Stew Albert, a co-founder of the Youth International Party, the mischievous countercultural organization whose members were known as the Yippies, died of liver cancer Monday in Portland, Ore. He was 66.
A Brooklyn native who wound up in Berkeley in the mad '60s, Albert helped launch the Yippies in 1967 with Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Paul Krassner and others. The group was best known for its highly theatrical pranks, such as running a pig for president in 1968.
Albert was clubbed by police in the mayhem surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and was named as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the Chicago 7 trial that charged Hoffman, Rubin, Tom Hayden and other antiwar movement leaders with conspiracy to incite a riot. He played a role in the creation of People's Park in Berkeley and helped found the Free University there.
He later ran for sheriff of Alameda County, where he challenged the incumbent to a duel; he lost everywhere but Berkeley. Since 1984, he lived in Portland, where he was a freelance writer active in radical circles.
"He was very funny," Hayden, the former California legislator who roomed with Albert in Berkeley, recalled in an interview Wednesday. "He had the ability to blend easily into any setting, from Yippie to Black Panther to New Left, partly because he had an infectious sense of humor ... and partly because he was well-read and capable of understanding a lot of viewpoints simultaneously. He was very much a self-made intellectual."
Albert poked fun at his image as a sidekick to Hoffman and Rubin in a 2004 memoir, "Who the Hell Is Stew Albert?" Jeffrey St. Clair, co-editor of the political newsletter Counterpunch, called Albert's book "one of the best chronicles of the '60s and the ongoing cultural and political fallout from that strange, creative decade."
With his wife, Judy, Albert also co-edited "The Sixties Papers," a document-based history of the era published in 1984 that is a widely used college text. They assembled the book on a computer bought with the help of a settlement from a successful lawsuit against the FBI, which had planted an illegal surveillance device under their car in the 1970s.
Born Dec. 4, 1939, to a working-class family, Albert was deeply moved by a visit to Cuba when he was 21. When he returned, he traveled around the country, eventually landing in Berkeley in 1964. There he joined the antiwar Vietnam Day Committee, met committee co-founder Rubin and plunged into counterculture politics.
He ran Rubin's 1967 campaign for Berkeley mayor, which emphasized social justice, ending the Vietnam War and legalizing marijuana. That same year, Rubin appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee dressed as a Revolutionary War soldier and set the mold for the brand of guerrilla political theater that would become the Yippies' chief tactic.
In 1967 Albert went to the New York Stock Exchange with Rubin, Hoffman and others to make a point about greed. From the visitors gallery they threw 500 $1 bills at stockbrokers. Trading stopped as everyone on the floor grabbed the money.
Other antics were just as zany, such as when Albert joined Rubin and Hoffman at the massive antiwar march on the Pentagon later that year, where they made headlines with an announcement that they would "exorcise" the military complex of evil spirits and levitate it.
Albert often served as a peacemaker between Hoffman and Rubin, Krassner said in an interview Wednesday. His mediation skills were crucial in what became one of the Yippies' most famous pranks: running the pig for president.
"There was a lot of competition between Jerry and Abbie. Abbie had gotten the pig," Krassner recalled. "Jerry complained that it was not big enough or ugly enough. To appease Jerry, Stew went with him and got a bigger and uglier pig." They called it Pigasus.
"Our big contribution was our theatrical approach," Albert told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004. "We tried to be inventive and creative in developing tactics, and we had the belief that if we did we could change the world."
Years later, he said that the imagination of the Yippies eventually became their downfall. "After a while, our imperative tended to be developing stunts rather than counter-institutions," such as the Free University in Berkeley that he helped found in 1965, he told Salon.com in 2000.
Albert, an early supporter of the Black Panthers, often served as its liaison with the Yippies. In one of the '60s' stranger episodes, he helped smooth the way for Timothy Leary, the acid-dropping counterculture guru who escaped from a California prison on drug possession charges in 1970, to find haven in Algeria with Eldridge Cleaver, the Panther leader who was himself a fugitive.