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Published: 2011/03/13

Owsley "Bear" Stanley Dies in Car Accident

Longtime Grateful Dead confidant Owsley “Bear” Stanley died in a car crash near his home in Australia earlier today. Though his exact age was not known, Stanley was believed to be 75.

Stanley first met the members of the Grateful Dead at an acid test in San Francisco in 1966. He held many roles in the band’s organization over the years, including manager, financier, sound designer and recording engineer. He designed the group’s signature Wall of Sound system and co-designed its iconic lightning bolt/skull logo with artist Bob Thomas. Though Stanley and Thomas originally created the logo in 1969, the insignia first entered the public consciousness when it appeared on the band’s 1973 live album History of the Grateful Dead, Volume 1: Bear’s Choice, a tribute to the recently deceased Grateful Dead keyboardist/vocalist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. The album also popularized another Dead logo inspired by Stanley: the psychedelic dancing bear. The dancing part of the logo’s design is a reference to his brief stint as a professional ballet dancer in the ’50s and members of Stanley’s family coined his Bear part of his nickname when he started growing body hair at a young age.

“The Dead in those days had to play in a lot of festival style shows where the equipment would all wind up at the back of the stage in a muddle,” Stanley explained on his blog. “Since every band used pretty much the same type of gear it all looked alike. We would spend a fair amount of time moving the pieces around so that we could read the name on the boxes. I decided that we needed some sort of marking that we could identify from a distance.”

Born the grandson of a former Kentucky governor, Stanley served 18 months in the United States Air Force before being discharged. He briefly worked as ballet dancer and attended UC Berkeley before turning his attention to the production of LSD. Stanley—who was known for his pure strain of acid—was a chief supplier of Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters and members of the Bay Area music community. He is profiled in Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and, according to reports, produced more than a million doses of LSD at his labs.

“Psychedelics are a gift of nature that brings tribalism to people; they bring an understanding of the ecology of the planet and the interaction of all living things, because that’s one of the first things you become aware of when you take psychedelics—how everything is alive and how everything depends on everything else,” Stanley wrote in his later years. “You go take a look at every indigenous culture that has a respect for its environment — unlike the hierarchical approach of the feudalistic structures that the world is now run by — and you will find that these people use psychedelics of some sort, usually in a regular, ritualized manner.”

Always a colorful figure—who would pour acid into a squirt bottle and spray musicians and fans alike at shows—Stanley helped inspire such songs as Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” the Grateful Dead’s “Alice D. Millionaire,” Jefferson Airplane’s “Bear Melt” and “Mexico,” Frank Zappa’s “Who Needs the Peace Corps?” and even Steely Dan’s ““Kid Charlemagne.” He also made live recordings for Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Flying Buritto Brothers, Quiksilver Messenger Service and many other members of the psychedelic music community.

“He taught me to take myself and my interests out of the picture and work with the subject under consideration so that the best deductions or conclusions are made,” Bob Weir said in a statement today. “I guess this means working from the point of view of the higher self, though that term never came up; it was always just assumed…Most important was the approach he taught me: Always be open and engaging – always critical and questioning, but not negatively so much as playfully.”

“He did phenomenal sound work,” says Relix contributing editor Jeff Tamarkin, who served as the magazine’s editor-in-chief in the ’70s. “I think part of the reason the Dead had such an all-encompassing effect on an audience is because of the pioneering work Owsley did to create live rock sound that was both forceful and crystal clear. You could be sitting in the top row of the balcony at Fillmore East and you’d hear every nuance even when they played acoustically. I think it may be a long time until the extent of his effect on the ’60s generation is truly appreciated.”

Stanley moved to Australia in the early ‘80s and became an Australian citizen in the ‘90s. He survived throat cancer in 1994 and claims to have only eaten meat, eggs, butter and cheese since the 1950s. Stanley rarely made public appearances in his later years.

“The music of the Grateful Dead is an important assistant to the revival of tribality. Because it has to do with the way things are,” he posted on his blog. “It’s not somebody’s idea about the way things might be, or the way things could be or should be. It’s what it is. It’s real music about real things. The whole thing is about a social movement. It’s tribalism. Which is the only social structure that is truly human.”

