Iconic Counterculture Author and Activist Paul Krassner Dies at 87

Our condolences to the family and friends of Paul Krassner.
Iconic Counterculture Author and Activist Paul Krassner Dies at 87
Heidi De Vries/ Wikimedia Commons

The world lost one of its most irreverent voices on Sunday when satire writer, publisher, and co-founder of the Yippies Paul Krassner died at his home in Desert Hot Springs, California at the age of 87. A contributor to High Times and founder of the seminal alternative magazine The Realist, Krassner was known for his socially-motivated writer’s pranks, and willingness to publish voices that few others would. 

The San Francisco Chronicle published an article suggesting that Paul Krassner had recently become unable to walk, and was being treated for neurological problems at the time of his death. He is survived by his daughter Holly Krassner Dawson and wife Nancy Cain.

It was 1958 when child violin prodigy and stand up comic Krassner left his job at Mad Magazine to begin publishing his mimeographed counterculture publication The Realist. Initially still living with his parents, he made a name for the magazine by publishing interviews with polemic comedian Lenny Bruce. Paul Krassner would go on to support the infamous comedian in his high profile obscenity trials, and was the editor of Bruce’s 1965 biography How to Talk Dirty and Influence People

Another seminal The Realist commission was cartoonist Wally Wood’s infamous 1967 Disney orgy illustration, which to this day is reprinted on skateboard decks.

Krassner would publish the magazine consistently until 1974, and brought it back for a spell in the ‘80s, finally ceasing to print issues in 2001. The Realist’s most notorious article was surely a 1967 piece on the assassination of John F. Kennedy called “The Death of a President.” Krassner said the piece was a collection of unpublished passages from a William Manchester book, but he actually wrote the article himself, which included a scene where JFK successor Lyndon Johnson has an intimate moment with the assassinated president’s cadaver. 

In 1967, Krassner co-founded and named the Yippie movement, a term which he later decided stood for the Youth International Party. Along with co-founders Abbie and Anita Hoffman, Phil Ochs, Nancy Kurshan, and more, the group interjected a great deal of levity into national politics. 

The crew figured largely at the disastrous demonstrations outside of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic National Convention, which resulted in egregious police brutality and the detention of several activists who came to be known as the Chicago 8. Krassner attracted criticism for testifying on behalf of the detained protestors high on LSD

He was on the FBI watch list, and an agent once called him “a nut, a raving unconfirmed nut.” Krassner was a political activist on issues of free speech, pornography, drugs and [according to his own words, as documented by Politico] 1960s abortion access. 

Later in life, Krassner’s words found a home at High Times, where he published his Brain Damage Control column, taking on the hypocrisy of the War on Drugs and the pharmaceutical industry. In 1981 he convinced Groucho Marx to take LSD for the magazine’s cover story. 

He was the first living man inducted into the High Times Counterculture Hall of Fame at the 14th annual Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. Sadly, such is the internet that there is not a lot of High Times Krassner works archived on this website. For a whiff of what he sparked for this magazine, you can check out the 1999 book Paul Krassner’s Pot Stories for the Soul. He also contributed to Newsweek, Playboy, and the publisher of Hustler magazine for six months.

“Reality keeps nipping at the heels of satire — and lately outdistancing it,” Krassner told a reporter in 2009. But he wasn’t saying that the time for satirical writing has passed. He continued: 

“The more repression there is, the more need there is for irreverence toward those who are responsible for that repression. But too often sarcasm passes for irony, name-calling passes for insight, bleeped-out four-letter words pass for wit, and lowest-common-denominator jokes pass for analysis. Satire should have a point of view. It doesn’t have to get a belly laugh. It does have to present criticism.”

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