Owsley Stanley

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Owsley Stanley
Owsley Stanley (1967).jpg
Stanley in 1967 at his arraignment
Born Augustus Owsley Stanley III
(1935-01-19)January 19, 1935
Kentucky, United States
Died March 12, 2011(2011-03-12) (aged 76)
Queensland, Australia
Cause of death Car accident
Other names Bear
Ethnicity White
Citizenship Naturalised Australian
Known for LSD, Wall of Sound
Relatives Augustus O. Stanley

Owsley Stanley (born Augustus Owsley Stanley III, January 19, 1935 – March 12, 2011) also known as Bear, was a key figure in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1960s, and played a pivotal role in the counterculture of the 1960s. He was best known simply as "Owsley" – the LSD "cook" (underground chemist). Under the professional name of "Bear", he worked with the psychedelic rock band the Grateful Dead's international fan "family".

Stanley was an early soundman for the Grateful Dead, a band he met when Ken Kesey invited them to an Acid Test party. As their sound engineer, Stanley frequently recorded live tapes behind his mixing board.

Stanley was the first private individual to manufacture mass quantities of LSD.[1][2][3] By his own account, between 1965 and 1967, Stanley produced less than 500 grams of LSD, amounting to a little over a million doses at the time.[4]

Stanley died in a car accident in Australia on March 12, 2011.[3][5][6]


Stanley was the scion of a political family from Kentucky. His father was a government attorney. His grandfather, A. Owsley Stanley, a member of the United States Senate after serving as Governor of Kentucky and in the U.S. House of Representatives, campaigned against Prohibition in the 1920s.


Early life[edit]

At an early age, he self-committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C.[7] He studied engineering at the University of Virginia before dropping out.[8] In 1956, when Stanley was 21, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served for eighteen months before being discharged in 1958. Later, inspired by a 1958 performance of the Bolshoi Ballet, he began studying ballet in Los Angeles, supporting himself for a time as a professional dancer.[9] In 1963, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, where he became involved in the psychoactive drug scene. He dropped out after a semester, took a technical job at KGO-TV, and began producing LSD in a small lab located in the bathroom of a house near campus. His makeshift laboratory was raided by police on February 21, 1965. He beat the charges and successfully sued for the return of his equipment. The police were looking for methamphetamine but found only LSD, which was not illegal at the time.

Stanley moved to Los Angeles to pursue the production of LSD. He used his Berkeley lab to buy 500 grams of lysergic acid monohydrate, the basis for LSD. His first shipment arrived on March 30, 1965. He produced 300,000 hits (270 micrograms each) of LSD by May 1965 and then returned to the Bay Area.

In September 1965, Stanley became the primary LSD supplier to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. By this time, Sandoz LSD was hard to come by, and "Owsley Acid" had become the new standard. He was featured (most prominently his freak-out at the Muir Beach Acid Test in November 1965) in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a book detailing the history of Kesey and the Merry Pranksters by Tom Wolfe. Stanley attended the Watts Acid Test on February 12, 1966, with his new apprentice Tim Scully, and provided the LSD.

Stanley also provided LSD to the Beatles during filming of Magical Mystery Tour.[10]

Involvement with the Grateful Dead[edit]

