Larry Harvey, the man behind the anti-establishment, anti-consumerist cultural phenomenon that is Burning Man, has passed away at the age of 70.
Harvey’s last appeared in public on March 29th at the opening of a Burning Man art exhibition at the Smithsonian in the nation’s capital. Less than a week later, on April 4th, Lee Harvey suffered the massive stroke that would eventually claim his life. According to a statement from Marian Goodell, CEO of the Burning Man Project, Harvey was surrounded by family members in San Francisco when he died peacefully Saturday morning. “We resolutely held out for a miracle,” said Goodell. “If there was anyone tenacious, strong-willed and stubborn enough to come back from this challenge, it was Larry.”
Larry was never one for labels. He didn’t fit a mold; he broke it with the way he lived his life. He was 100% authentic to his core. For all of us who knew or worked with him, he was a landscape gardener, 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. He was always a passionate advocate for our culture and principles that emanate from the Burning Man experience in the Black Rock Desert.
Lee Harvey has been the guiding spirit behind Burning Man since he and Jerry James first built and burned a wooden “man” effigy with a small group on San Francisco’s Baker Beach to celebrate the summer solstice more than three decades ago. The annual gathering has grown into an international counter-cultural institution since then. A non-profit organization, the Burning Man Project, was eventually formed to run the operation, with Harvey serving as board president and “chief philosophic officer.”
Today, Burning Man attracts close to 70,000 people to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert each year for a celebration centered around the principles of “radical” inclusion, self-reliance, and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and leaving no trace.
The gathering adheres to a what Harvey referred to as “gift culture”, wherein goods and services are not bought and sold, but rather given or traded to your fellow person as needed, with no cash changing hands. Harvey was adamant about the value of experiencing this type of culture. “If all your self-worth and esteem is invested in how much you consume, how many likes you get or other quantifiable measures,” he explained in a 2014 interview with Atlantic, “the desire to simply possess things trumps our ability or capability to make moral connections with people around us.”
Lee Harvey’s loss is sorely felt by the countless people whose lives and worldviews have been affected by Burning Man and the culture that has sprung up around it, but his name and his message will continue to reverberate across the playa and beyond for years to come. Rest in peace, Lee Harvey.