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Author and 1960s icon George B. Leonard dies

January 18, 2010 |  8:06 am


George B. Leonard, an editor and writer for Look Magazine whose ideas helped spur the '60s counterculture movement, has died. He was 86. 

Reporting in California in 1965, Leonard had a meeting of the minds with Michael Murphy, co-founder of the Esalen Institute. They began the "human potential movement" at Esalen, located in Big Sur. Murphy called Leonard an "inventor of transformative practices." Esalen's famed hot springs and humanistic questioning made it a magnet for writers, artists and thinkers in the 1960s -- a young Hunter S. Thompson was an early caretaker.

While some of Esalen's traditions echoed across culture, others were less successful, and sometimes lampooned. The hot springs nudity and sometimes confrontational encounter groups -- one teacher legendarily spanked Natalie Wood at a Hollywood party -- have at times overshadowed the intellectual and spiritual efforts of those who taught there.

Leonard, who taught martial arts at Esalen and elsewhere, continued to write and was an editor-at-large for Esquire. In 1988, he told the L.A. Times that early Esalen goals were "to give the mind, body and spirit the same value," but that the methods were not always sophisticated. By then, he was distancing what he did at Esalen from "the schlock" that came to be associated with the human potential movement. 

Leonard wrote a dozen books, including "The Transformation: A Guide to the Inevitable Changes in Humankind" (1972), "The Silent Pulse: A Search for the Perfect Rhythm That Exists in Each of Us" (1978), "The End of Sex: Erotic Love After the Sexual Revolution" (1983), "Walking on the Edge of the World" (1988) and "The Ultimate Athlete" (2001).

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: George B. Leonard, left. Credit James Grayson / Houghton Mifflin. Right, Esalen's sign. Credit: StarMama via Flickr.