Larry Harvey, influential co-founder of annual ‘Burning Man’ festival, dead at 70
By JOHN ROGERS and JANIE HAR
SAN FRANCISCO — Larry Harvey, whose whimsical decision to erect a giant wooden figure and then burn it to the ground led to the popular, long-running counterculture celebration known as “Burning Man,” has died. He was 70.
Harvey died Saturday morning at a hospital in San Francisco, surrounded by family, Burning Man Project CEO Marian Goodell said. The cause was not immediately known but he suffered a stroke earlier this month.
Longtime friend Stuart Mangrum posted on the organization’s website that Harvey did not believe in “any sort of existence” after death.
“Now that he’s gone, let’s take the liberty of contradicting him, and keep his memory alive in our hearts, our thoughts, and our actions,” Mangrum wrote. “As he would have wished it, let us always Burn the Man.”
Burning Man takes place annually the week before Labor Day in Northern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
The week-long festival attracts some 70,000 people who pay anywhere from $425 to $1,200 a ticket to travel to a dry lake bed 100 miles east of Reno, where temperatures can routinely reach 100 degrees during the summer.
There they must carry in their own food, build their own makeshift community and engage in whatever interests them.
On the gathering’s penultimate day, the giant effigy — or Man as it is known — is set ablaze during a raucous, joyful celebration.
Friends and family toasted Harvey on Saturday as a visionary, a lover of words and books, a mentor and instigator who challenged others to look at the world in new ways. “Burners,” as they’re called, left comments on the organization’s website thanking Harvey for inspiring them as artists and for creating a community.
“Thanks for everything. (No, really, pretty much everything in my life right now is a result of Burning Man.),” read one post.
An “esoteric mix of pagan fire ritual and sci-fi Dada circus where some paint their bodies, bang drums, dance naked and wear costumes that would draw stares in a Mardi Gras parade,” is how The Associated Press once described the gathering.
While tickets now sell out immediately, Harvey described in a 2007 interview how he had much more modest intentions when he launched Burning Man on San Francisco’s Baker Beach one summer day in 1986.
“I called a friend and said, “Let’s go to the beach and burn a man,” he told the website Green Living. “And he said, ‘Can you say that again?’ And I did and we did it.”
It wasn’t until afterward, Harvey recalled, that he had the epiphany that led to Burning Man.
Within a few years the event had outgrown Baker Beach and moved to the desert.
While Harvey would speak frequently about Burning Man in the years that followed, he would reveal little about himself and it was often hard to discern truth from fiction.