Stew Albert seemed like one of those rare individuals who could survive anything. For years, I thought that he'd go on living, if not forever then until old age. He beat the Hepatitis C virus that threatened to destroy him, and he'd triumphed over "Dr. Doom," as he liked to call his own life-long foe and nemesis, many a time.
I met Stew in New York in 1970, and I assumed California had given birth to him. He looked like a Californian—blond, curly haired and muscular, and when he explained that he came from Brooklyn I was surprised. He embodied the best of the East Coast and the best of the West Coast, and he was as comfortable smoking a joint as he was storming a barricades.
In the fall of 1970, we flew—as part of a wild Yippie delegation—to Algiers, where Eldridge Cleaver had persuaded the government to offer political sanctuary to LSD apostle Timothy Leary. The idea was to create an international brotherhood and sisterhood that would link the drug culture with the radical political movement and legalize marijuana and end the war in Vietnam.
On that occasion, Stew, always an intrepid traveler, did not bring a suitcase. He only had the clothes on his own back, and a toothbrush he carried in a back pocket. We stayed in a Moslem hotel—men on one floor, women on the other—and, since there weren't enough rooms for all of us, Stew and I shared a bed. He was perhaps the strangest bedfellow I’ve ever encountered, but I’m proud to say that I slept side-by-side with Stew, and worked with him for years after that on University Review, a monthly magazine we both wrote for.
Sadly, the Algiers trip proved to be a fiasco. I looked for the deep, hidden reasons to explain it all. Stew assumed that that was just the way things were; chaos and chance played a big part in his universe. You won some and you lost some.
Perhaps the boldest thing he ever did was to hold a press conference with Judy Gumbo after the Weather Underground bombed the US Capitol in 1971 and to proclaim, "We didn't do it, but we dug it." For years he was proud of having said that, and the way he said it, too,
Once, in Hollywood in the 1990s, at the home of movie producer, Paula Weinstein, reporter Robert Scheer raked Stew over the coals. You'd have thought, from Scheer's rage, that Stew was responsible for every mistake that the Yippies, the Black Panthers, the Weathermen and the drug culture ever made. Stew wouldn't and didn't apologize. Like Abbie Hoffman, an old friend from Chicago in 1968 and 1969, he had "no regrets."
Another time, when doing a story for HIGH TIMES about sinsemilla cultivation in Northern California, I introduced him to a few growers and their gardens. "It wasn't like this in the beginning," he said. "Pot has come a long way."
He was a fighter, all the way, and a lover, too, and he loved his wife Judy Gumbo Clavir and their daughter Jessica. He and Judy made their house in Portland, Oregon a haven and I always felt at home there.
I'd to call Stew my friend. I'd also call him comrade, though I feel uncomfortable using a word that has fallen into disuse and that certain Communists abused thoroughly. Still, there's something noble about comrades and comradeship—in the way that Jack London, one of Stew's favorite authors, envisioned. And so, farewell, Comrade Stew, farewell.