Comments

There are 83 comments associated with this post

Steve Kyhill March 21, 2011, 21:13:59

Thanks dude for the memories colors, bliss and sounds—love to you

Walter Kine March 23, 2011, 02:41:31

What a ride life is, thanks to the Owl man for making it even more interesting. Sometimes I feel like a stranger.

DISA March 23, 2011, 12:51:52

DISA – I once met a girl named DISA. during
SanFran in the 60’s – thank you all for guiding my light….......

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Bad Boys Bail Bond March 29, 2011, 02:38:57

Thanks for the long strang trip bear…..I’ll see you on the other side brother! Peace, Love , & Happiness

Rolfe March 30, 2011, 22:40:47

Fare you well, my honey,
Fare you well, my only true one.
All the birds that were singing,
Are flown, except you alone. Thanks so much, Bear.

Priscilla March 31, 2011, 02:25:20

feels like a big dark hole has opened up, leaving empty space. only way to fill it is by tribal dancing…know you’re in the promised land now, bear —just like so many times before.

jitBob April 10, 2011, 13:31:27

Through Owsley I was able to see and feel things in a new way that forever changed my outlook on life. The summer of 69 had all the colors of life and Owsley had the spark that ignited them. Although I never met him, I will always feel connected. Rest in peace my brother.

Adam June 20, 2011, 05:45:48

Sleep well, and listening to the river sing the sweet songs that rock your dear sweet soul. Thanks for the trips.

ed from garfield August 21, 2011, 20:47:11

domenic spagnola March 14, 2011, 10:27:05 I met owsley two times. Once in buffalo in 1992 and once in new York in 1992. I remember showing hmm my steal your face tat on my back. He said they did a nice job. Rest in peace bear. haha. i was there. he said your tat looked like shit poopiehead!!!

ed from BCJ August 21, 2011, 20:48:17

WHERES MY WITTLE POOPIEHEAD????

ED IN GARFIELD August 21, 2011, 20:50:58

I met owsley two times. Once in buffalo in 1992 and once in new York in 1992. I remember showing hmm my steal your face tat on my back. He said they did a nice job. Rest in peace bear. ???????? isnt buffalo in NY??

MagicHippie October 7, 2011, 13:03:40

I remember your ‘Pink T-Shirt’
I remember your friendship. Peace & Love ’68 SoL

tito December 10, 2011, 10:24:38

The man could be a dick…but he was a genius. RIP, Bear.

Barney March 3, 2012, 02:17:19

Do you feel like Jesus? thanks for the inspiration.RIP.

TIM October 23, 2012, 22:48:46

you parachuting over summer of love gathering tossing tabs was the coolest!

Jim February 1, 2013, 00:22:19

You taught me that what I saw and felt back then was real, is real. Once understood I’m now able to make sense of it all. I know you’re out there, hope to see you. Jim

Jdog March 13, 2011, 17:36:36

R.I.P. Bear.

chris March 13, 2011, 17:37:19

An inspirational life. I feel very lucky to have met Bear a couple times and to have been a part of the scene he helped create.

Clearlight March 13, 2011, 17:39:22

“There’s nothing wrong with Bear that several billion fewer brain cells wouldn’t fix.”
-Jerry Garcia

Stone March 13, 2011, 17:58:06

Fare you well, brother! I am honored to have been part of your circle at one time.

Kristin Allmandinger March 13, 2011, 17:58:14

The Bear will be memorilized in the Bay today!! Heading to the Haight! RIP Mr. Owsley! We appreciate what you’ve done for the music and for us individually, no days between would have been the same without your contrubution! Long live his memory!

zink March 13, 2011, 18:02:01

You will be missed…thanks for everything, Bear.

Rob Crow March 13, 2011, 18:16:32

.....Farewell to the tribal elder

Eddie March 13, 2011, 18:19:00

Rip Bear- One of a kind. Miss Ya!

gary March 13, 2011, 18:34:27

well, i never got to meet you.. but thank you very much for the tye dye film and the commemorative brown film (funny) you sent,,, thanks for the diet too, if you are sick and under certain circumstances it feeds the good and starves the bad… enjoy the hwhy my kentucky friend..

grateful ed March 13, 2011, 18:46:09

you’re a piece of history Bear, thank-you for the lovely ride! R.I.P.

