The man known as RAW

The great Robert Anton Wilson died last week, and those of us in the Santa Cruz community have a lost a truly original mind.

Trying to label this man is a fool’s task, but since I’m a fool, let me try. He was a writer and freethinker, a skeptic and maverick, an absurdist and an intellectual, a seer, a cultist, mystic and real whack job. He described himself as a “guerrilla ontologist,” whatever that means (I can hearing you roaring in laughter from the afterlife, Bob).

I had the pleasure to interview RAW on three separate occasions over the years, and the best way to describe the experience is as an adventure. As far as my experience with him is concerned, Bob was a real sweetheart, a kind man full of humor and generosity. He was such a contrarian, however, he delighted in blowing holes in all orthodoxies, including rationality. Gender politics, science, religion, the future, conspiracies, UFOs: Wilson had a take on them all. To conservatives, he was a scourge; his assessment on the Bush administration was positively blistering. But he carried no water for liberals either and many of his opinions — in one of our interviews, he once compared Gloria Steinam to Hitler — were anathema to the left.

He also told me once, “I’m the least fanatic person on this planet,” and considering his delight in tweaking any and all serious subjects, it’s hard to argue with the assertion. Maybe some critics would label him a nihilist, but he never struck me as such. He simply took it as his duties to keep humankind from falling into bogus ways of thinking.

Wilson was a pal and contemporary of Timothy Leary, but Leary clearly had the mainstream fame that Wilson never achieved. That’s partly because Leary was willing to play the clown, that Leary could be categorized and stereotyped. RAW was immune to that kind of thing.

I was really touched by the final e-mail he sent out to supporters and fans.”I don’t see how to take death seriously,” he wrote. “It seems absurd.” The world is a bit less colorful now that Bob is gone. But I’ll bet God is getting an earful right now.

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