Stanley met the members of the Grateful Dead during 1965,[11] financing them and working with them as their first soundman.[12] Along with his close friend Bob Thomas, he designed the Lightning Bolt Skull Logo,[13] often referred to by fans as "Steal Your Face", "Stealie" or SYF (after the name of the 1976 Grateful Dead album Steal Your Face featuring only the lightning bolt skull on the cover, although the symbol predates the namesake album by eight years). The 13-point lightning bolt was derived from a stencil Stanley created to spray-paint on the Grateful Dead's equipment boxes (he wanted an easily identifiable mark to help the crew find the Dead's equipment in the jumble of multiple bands' identical black equipment boxes at festivals). The lightning bolt design came to him after seeing a similar design on a roadside advertisement: "One day in the rain, I looked out the side and saw a sign along the freeway which was a circle with a white bar across it. The top of the circle was orange, and the bottom blue. I couldn't read the name of the firm, and so was just looking at the shape. A thought occurred to me: if the orange were red and the bar across were a lightning bolt cutting across at an angle, then we would have a very nice, unique and highly identifiable mark to put on the equipment."[13] Stanley suggested to Thomas that the words "Grateful Dead" might be drawn beneath the red, white and blue circled bolt in such a way that it looked like a skull. Thomas returned with the now familiar Grateful Dead icon, having discarded the hidden-word concept. The lightning-adorned skull logo made its first appearance on the 1973 release, History of the Grateful Dead, Volume One (Bear's Choice), an album put together by Stanley as his tribute to his dear friend, the recently deceased Grateful Dead co-founder Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, from recordings Stanley had made in 1970. The iconic "Dancing Bears" also first appeared on the reverse cover of this album, created by Thomas.[14]

During his time as the sound engineer for the Grateful Dead, Stanley started what became the long-term practice of recording the Dead while they rehearsed and performed. His initial motivation for creating what he dubs his "sonic journal" was to improve his ability to mix the sound, but the fortuitous result was an extensive trove of recordings from the heyday of the San Francisco concert/dance scene in the mid-sixties. Focusing on quality and clarity of sound, he favored simplicity in his mixing, and his tapes are widely touted as unrivaled live recordings. In addition to his large archive of Dead performances, Stanley made numerous live recordings of other leading 1960s and 1970s artists appearing in San Francisco, including Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, early Jefferson Starship, Old and in the Way, Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Taj Mahal, Santana, Miles Davis, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Blue Cheer (a band that took its name from the nickname of a batch of Stanley's LSD)[5] and many others. While many Stanley recordings have been released, many more remain unissued.

Richmond LSD lab[edit]

Stanley and Scully built electronic equipment for the Grateful Dead until late spring 1966. At this point, Stanley rented a house in Point Richmond, California. He, Scully, and Melissa Cargill (Stanley's girlfriend and a skilled chemist, introduced to Stanley by Susan Cowper, a former girlfriend) set up a lab in the basement. The Point Richmond lab turned out more than 300,000 tabs (270 micrograms each) of LSD dubbed "White Lightning". LSD became illegal in California on October 6, 1966. Scully therefore decided to set up a new lab in Denver, Colorado. The new lab was set up in the basement of a house across the street from the Denver Zoo in early 1967. Scully made the LSD in the Denver lab while Stanley tableted the product in Orinda, California. Here, the psychedelic DOM, better known under its street name STP, was also produced.

Legal trouble[edit]

STP was distributed in the summer of 1967 in 20 mg tablets and quickly acquired a bad reputation. Stanley and Scully made trial batches of 10 mg tablets and then STP mixed with LSD in a few hundred yellow tablets but soon ceased production of STP. Stanley and Scully produced about 196 grams of LSD in 1967, but 96 grams of this was confiscated by the authorities.

In late 1967, Stanley's La Espiral, Orinda lab was raided by police; he was found in possession of 350,000 doses of LSD and 1,500 doses of STP. His defense was that the illegal substances were for personal use, but he was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison. The same year, Stanley officially shortened his name to "Owsley Stanley". After he was released from prison, Stanley went on to do more sound work for the Grateful Dead and would later work as a broadcast television engineer.

On January 31, 1970, at 3:00 am, 19 members of the Grateful Dead and crew were arrested for possession of a variety of drugs at a French Quarter hotel after returning from a concert at "The Warehouse" in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to Rolling Stone,[15] everybody in the band, except Pigpen and Tom Constanten, was included in the bust, along with several members of their retinue, including Stanley, and some locals. Stanley was charged with illegal possession of narcotics, dangerous non-narcotics, LSD, and barbiturates. Apparently another West Coast-based rock band, Jefferson Airplane, had been arrested two weeks prior at the same situation. According to an article in the State Times of Baton Rouge, Stanley had identified himself to the police as "The King of Acid" and technician of the band. From this incident, the song "Truckin'" was written by the Grateful Dead that same year.

