Irreverent leader of the Sixties Yippies

Born: April 9, 1932;

Died: July 21, 2019.

IN 1958 Paul Krassner, who has died aged 87, founded the magazine, The Realist, which sought to shock and provoke Middle America. Within a decade it had a readership in excess of 100,000 and was highly influential in America’s social and cultural debate, questioning in strident terms the established opinion and notably championing the use of oral contraceptives. Later, he vehemently opposed America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Krassner was unashamedly setting new and controversial standards for youth and the parameters by which they should live. In 1967 he founded the Yippie movement, which formulated organised resistance to conventional thinking. He was a free-wheeling buccaneer and a leading character in the American Sixties ‘Peace and Love’ movement, declaring proudly that, “If I had one thing to tell everybody it would be, ‘Do it now.’”

A self-confessed prankster, he delighted in giving two fingers to anything he considered stuffy, ordinary and conventional, and in the grand social gesture, like nominating a pig for president, attempting to levitate the Pentagon and throwing dollar bills onto the New York Stock Exchange floor. Perhaps his most notorious stunt was an anti-war festival at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He conceived a scheme to put LSD into the water supply and dose all the party delegates. It did not work but his protest escalated into a bloody and violent street battle. Ironically, he was later called as a defence witness at the trial of those who had been arrested; before going into court he took a large dose of LSD and hallucinated throughout his time in the witness box.

Paul Krassner was born New York into a middle-class family. His father was a printer, his mother a Russian-born legal secretary. He showed prodigious talent as a violinist and played a Vivaldi concerto at Carnegie Hall aged six. He studied journalism at college but quit to contribute articles to an underground teenage magazine, Mad.

When he initially started The Realist it was conceived as a satirical adult equivalent of Mad and concentrated on sending-up the Washington establishment. It was extreme in its views on politics and gained a wide readership thanks to the zany cartoons and Krassner’s editorials. It also ran authoritative articles and serious interviews with leading personalities of the day. It ran a political column by Norman Mailer and articles by Woody Allen.

Krassner continued to publish the magazine until 1974 and sporadically thereafter as a newsletter. He also wrote the biography of comedian Lenny Bruce, and was the publisher of the pornographic magazine, Hustler. With typical bravado he wrote an article for High Times about the time he persuaded Groucho Marx to try LSD. He published a colourful autobiography (Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture) of which the New York Times wrote, “Krassner is an expert at ferreting out hypocrisy and absurdism from the more solemn crannies of American culture.”

In 1985 Krassner moved to California where he married the artist Nancy Cain, She and a daughter from a previous marriage survive him.