Jimbo Daley March 13, 2011, 19:07:02

I was at a general admission show in Philly, I think, in the mid to late 80’s. I was hanging with a friend who had disappeared for a few minutes and upon his return he told me he had just spoken to Bear. He pointed him out to me and with no hesitation I walked over to him extended my hand and said, “My name is Jim and I just want to take a minute and thank you for everything that you have done, in the name of Music and the Grateful Dead.” He smiled and said, “You’re welcome.” and I walked away very happy and satisfied. Rest in Peace Bear…
Jimbo…

Ted March 13, 2011, 20:23:52

Farewell old mate
Pleased you had so many good years in North Queensland.

Cheryl McEnaney March 13, 2011, 20:30:03

Fare thee well in the cosmos,u7 Bear – thanks for the memories, and the legacy.

Larry E.smith March 13, 2011, 20:43:52

Far thee will alice D. Millionaire, your contribution to the music was vital,some of the best music was made on LSD,Grateful Dead is Proof,say hello to my family Pigpen ,Jerry,John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix Sir,Larry The Deadhead of Santa Rosa,California

David Scott Mefferd March 13, 2011, 20:46:36

Rest in Peace Bear…..blessings sings gs

Gregg McVicar March 13, 2011, 20:46:53

Thom O’hair loved to tell the story of when he was program director of KSAN and they were planning a live broadcast of Old & In the Way. Owsley was in the ‘big house’ post-LSD bust and somehow the KSAN team convinced the prison officials that the only man in the world who could properly mix this broadcast was Owsley. Amazingly, they said “OK” and let KSAN sign him out for 24 hours to mix that broadcast, which also became the album.

Sammy Martin March 13, 2011, 20:49:58

RIP _ Tiger Blood!

Jack Straw March 13, 2011, 20:59:45

I just ate a steak in BEARS honor !! RIP OLD FRIEND

lucyskye March 13, 2011, 21:12:57

Thank you, Owsley, for all your gifts that you shared in the Grateful Dead family. Dance on…

garystarr March 13, 2011, 21:16:56

GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAM GATE BODHI SWAHA I met bear backstage at dead show in albany ny,,He was EXPLAINING HE MEANING OF THE STEAL YOUR FACE AND ARCHTYPE SYMBOLISM...My impression was he was a shaman..good vibes….fare thee well to the beyond , the beyond…..OM MANI PADME HUM

Starchild March 13, 2011, 21:38:11

RIP Brother Bear
Your commitment to quality is and will be missed.
Orange Sunshine saved my life in the 80s. I am forever thankful to you and for you.
You are a champion in my eyes!!!

fletch March 13, 2011, 21:55:46

thank you for being you. We’re all appreciative, grateful and better for you having been here. Tomorrow we’ll have a great day and play the Dead a little louder to celebrate your life and influence! Adios and congrats!

Kazoo March 13, 2011, 22:07:02

Thank you! Rest in peace.

jambandjohn March 13, 2011, 22:24:48

Fare thee well. love you more than words can tell! RIP-Bear…

Rickster March 13, 2011, 22:38:08

Following the counterculture since the early 70’s. Always loved Stanley’s creations and great dedication to great sound as well. I mean what would “experimentation” be without good sound!! Never knew that the Dancing Bear was partly commemorative of his stint at UC Berkeley in the area of Ballet.
RIP Owsley. My condolences to your family and your very extended family too. RR

feather March 13, 2011, 22:38:40

Love and gratitude to you, Bear. I was an atheist until I ate my first hit of acid in 1969, Owsley Purple Double Dome = instant enlightenment! Of course it’s been a long, sometimes strange, but mostly ecstatic trip since then. I named my best dog Owsley, after you & a friend of mine emailed you in Australia to let you know that an awesome dog in Montana carried your name. Then we became acquainted through email. Bless you, love you, carry on free spirit!