Stanley was confined to federal prison from 1970 to 1972, after a federal judge intervened by revoking his release from the 1967 case. Stanley took advantage of the opportunity there to learn metalwork and jewelry-making.[3]

Post-Grateful Dead career[edit]

A naturalized Australian citizen since 1996, Stanley lived with his wife Sheilah in the bush of Tropical North Queensland where he worked to create sculpture, much of it wearable art.[1]

Stanley made his first public appearance in decades at the Australian ethnobotanical conference Entheogenesis Australis in 2009, giving three talks over his time in Melbourne.[16]

Diet and health[edit]

Stanley believed that the natural human diet is a totally carnivorous one, thus making it a no-carbohydrate diet, and that all vegetables are toxic.[17] He claimed to have eaten almost nothing but meat, eggs, butter and cheese since 1959 and that he believed his body had not aged as much as the bodies of those who eat a more "normal" diet. He was convinced that insulin, released by the pancreas when carbohydrates are ingested, is the cause of much damage to human tissue and that diabetes mellitus is caused by the ingestion of carbohydrates.

Stanley received radiation therapy in 2004 for throat cancer, which he first attributed to passive exposure to cigarette smoke at concerts,[18] but which he later discovered was almost certainly caused by the infection of his tonsil with HPV. He credited his low carb diet with starving the tumor of glucose, slowing its growth and preventing its spread enough that it could be successfully treated despite its advanced state at diagnosis.[citation needed]


Stanley died after a car accident in Australia on Saturday, March 12, 2011,[3] not Sunday, March 13, as reported in most publications[5][6][7][19][20] (a widely propagated error stemming from the initial family statement, which was written on Sunday, stating he "died yesterday" being released to the press on Monday). The statement released on behalf of Stanley's family said the car crash occurred near his home, on a rural stretch of highway near Mareeba, Queensland. He is survived by his wife Sheilah, four children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

The ashes of Stanley were placed and kept on the soundboard at the Grateful Dead 50th year anniversary shows in Chicago, on July 3-5 2015.

Cultural references[edit]

A newspaper headline identifying Stanley as an "LSD Millionaire" ran in the Los Angeles Times the day before the state of California, on October 6, 1966, criminalized the drug. The headline inspired the Grateful Dead song "Alice D. Millionaire."[11]

Stanley is mentioned by his first name in the song "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, which first appeared on the band's 1968 album We're Only in It for the Money ("I'll go to Frisco, buy a wig and sleep on Owsley's floor.").[21][22][23][24][25][26]

Owsley's association with Ken Kesey and the Grateful dead is described in Tom Wolfe's novel "The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test"

In Mirkwood: A Novel About JRR Tolkien (Steve Hillard, 2011), a fictional character named Osley is modeled loosely after Stanley and is described as a fugitive from the 1960s and the "Henry Ford of Psychedelics."

The song "Owsley" from the Songs for Owsley EP (1996) by the band Spectrum is an obvious reference to Owsley. Midway through the song, the lead singer howls, "Augustus Owsley Stanley, where are you now?!".

In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Santa Claus, they refer to Stanley when Santa sends a mind-altering drug under the door of some children. Stanley is also referred to in The Mole People when the main characters of the movie are served a plate of mushrooms.

The Steely Dan song "Kid Charlemagne", from the 1976 album The Royal Scam, was loosely inspired by Stanley.[27][28][29][30]

Stanley's incarceration is lamented in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as one of the many signs of the death of the 1960s.[31]

Stanley is referred to in the Jefferson Airplane song "Mexico" on the Early Flight album.

Stanley is mentioned by Jimi Hendrix during his BBC sessions, at the top of the guitar solo on "Day Tripper", saying "Oh Owsley, can you hear me now".

