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article imageJohnny Appleseed of acid Owsley Stanley dead at 76

By Ken Wightman     Mar 16, 2011 in Lifestyle
Owsley Stanley is dead. He was 76. Many years ago the '60s' icon of acid escaped to the distant Australian outback, but he could not escape his past. Owsley was never forgotten but then he was a hard man to forget. He left searing flashbacks in his wake.
You see, Owsley, I never heard him referred to by any other name, was the man behind Owsley acid. Among his creations were White Lightning, Monterey Purple and Blue Cheer. His LSD was the gold standard against which all other acid was measured.
One edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun “Owsley” as “an extremely potent, high-quality type of LSD.” The King of Acid counted among his satisfied customers the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Ken Kesey and others from the psychedelic ’60s.
I first encountered Owsley acid in art school in Detroit. My grandfather was a pharmacist and so I grew up with a healthy respect for drugs. I was very suspicious of street chemicals. My friends dropped acid and I dropped them off at home. I was a '60s designated driver — unless the drug being abused was alcohol.
I recall a fellow in art school, he looked like Flo from the Turtles, and one day this fellow popped the school pusher's entire stash of acid. He dropped more than a dozen hits and in less than an hour was removed from school by ambulance. He'll be just fine everyone said with quiet confidence, "He dropped Owsley acid."
Owsley's product was said to be pure, like the original stuff produced by the Sandoz Pharmaceutical company.
The New York Times quotes a rare interview Owsley gave the San Francisco Chronicle in which he said he had set out only to make a product he knew he could take, because its ingredients were known. “And my friends all wanted to know what they were taking, too.”
In a short time the California-based chemist's friends expanded to include folk like the drug-taking students at the Detroit art school. It is reported that Owsley may have produced up to 5 million hits of his famous acid before being arrested and eventually jailed.
My friend survived his adventure. After a dozen hours or so he came down, tuckered but no worse for wear, as they say. No one was surprised except for his parents. They were sure he had survived a near death drug induced experience. They forced him to cut his hair, dump his bell bottoms and throw out all his tie-dyed attire. He looked every inch a frat boy when he returned to school.
There was a reason his friends had not been concerned. They believed Owsley acid was pure, unadulterated. It was the good stuff, the real deal, it made for good trips. Pure acid was thought to be harmless among its devotees. It was impossible to O.D. on Owsley, they said. It was the safe way to open one's mind, to expand one's consciousness.
A few years later the Consumers Union Report Licit & Illicit Drugs backed them up, saying on page 334:
"The lethal dose of LSD is not known; no human fatalities have been recorded." Papers like the Berkeley Barb in California and their counterculture health columnist Dr. HIPpocrates reported on the safety of LSD but what is now called the Main Stream Media reported otherwise. Only recently has it became possible for medical researchers to renew their interest in the powerful hallucinogenic.
The Guardian in the U.K. reported that psychedelic drugs are returning as potential treatments for mental illness, holding promise as treatments for depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia and not just closed minds.
About his incarceration Owsley told the San Francisco Chronicle:
"I wound up doing time for something I should have been rewarded for. What I did was a community service, the way I look at it. I was punished for political reasons. Absolutely meaningless. Was I a criminal? No. I was a good member of society – only my society and the one making the laws are different."
Jeff Weiss of the Los Angeles Times put it best when he wrote:
"The world has lost another one who was too weird to live and too rare to die."
Much of the world knows Owsley Stanley as simply the chemist behind the famous acid bearing his name, but he had other pursuits. Without knowing, and without taking any drugs, Owsley's genius has touched more folk through his influence on music than through his production of illicit acid.
In the mid '60s, Owsley — nicknamed Bear because of his furry, Teddy bear body — linked up with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, whose psychedelic adventures went on to be immortalized by Tom Wolfe in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Reportedly it was Owsley acid powering the pranksters. Through Kesey, Owsley met the Grateful Dead.
According to The New York Times, at various times, he served as the Grateful Dead’s financial backer, pharmaceutical supplier and sound engineer. He was responsible for pioneering the practice of taping their shows -- a practice that has preserved practically the entire Grateful Dead catalog.
It was Owsley's high-fidelity sound system that made the Dead’s towering "wall of sound" possible.
Stanley taped early performances of many important San Francisco area acts. He captured Big Brother & the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Santana among others.
Music history from the '60s era and the psychedelic sound owe much to the genius of Augustus Owsley Stanley III.
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