Owsley and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead
If you were looking for some acid in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in the Summer of Love, chances are you only wanted one brand: Owsley. Owsley Stanley was a key figure in America’s counter-culture, a talented sound engineer for the Grateful Dead, and the maker of the purest LSD to be found anywhere, especially after it became illegal in 1966.
Owsley was a student at UC Berkeley when he first tried the drug in 1963. With a chemistry-student girlfriend, he then figured out how to make LSD himself, and was doing pretty well selling it until he was busted in 1965 for having a lab in a bathroom in his off-campus house. But the police ended up freeing him and returning his equipment, because they were looking for meth, and acid was still legal at the time.
He moved to Los Angeles and used his savings to buy enough chemicals to make 300 thousand doses of LSD, and returned to San Francisco just in time for the explosion of youthful energy that culminated in the Summer of Love in 1967.Owsley was friends with and supplied acid to all the top groups of the time, the Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. One group, Blue Cheer, even named their band after the nickname for Owsley’s LSD. Owsley ran the sound and built sound systems for the Grateful Dead, and also financed the band in their early years. He also famously contributed the acid consumed at the parties thrown by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and was featured in a Tom Wolfe book about the Merry Pranksters called The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
In 1967, Owsley was finally arrested for the now-illegal drug, spent two years in prison, and then returned to work with the Dead as a sound engineer.
In his later years, Owsley moved to Australia, believing it was the safest place to avoid a new ice age. He stayed true to his hippie roots, naming two of his children Starfinder and Redbird. And he reportedly ate an all-meat diet, claiming that all vegetables are toxic.
Owsley Stanley died last Sunday as a result of a car crash in a storm near his home in Queensland, Australia. He was 76.
The late 60’s were a crazy, magical time in our lives. But our long hair has turned to bald heads, our ripped abs to pot bellies, our drug binges to a glass of nice Chablis before bed. Time is flowing faster every year. And now the “Acid King” is gone.
Owsley Stanley, gone on the ultimate psychedelic trip.