Stanley is mentioned in the Justin Warfield song "B Boys On Acid" on the album My Field Trip To Planet 9.


  1. ^ a b Selvin, J. "For the unrepentant patriarch of LSD, long, strange trip winds back to Bay Area" San Francisco Chronicle, July 12, 2007.
  2. ^ Greenfield, Robert (July 12–27, 2007). "Owsley Stanley: The King of LSD". Rolling Stone. 
  3. ^ a b c d Margalit Fox (March 14, 2011). "Owsley Stanley, Artisan of Acid, Is Dead at 76". New York Times. 
  4. ^ Forte, Robert (1999). Timothy Leary: Outside Looking In. Park Street Press. p. 276. ISBN 0892817860. 
  5. ^ a b c "Owsley Stanley obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b "Owsley 'Bear' Stanley Dies in Car Accident", jambands.com, March 13, 2011
  7. ^ a b Brown, Emma (March 15, 2011). "'Bear' Stanley, who made the LSD on which Haight-Ashbury tripped, dies at 76". The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.). Retrieved March 16, 2011. 
  8. ^ Owsley Stanley, counterculture producer of LSD, dies at 76 – KansasCity.com
  9. ^ Owsley Stanley blog posting. 17 March 2006.
  10. ^ Fraser, Andrew (2011-03-14). "Owsley 'Bear' Stanley dies in North Queensland car crash". The Australian. News Limited. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  11. ^ a b Troy, Sandy, Captain Trips: A Biography of Jerry Garcia (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1994). Acid Tests pp. 70–1, 76, 85; LSD Millionaire p. 99.
  12. ^ Pareles, Jon (1995-08-10). "Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead, Icon of 60's Spirit, Dies at 53". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 March 2009. 
  13. ^ a b Lightning Bolt Skull Logo
  14. ^ Marching Bear Story
  15. ^ "New Orleans Cops & the Dead Bust". Rolling Stone (53). March 6, 1970. 
  16. ^ "Entheogenesis Australis" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-03-14. In 2009, around 500 participants were addressed by ... the legendary – but reclusive – Owsley "Bear" Stanley, in his first public appearance in decades. 
  17. ^ Owsley Stanley blog posting. 25 February 2006.
  18. ^ Owsley Stanley blog posting. 2 March 2006.
  19. ^ "Psychedelic icon Owsley Stanley dies in Australia". Thomson Reuters. March 13, 2011.
  20. ^ "Owsley Stanley". The Daily Telegraph. 19 March 2011.
  21. ^ Frank Zappa – Who Needs The Peace Corps? Lyrics
  22. ^ 1960s LSD Figure Owsley Stanley Dies In Crash – Entertainment News Story – WISC Madison
  23. ^ Counterculture figure Owsley Stanley, who provided millions of LSD trips, dies in Australia – 3/14/2011 1:29:48 AM | Newser
  24. ^ R.I.P. OWSLEY – Viceland Today
  25. ^ Jimi Hendrix inspiration and LSD producer Owsley Stanley dies | News | NME.COM
  26. ^ Owsley Stanley Obituary: The Obituary and Death Notice of Owsley Stanley he is also briefly mentioned in Jimi Hendrix cover of the song Day Tripper"Oh, Owsley can you hear me now?" | Legacy.com
  27. ^ "Complete transcript of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker in a BBC-Online Chat, March 4, 2000". BBC. 2000-03-04. Retrieved 2010-05-26. 
  28. ^ Kamiya, Gary (2000-03-14). "Sophisticated skank". Salon. Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  29. ^ Marcus Singletary. "Steely Dan: Kid Charlemagne". Jazz.com. Retrieved 2010-05-26. 
  30. ^ Pershan, C., "Kid Charlemagne: A Close Reading Of Steely Dan's Ode to Haight Street's LSD King", SFist, July 20, 2015.
  31. ^ The great shark hunt: strange tales from a strange time. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Retrieved 2011-04-21. 


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