MWM March 13, 2011, 22:40:55

Grateful Dead Books just posted on fb that it has not been confirmed that was Owsley in the car.

MWM March 13, 2011, 22:46:38

FROM AUSTRALIAN police on Owsley.
Queensland police say the crash is under investigation and they can’t confirm if it was the ’60s icon who died. This is the post

DrewV March 13, 2011, 23:08:13

Ah, California…I remember it like it was only yesterday, but it was the summer of ’68, I was fresh, right out of a midwest high school. We drove that Nova out I 80 ‘till we hit Wyoming eventually making Lake Tahoe, Berkley, The Haight and then on down the coast to Huntington Beach. Sitting in a circle with the local surf rats. They said it was Aquamarine Green, in the end it was Clear Light. Thanks Stanley.

Geraldine in Palo Alto March 13, 2011, 23:22:45

I was fortunate enough to experience the first batch of capsulated LSD which looked see through…It was amazing. Thank you so much Stanley for changing my life and opening up my eyes….Peace be with you~

phactor JB March 13, 2011, 23:40:02

a good long run, sir… and I’d be delighted if I heard from you that tales of your demise were premature. Space-caps 4ever! ..

MadPatter10 March 14, 2011, 17:53:37

RIP Bear You had a positive effect on so many, Your “Wall of Sound” was a pleasure to even more ,and Orange Sunshine and White Lightning opened up alot of closed minds to some new versions of reality, Including my own. Fair Thee Well and say hi to my Brother when you arrive.

owlswan March 14, 2011, 00:44:32

I talked to him for a couple hours when I bought an owl ring from him and he told me he also eats potatoes. Thanks Bear, may you rest in peace…

Mark Trance March 14, 2011, 03:05:21

Love you, man. Give my love to Jesi and all the others. Keep an eye over us and thanks for everything. I will never forget you…

acoustictherapy March 14, 2011, 03:06:19

And another trailblazer of the 1960’s passes into legend. “Every A-frame had his number on the wall.”

Kealani Keaos March 14, 2011, 04:31:48

Fair thee well, Pathfinder. Thank you for guiding our way…

Michael J Fitzgerald March 14, 2011, 04:32:19

HAPPY TRAILS!..............

domenic spagnola March 14, 2011, 10:27:05

I met owsley two times. Once in buffalo in 1992 and once in new York in 1992. I remember showing hmm my steal your face tat on my back. He said they did a nice job. Rest in peace bear.

Brain March 14, 2011, 07:15:57

You were an inspiration and a FINE example for others to follow – Bless your soul Bear!

Andy March 14, 2011, 08:09:22

The Grateful Dead are mostly…dead.

michael russo March 14, 2011, 08:32:14

The Grateful Dead are mostly…dead. Andy., You couldn’t be more wrong..
FURTHUR-MORE..
The Grateful Dead are mostly… alive!!!

Kevin Collins March 14, 2011, 09:17:16

A true orginal…........you will be miss say hello to my brother when you bump into him

jaik March 14, 2011, 09:38:10

Bear… in so many ways an inspiration to me….
here is my song salute;
“orange sunshine” http://bit.ly/fjjfRc

Gratefuldan-Chicago, Il March 14, 2011, 10:54:44

Bear, Thanks for helping me open my window to the world. With your foresight, you showed alot of us how to be open minded with open arms…with a good spirit in a giving, reciprocating way. RIP...and I hope some of these reports I’m reading are not mistaken saying it has not been confirmed it was you in that car wreck….

Paul March 14, 2011, 11:20:37

I’m so sorry to see you go, tiger. (I know your real nickname is Bear; but you know Australians call everyone tiger, even our women.) But I’m very glad you made your home North Queensland for so long. We will miss you here in Australia. You were a good man, an enlightening man to know. Paul

Carolina Phil-Charlotte, NC March 14, 2011, 11:38:56

Thank you, OLD AND IN THE WAY is a masterpiece. It has had a profound impact on bluegrass music. Love your recordings of those shows and of course your impact on “The Boys” Hope to se you when I check out, Phil

David March 14, 2011, 11:54:47

Thanks Owsley! So few people touch so many lives, and I’m grateful for everything you gave us.

