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Paul Krassner, Satirist, Yippies Co-Founder and Counter-Culture Figure, Dies at 87

Steve Bloom

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Satirist, publisher, author and American counter-culture figure Paul Krassner died at his home in Desert Hot Springs, California on July 21. He was 87. His daughter Holly Krassner Dawson, confirmed the news to the Associated Press.

Born in New York City on April 9, 1932, Krassner eventually moved to Southern California where he lived with his wife Nancy Cain in Desert Hot Springs.

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He’s best known for editing Lenny Bruce’s autobiography, “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People,” in 1965 and founding The Realist, the forerunner to National Lampoon, which he published from 1958 to 2001.

A child prodigy on violin, he performed at Carnegie Hall when he was six. Krassner later attended Baruch College in New York.

Inspired by Bruce, he went back to the stage, but as a stand-up comedian at popular clubs like the Village Gate.

He became friendly with Groucho Marx and famously got the comedian to take LSD, which he chronicled in a High Times cover story in 1981.

Krassner wrote and edited several other books, including “How a Satirical Editor Became a Yippie Conspirator in Ten Easy Years (1971),” “Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counter-Culture” (1994), “Pot Stories for the Soul” (1999), “Psychedelic Trips for the Mind” (2001), “Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs” (2004) and “Who’s to Say What’s Obscene?” (2009).

Krassner co-founded the Youth International Party (YIPPIE), which he named, in 1967. The Yippies, based in New York, took a more humorous approach to politics, running a pig for president and attempting to levitate the Pentagon. The other YIPPIE founders were Abbie and Anita Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Phil Ochs, Ed Sanders, Bob Fass, Stewart Albert, Nancy Kurshan and Keith Lampe.

The Yippies played a major role during the demonstrations in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Since he wasn’t arrested, Krassner was not a member of the notorious Chicago 8 (Hoffman and Rubin were) who were jailed and whose case went to trial in a Marx Brothers style court proceeding.

“I was lucky,” Krassner recalled in 2018. “There was a lot of cops and National Guard, and I remember they had bayonets. There was one guy with a bayonet who said, ‘Hey, where are you going?’ and I just kept walking away. I figured out, is he going to run with a bayonet after one individual? So, I sort of avoided it. I would go around the perimeter, taking notes. So, I didn’t get beaten.”

He was also associated with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.

Yippie member Aron Kay, who was known to throw pies in the faces of politicians in the ’70s, says Krassner “inspired many. His impact on us was similar to the Beatles. Without Paul, a lot of things wouldn’t have happened.”

Always ahead of his time, Krassner contributed articles to Cavalier, the forerunner to Playboy, beginning in 1964. About his experiences at the magazine, he recently wrote in Variety:

“I wrote some movie reviews for Cavalier. I always went to two screenings. The first one I would go stoned with magic mushrooms. The second one I took notes. However, I got fired by Cavalier.

“They declined to publish a particular column – my review of ‘MASH’ as though it were a Busby Berkeley musical called ‘Gook Killers of 1970’ – ostensibly on the grounds of bad taste, but I learned that three wholesalers had told the publisher they were pressured by the FBI and would refuse to distribute Cavalier if my name appeared in it. It was over for me, but it had been fun.”

Paul Krassner is survived by his wife and daughter.

A previous version of this story incorrectly cited that Krassner tried to levitate the White House; It was the Pentagon. 

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