."

    You take dat one to da bank, imo..


    Acid Queen (none / 0) (#1)
    by hilts on Wed Mar 16, 2011 at 08:21:07 PM EST
    Tina Turner's version of The Acid Queen is moderately passable, but the Who's recording of this song is amazing and timeless just like the rest of the songs on Tommy.

    Thanks very much for posting the Who video and RIP to Owsley Stanley.

    "Tommy" is timeless (none / 0) (#3)
    by sj on Wed Mar 16, 2011 at 10:16:23 PM EST
    I agree, but so is Tina.  Love them both.  Can't compare them.

    What a fascinating bio.  Incredible to me that I'd never heard of him.


    Even crazier then Owsley (none / 0) (#5)
    by SOS on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 08:06:45 AM EST
    are the current tech rapturists who believe that someday they will be able to upload themselves into a computer.

    Google The Singularity