Grateful Dead

Remembering Owsley "Bear" Stanley

Owsley "Bear" Stanley died in a car crash in Australia on March 13. Few who knew him would have been surprised if he had chosen to live forever. He managed better than most other people to bend reality to suit his wishes and beliefs.

And he had some weird beliefs. One night in 1983, he came to Phil Lesh's house with a sheaf of maps and delivered a lecture of a couple of hours' duration, explaining how a thermal cataclysm would begin with a storm over Baffin Bay in Canada and suck all the heat out of the atmosphere, rendering most of the planet uninhabitable by humans. He showed us a climate map showing mean temperatures at the peak of the last Ice Age, and pointed to a spot in Australia where there was both habitable climate and land underfoot – and where he already owned property. He had a sheaf of visa applications to distribute to his audience so we could begin the emigration process immediately. Lesh demurred, stating that if this climate-change catastrophe were to take place, he'd climb up onto the ridge behind his then-home and watch it go down. "When your number's oop, it's oop," said someone else, quoting George Harrison.

It seemed pretty crackpottish at the time, and of course the predicted event did not go down on the date he forecast – but I recognize now that Bear was the first person I knew to bring up a subject that is today a huge and urgent matter: climate change.

He was into everything.

The last time I saw him was in June of 2007, on what I believe was his last visit to the States. I thought then that he wasn't long for this world. He had had a cardiac bypass (a result, he told me without irony, of the vegetables he had been fed as a child) and been treated for throat cancer, and as a result he was unable to swallow solid food and had a great deal of trouble talking. From his posture, I gathered his neck was fused or the muscles had been damaged; he seemed unable to move his head much. My wife saw him with a blender making a puree of nearly-raw meat and deviled eggs.

Our mutual friend, luthier and Alembic co-founder Rick Turner, got to the party after I left. His take: "Yes, Bear was a pretty crumpled sight at first, but he got going pretty well. He could fool us all."

I have nearly six hours of tape from our January 1991 interview, which was published in the book Conversations with the Dead. I'm sharing it here because I thought you all might be interested in what he sounded like. As Bob Weir told me a few days after Bear died: “He got plenty done this time around.”

Audio excerpts from an interview with Bear January 13, 1991

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
lamagonzo (not verified)
Uhh, well, it's October

was anxious to see the link of Owsley at the Kesey Creamery/Farm, but the link didn't work, alas.

furthur on down the road...

Joined: Oct 11 2011
RCMH graphic

I was saddened to hear of Bear's passing, albeit a bit surprised to hear that it was due to a car accident, given his long-standing dietary habits. Anyhow, I was in NYC for the three Furthur shows at Radio City Music Hall back in March. The music was awesome, and that digital screen behind the band was the best I've ever seen. There was a very nice Owlsley tribute on Saturday night, including (during Mountains of the Moon) a deep red skullfuck image with four molecular structures of LSD coupled to it, along with the "fare thee well" line from Brokedown Palace. Does anyone know if that image is available anywhere? Thanks.

ortise's picture
Joined: Oct 7 2007

Too many shows to list...last one was@Red Rocks @26 Sept.2010. The band massages my worldview. But, "they'd" be the first to agree: there's just too much great music to miss if you use "their" genius to limit rather than expand. Lastly, study Robert Hunter.

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
Friday at the Harmony Festival

Jerry/Bear tribute with Steve Kimock, Jesse McReynolds, Moonalice, the David Nelson Band and members of Railroad Earth.

jonapi (not verified)
Bear video

Some rare footage of Owsley on Ken Kesey's farm -

DoDa Man's picture
Joined: Sep 16 2008
i didnt know until now...

See ya on the flipside and thanks for ALL you did on this side~~~

DoDa Man ;^ )

Without love in the dream it'll never come true
Robert Hunter, Jerry Garcia

Joined: Sep 18 2007
email from Bear

This is a response I got from Bear after I emailed him about buying some of his sculptors and asked him some questions about sound equipment.
Bear's responses to my questions are in quotes.

R.I.P. Bear

Bear to me 9/10/07
Hi Bear,

Thanks for all of the info on pricing.

I have no doubt that everything you are offering is worth every penny, unfortunately it is way out of my price range at this time. I will be saving my money and hope to make a purchase from you some time in the future.

"I am not a jeweler, but a fine artist/sculptor. Fine art is not priced the same way as craft."

I just picked up Blair Jackson's book on Grateful Dead gear and was reading about you in there. I was wondering about the Altec speakers you were using for you guy's sound system. Do you still do any sound engineering?

"I still do sound. I never used Altec speakers for anything, except for that old Voice of the Theatre rig i had when I met the Dead. I used JBL for a while, until John Meyer began making speaker systems."

I work in a convention hotel and I get first dibs when they remove old audio equipment. So I have been piecing together different stuff for a few years just to see what it sounds like.

"LIke shit, is my guess. Why do you think they are getting rid of the stuff?"

I was just lucky enough to have somebody give me a pair of Lansing 604 coaxial loudspeakers and was wondering if you have any thoughts on how I might best use them.

"They could make great doorstops. Definitely conversation pieces. They sound so bad as to make one cringe, so don't hook them up to anything. Perhaps the highest level of intermodulation and THD of any speaker ever produced-- other than than the very similar EREI coaxials, which were palpably even more awful."



Joined: Feb 14 2010


Snashforce (not verified)
on the archive
Joined: Apr 20 2011
Bear was the Eyes of the World

I am deeply saddened learning about Bear's passing. He laid the cosmic foundation with White Lighting, Purple Haze, Tangerine and so many more delightful and wonderful creations.

Thanks Bear for your gifts to us.

I hope to be in your sphere next time round...


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.