SPAC March 14, 2011, 11:57:52

I never had the good fortune of actually meeting but his work in the field of psychedelic experience has certainly been instrumental and influential from the age of 18 to the current 44. Perhaps a blast off at one of the upcoming Furthur shows in his honor will be the appropriate way to honor the passing of a true american legend.

Linda Appleby March 14, 2011, 12:51:07

Ohhhhh Sad Day…We have lost a good one. I have so many memories from old to new,,RIP you wonderful man.. now you will have fun with all our other friends who were waiting for you to join them. And we will see you again someday.

Adam March 14, 2011, 14:23:46

Thank You Bear for your contributions to the Dead family most notably: The Wall of Sound consisted of 89 300-watt solid-state and three 350-watt vacuum tube amplifiers generating a total of 26,400 watts RMS of audio power. This system projected high quality playback at six hundred feet with an acceptable sound projected for a quarter mile, at which point wind interference degraded it.

MalcolmO March 14, 2011, 18:09:24

Let us all observe 8-10 hours of silence in his honour.

ParkerLD March 14, 2011, 15:49:02

Really well-written and researched obit, Mike. Nicely done. And, Bear, you will indeed be missed!

Savante March 14, 2011, 16:20:43

Your “white lighening” changed my life — much for the better. Thank you!

Ja-shuwa March 14, 2011, 17:04:59

“Shaped the whole world with his hands” RIP (~);= Bear =;(~) Jan 19, 1935 – Mar 13, 2011

Ziggy March 14, 2011, 17:18:36

Bear, wish i had the funds back at the Kaiser to buy one of those cool belt buckles. You, like Jerry could hang out and communicate with the common deadheads on a pier level…i enjoyed our conversations. You were an integral part of the scene, and you will be sorely missed.

wilson nuñez. March 14, 2011, 19:17:54

Never meet the man,but his creationschange my life in more the one way,all for the better!!REST IN PEACE,my friend. Willie.

Chris McK March 14, 2011, 20:09:35

RIP Osley Stanly. I never met him either but certainly a new way of thought and manner were brought about through his means. An amazing individual who had the vision and ability to create the Dead’s sound system pretty much from the beginning. The Dead were way ahead of the rest and had innovations in their sound systems that were only created by him. I think he came up with a way that every band member and instrument could be heard in stereo back in the 60’s. Nobody else could have come up with that or would know where to start.

PeterStansfield March 15, 2011, 09:53:49

I suppose the lesson we ought to learn from this is “Dangerous things, cars…”

eliseo huertas cos March 15, 2011, 15:09:48

ride on bros.now then,wasn’t it all about mind expanding the greatest memories of our time with ultra hi-fi mind blowing sunhine eternal loving by leaving behind all the emphasis?great notion since dicovered an ultimate trip to the ever lasting emotion still open many doors.been great being with such great teachers of the unknown.never say good bye…

JayBirdsong March 15, 2011, 15:25:47

You were with out a doubt a legend of enlightenment. Fare thee well we’ll miss you more than words can tell!

Layla March 15, 2011, 16:23:37

Rest in peace, dear one…
love from Layla

MARJORIE March 15, 2011, 18:41:29

Mr.Owl . . . I am honoured to have met you more than once and to have had the privilege of being enlightened via you! With love and, as always, good vibes!

kevin p. March 15, 2011, 23:47:07

Thanks, Owsley for so much energy and effort. See you on the other side.

Rattus March 16, 2011, 03:14:54

You were a legend Owsley and still are.Shine on brother.

Stephen A. Love March 17, 2011, 02:09:37

Best soundman in the business.! He made sure you were happy before you hit the stage and it does not get any better than that.
His systems were awesome and visually inspiring. Just to stand on stage, touch the wall, and feel the power.. Its not something to forget easily…
He undoubtably with Jerry setting up his next..“Live gig” WTG Owsley !

Doug March 20, 2011, 16:37:53

Your insight and contributions to a higher awareness beneifited a great many. Fare thee well Bear!

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