Owsley Stanley (aka, Bear)

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Augustus Owsley Stanley, III

Death: Died
Cause of death: automobile accident
Immediate Family:

Son of Augustus Owsley Stanley, II and Lelle Belle Stanley

Managed by: Private User
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About Owsley Stanley (aka, Bear)


Owsley Stanley (born Augustus Owsley Stanley III, January 19, 1935 – March 13, 2011) also known as Bear, was an essential and transitional personality in the development of the San Francisco Bay counter-culture. Spanning the Beat-era years of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters scenes, he was equally pivotal to the explosion of 1960's Psychedelia culture. As a brilliant and eclectic crafts-person he eventually became best known under the name of 'Owsley'- the paradigmatic LSD "cook" (underground chemist); a magician-like figure. Stanley's inventive spirit was even further known; Under the professional name of Bear he is internationally celebrated an iconic figure (producer, engineer & artist) to psychedelic rock band the Grateful Dead's international fan 'family'-- still honored among subsequent generations of Jam band music fans.

Bear rose to prominence initially as an early road manager for The Grateful Dead, a band he met when Kesey had them come to an Owsley Acid test party. Bear's technical interests stimulated the band's developing interest in electronic, acoustic and mystical properties of sound. By 1972 the band enjoyed a pre-eminent reputation as a touring audiophile experience. As their eminent sound engineer, he frequently recorded live tapes behind his mixing board, and Bear was pivotal in "The Dead" becoming the first performers since Les Paul to custom-develop high-fidelity audio components and sound-systems for performance needs. Soon legendary "Dead tours" had evolved around gigantic "Wall of Sound" stacks of Stanley-designed equipment, a highly innovative feat of audio engineering,. His expert innovations made it possible for Dead fans to enjoy the full sonic range of the concert even beyond the confines of commercial venues.

Stanley-Bear's unique combination of technical ability and aesthetic ambitions helped develop unprecedented demand for Dead performances. His eclectic interests encouraged The Dead to experiment further afield, playing in dramatic and remote locales. "Dead Shows" gained a reputation for being globe-spanning social-caravans with ambitious service economies. Bear's energies were central to founding both Marin County's high-end music-instrument makers Alembic Inc and concert-sound manufacturer Meyer Sound. And among the first businesses he developed to help subsidize the band's beginnings, his work with popular chemistry earned him a truly iconic status.

Stanley was the first private individual to manufacture mass quantities of LSD. And he did it with panache, evidently more skillfully and consistently than anyone has since. Stanley became most famous as 'Owsley', the clever and iconic yet rarely photographed wizard of the difficult neuro-chemical magic behind LSD. Between 1965 and 1967, Stanley produced more than 1.25 million doses of LSD. These quantities provided a crucial catalyst for the wide popularity of the drug, and the consequent emergence of an anti-authoritarian, anti-war counter-culture. From the 'Sunset Strip Riots' in Los Angeles to the Summer of Love in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury (which historian Charles Perry described as "the biggest LSD party in history."), "Owsley" as an ad hoc trademark became associated with inexpensive, generously-portioned LSD of reliable professional quality- and thus for "good trips".

Stanley died in an automobile accident in Australia on March 13, 2011.


Stanley was the scion of a political family from Kentucky. His father was a government attorney; his namesake and grandfather, A. Owsley Stanley, who was a member of the United States Senate after serving as Governor of Kentucky and in the U.S. House of Representatives, campaigned, amongst other issues, against alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s. Another relative, William Owsley, also served as Governor of Kentucky in the mid-19th century.

Early life

He was expelled from the Charlotte Hall Military Academy for bringing alcoholic beverages onto campus, then self-committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. He studied engineering at the University of Virginia before dropping out; in 1956, when Stanley was twenty-one, 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. 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 proceeds to buy 500 grams of lysergic acid monohydrate, the basis for LSD. His first shipment arrived on March 30, 1965. He produced 300,000 capsules[citation needed] (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 point 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.

Involvement with the Grateful Dead

Stanley met the members of the Grateful Dead during the acid tests in 1966 and began working with them as their first soundman and helped finance them. Along with his close friend Bob Thomas, he designed the Lightning Bolt Skull Logo, often referred to by fans as "Steal Your Face", "Stealie" or SYF (after the name of the 1976 Grateful Dead album 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."[14] 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 went off and 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 1: 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, painted by Thomas as an inside reference to Stanley; dubbed "Bear" as a young teen when he sprouted body hair before the rest of his friends, he had studied ballet in his early 20s and displayed a distinctive style of dancing while tripping on LSD at shows—becoming what his friends called "The Dancing Bear".

During his time as the sound engineer for the Grateful Dead, he started what became a 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 miking, and his tapes are widely touted as being 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 Stanley's LSD), and many others. While many Stanley recordings have been released, many more remain unissued.

Richmond LSD lab

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, and he, Scully, and Melissa Cargill (Stanley's girlfriend who was a skilled chemist introduced to Stanley by a former girlfriend, Susan Cowper) set up a lab in the basement. The Point Richmond lab turned out more than 300,000 tablets (270 micrograms each) of LSD they dubbed "White Lightning". LSD became illegal in California on October 6, 1966, and Scully wanted to set up a new lab in Denver, Colorado.

Scully set up the new lab 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. However, Stanley and Scully did not produce the psychedelic DOM, better known under its street name STP.

Legal trouble

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 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. Later, he would work as a broadcast television engineer.

On January 31, 1970 3:00am, 19 members of the Grateful Dead and crew were busted at a French Quarter hotel after returning from a concert at "The Warehouse" in New Orleans, Louisiana for a combination of drugs. According to the Rolling Stones magazine No. 53, March 7, 1970 issue. "Everybody in the band, except Pigpen and Tom Constanten, was included in the bust, along with several members of the their retinue and some local people. An added bonus for the New Orleans heat was a man listed as Owsley Stanley, 35, of Alexandria, Virginia, a technician for the band, booked with illegal possession of narcotics, dangerous non-narcotics, LSD, and barbiturates. "King of Acid Arrested," the local press bubbled." Apparently another west-coast base rock band, Jefferson Airplane was busted 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.

Post-Grateful Dead career

A naturalized Australian citizen since 1996, Stanley and his wife Sheilah lived in the bush of Far Northern Tropical Queensland where he worked to create sculpture, much of it wearable art.

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.

Diet and health

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. 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, 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.


Stanley died after an automobile accident in Australia on Saturday, March 12, 2011, not Sunday, March 13, as reported in most publications (a widely propagated error stemming from the intial 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 survived by his wife Sheila, four children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Cultural references

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."

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.").

In "Mirkwood, A Novel About JRR Tolkien" [Steve Hillard, 2011], a fictional character named “Osley” is modeled loosely after Owsley 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.

The Steely Dan song "Kid Charlemagne" from the 1976 album The Royal Scam was loosely inspired by Stanley.

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

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Owsley Stanley (aka, Bear)'s Timeline

January 19, 1935
March 13, 2011
Age 76