Larry Harvey, who co-founded what evolved into the nation’s most outlandish anti-establishment art, music and exhibitionist extravaganza ― the Burning Man festival ― died Saturday at a San Francisco hospital. He was 70 and had suffered stroke earlier this month.
His death was announced on the Burning Man website, which hailed Harvey as “our founder, friend and original instigator.”
Harvey and friend Jerry James kicked off the one-of-a-kind festival 32 years ago when they burned a man in effigy on San Francisco’s Baker Beach to mark the summer solstice. Last year, some 70,000 people celebrated what has become the week-long “burner” bacchanalia in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
A giant five-story-tall wooden sculpture of a man is burned each year for the finale, but anything goes until then, including wild clothes (or no clothes), and even wilder antics and art.
At the time of his death, Harvey was board president and chief “philosophic officer” of the nonprofit Burning Man Project that has an annual budget of some $30 million.
Harvey was born on Jan. 11, 1948, and adopted by a farming family in Portland, Oregon. He served in the Army and moved to San Francisco after he “transformed to a hipster dandy in 1968,” his brother, Stewart Harvey, recalled.
He worked at a variety of odd jobs and became enmeshed in the city’s community of artists. He was a “philosopher, a visionary, a wit, a writer, an inspiration, an instigator, a mentor, and at one point a taxi driver and a bike messenger,” wrote Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell.
His “great gift” was “seeing possibilities... then possessing the eloquence to persuade others to come join in and make it all happen,” said Stewart Harvey.
Stewart was with Larry when he “first laid eyes on the playa” in 1990 that later that year was to become the desert home of Burning Man. “It fired up his imagination,” Stewart said. “There is something about this ancient and vast landscape that tempts us to dream large, and my brother understood that... Here at last was a canvas large enough and blank enough to accommodate his most outrageous imaginings.”
Burning Man will go on this year again in August, organizers vowed. “Larry would be the first to say this isn’t an ending, but the start of a new chapter, and we all have a hand in where we go from here,” Goodell said.
Added his longtime friend Stuart Mangrum: “As he would have wished it, let us always Burn the Man.”
Along with his brother, Harvey is survived by a son, Tristan, a nephew, Bryan, and an international community of devoted burners.