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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

R.I.P. Larry Harvey, co-founder of Burning Man

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Photo: David McNew (Getty Images/Newsmakers)

As reported by CNN, Larry Harvey has died from a stroke he suffered at the beginning of the month. Harvey was the co-founder of iconic outdoor event Burning Man, and the news of his death was confirmed by Marian Goodell, the CEO of the group that now organizes the festival. Harvey was 70.


Harvey started what would become Burning Man with Jerry James and a few of their friends in 1986, building and burning a wooden effigy of a man at a beach in San Francisco to celebrate the summer solstice. The original idea came from sculptor Mary Grauberger, who held bonfire parties on the beach before 1986, but Harvey made it into an annual tradition and named it Burning Man (in hopes of avoiding any association with the 1973 film The Wicker Man and the basic concept of burning witches).

The event moved to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert in 1990, where it became like a piece of secret performance art as the organizers didn’t have a permit to build and burn a big wooden effigy. By the next year, Burning Man had a permit and had developed plans to turn the desert into Black Rock City, a temporary community of artists who all discovered the event by word of mouth. From there, the event rapidly began to grow larger than the organizers could manage, necessitating more structure—like a pre-planned layout for the “city,” rules on what can be burned and where, and a ban on most kinds of vehicles.

Harvey acted as the executive director for Black Rock City LLC right up until his death, and Goodell released a statement about his importance to the festival:

Burning Man culture has lost a great leader and an inspiring mind... He adeptly interpreted the manifestation of what became a movement. I have lost a dear friend who I’ve known, loved, and worked beside for nearly 22 years… As he told one of us recently, Larry liked to create ‘scenes’ that made people consider the world in a new way. He was extraordinarily successful at doing just that.