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Updated: Sep 23, 2022

A look back at the life and career of the late, great counterculture attorney turned High Times owner Michael Kennedy.

Michael Kennedy with wife Eleanora outside courthouse.
Michael Kennedy with wife Eleanora outside courthouse.

In past installments of this series, we’ve discussed some of the counterculture’s most prominent figures and organizations: White Panther John Sinclair, LSD guru Timothy Leary and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, as well as Yippies Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Tom Forcade (founder of High Times)…but not all influential figures in counterculture history are so well known. In fact, some preferred to work behind the scenes rather than out in the spotlight. One such figure was a radical civil rights lawyer who actually represented and supported many of the icons mentioned above by the name of Michael Kennedy.


Michael John Kennedy was born in Spokane, Washington in 1937—ironically, the same year as marijuana prohibition. After graduating from Berkeley in 1959, he got his law degree from the University of California’s Hastings College of Law in 1962. A year later, he was drafted and spent two years as a First Lieutenant in the Army, during which time he was frequently disciplined for his anti-war rhetoric. It was while in the service in 1965, at an officer’s dinner at Fort Knox, that he met the woman he would spend the next half-century with—Eleanora Baratelli.

Early photo of Michael & Eleanora Kennedy
Early photo of Michael & Eleanora
“I was introduced to him, and something just happened,” Eleanora remembers. “It was absolute lightning. I fell in love in three minutes and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this man.”

Despite the fact that they were both already married, they instantly fell madly in love; the two filed for divorce from their respective spouses, and by 1968 they'd become husband and wife. For the rest of his life and career, Eleanora was right by his side—aiding him in all of his cases, particularly with her instinctive knack when it came to jury selection.


In 1967, Kennedy moved to New York to take on the position of staff counsel of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (ECLC), working to help civil rights activists, especially conscientious objectors of the Vietnam War (which he was vehemently opposed to). In his first marijuana-related case (and the first-ever marijuana-related case in US military history), he represented Private Bruce “Gypsy” Peterson—a soldier at Fort Hood (nicknamed “Fort Head” due to the number of soldiers there who got high) who'd been busted for a minuscule amount of weed. Like Kennedy, Private Peterson had been outspoken against the Vietnam War—even going so far as to run a hippie-style coffeehouse for GIs called The Oleo Strut and publishing an underground anti-war newspaper called Fatigue Press.

Oleo Strut coffee house near Fort Hood.
Oleo Strut coffee house near Fort Hood.

Once these activities were discovered, Peterson was repeatedly harassed by the MPs, who allegedly planted dime bags in his locker and conspired with local police to get him locked up. He was arrested for possession thrice in one month, each time for ridiculously small amounts of pot: the first arrest for .006 grams that had been vacuumed out of an automobile he was driving in, and the third time for an amount found in his pocket lint that was so small that it was completely destroyed during the analysis, leaving none to present as evidence at his trial. Unfortunately, he was convicted nevertheless, and sentenced to eight years of hard labor at Leavenworth—an insanely harsh penalty obviously designed to make an example of him.

After being brought in on appeal, Kennedy argued that the search had been illegal, that Peterson’s right to due process had been violated, and that such a long sentence for such a minuscule amount of pot constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.” Thanks to him, the conviction was overturned, and Peterson was exonerated and released after just 13 months.

Michael Kennedy with members of the Fort Hood 43.
Kennedy with members of the Fort Hood 43. [Ellen Catalinotto]


Peterson wasn’t the only "Fort Head" soldier Kennedy represented: In August 1968, a group of African-American soldiers who’d recently returned from Vietnam were ordered to Chicago to serve as riot control outside the Democratic National Convention. Fearing they would be deployed against fellow African Americans who were fighting for their civil rights, they refused to board the plane—stating that they’d prefer to be sent back to the front lines rather than be ordered to use force against their black brothers. On the night of August 23, over a hundred black GIs staged an all-night sit-in at the central intersection of the Fort in what’s considered the largest act of dissent in US military history. Of those hundred-plus soldiers, 43 were arrested and threatened with court-martial and a dishonorable discharge. And of those “Fort Hood 43” (as they came to be known), the six who were identified as the ringleaders of the protest were put on trial that October.

Kennedy, who was assigned by the ECLC to defend them, managed to get them off relatively easy: two received three months of hard labor, two were given bad conduct discharges, and the last two were acquitted on technicalitiies. (One of those acquitted officers, Sgt. Robert Rucker, was so inspired by Michael’s legal prowess that he later went to become a Supreme Court justice in Indiana.)

Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis & Jerry Rubin of the Chicago 8.
Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis & Jerry Rubin of the Chicago 8.
San Francisco offices of Kennedy & Rhine
San Francisco offices of Kennedy & Rhine


In 1969, after two years in New York, the Kennedys moved to San Francisco, where Michael opened a law office with a like-minded attorney named Joe Rhine. It was during this time that they developed relationships with Yippie founders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.

“Jerry and Abbie lived with us for a while in San Francisco,” Eleanora remembers fondly. “We took over an old Australian consulate on Divisidero and hosted a salon for the New Left. We gave great parties, always with a cause involved. Jane Fonda would come up from LA when she was Hanoi Jane. The Yippies, the Zippies, the hippies…it was all one big family.”

Michael & Eleanora Kennedy with Abbie Hoffman & friends
Michael & Eleanora with Abbie Hoffman & friends

In the memorial he wrote for Abbie in High Times after his death in 1989, Kennedy described the Yippie legal planning session where he first met Hoffman:

“The first time I met Abbie was in a hotel room in the fall of 1967. He had a pot of honey laced with acid. We were all supposed to take a big finger full of honey and sit down and formulate a strategy, and that’s what we did.”

Hoffman and Rubin—along with Students for A Democratic Society (SDS) founder Rennie Davis and five other prominent activists—had been indicted in what became known as the “Chicago Eight” conspiracy case. Kennedy—who had previously represented Davis when he was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in December 1968 (during which Kennedy was jailed for contempt for screaming out that the court was “raping the constitution”)—joined their legal defense team to assist with pretrial motions.

Kennedy with partner Michael Tigar and ???.
Kennedy (far right) with fellow Chicago Eight defense attorneys Dennis Roberts, Michael Tigar, and Gerald Lefcourt.

But when he and three other lawyers had abruptly withdrawn from the case via telegram, the hard-ass judge Julius J. Hoffman cited them all for contempt and issued arrest warrants for them on the very first day of the trial—demanding that they appear in person. When Kennedy arrived, the judge ordered him to be held over the weekend without bail until sentencing the following Monday. This sparked a firestorm from the legal community—members of the National Lawyers Guild and American Civil Liberties Union mobilized a swarm of lawyers to descend on the courthouse and pressured the judge into dropping the charges and rescinding their warrants.

“We have changed the entire complexion of the trial,” Kennedy gloated upon his release. “The judge collapsed completely. He painted himself into a corner. If they ever try to bust another attorney, in Pig City or anywhere else, we’ll be there.”

Kennedy with Weatherman leaders Bill Ayers & Bernardine Dohrn.
Kennedy with Weather Underground leaders Bill Ayers & Bernardine Dohrn. [AP/David Handschuh]


US Capital after bombing by the Weather Underground, 1971.

Another major left-wing activist group that the Kennedys were close with was the Weather Underground. Originally called the Weathermen, they were a far-left militant offshoot of the SDS whose mission was to end the Vietnam War one way or another—even going as far as to declare war on the United States government. They were highly controversial because, unlike other hippie activist groups, they endorsed and employed violence as a means to achieve their political goals. Between the years of 1969-1976, the Weathermen used homemade pipe bombs to blow up dozens of “imperialist” targets like banks and government buildings all across the country—most notably, the US Capital building in 1971 and the Pentagon in 1972. Since their goal was to destroy property and make a statement rather than to kill people, they typically phoned in warnings before setting off the bombs. Unfortunately for them, that didn’t stop the FBI from designating them a domestic terrorist group.

Two of the group’s main leaders were a Michigan activist named Bill Ayers and a Wisconsin lawyer named Bernardine Dohrn. The Kennedys first became involved with the WU after hearing Dohrn speak at a National Lawyers Guild convention in 1968. Inspired by her conviction, they quickly became friends and confidants to her and Ayers—both of whom soon found themselves on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. In 1970, the pair were forced to go into hiding, where they remained for over a decade. The Kennedys’ association with the WU led to them be monitored by the FBI—so much so that they too ended up fleeing the country for 18 months to avoid being subpoenaed.

When Ayers and Dohrn (now married) decided to reemerge and turn themselves in in 1980, it was Kennedy who negotiated their surrender and managed to get them off without any jail time.

Kennedy with Ayers and Dohrn outside courtroom.
Kennedy with Ayers and Dohrn outside courtroom.


Aside from their bombings, the other crime for which the Weather Underground were best known was breaking Timothy Leary out of prison. Leary had been arrested in December 1968 for possession of two joints while living with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love in Laguna Beach. He was later convicted, and in March 1970, sentenced to 10 years in prison and denied bail. Leary hired Kennedy to handle his appeal, which proved unsuccessful.

After the appeal was rejected in June, the Brotherhood paid approximately $20,000 to hire members of the WU (including Dohrn) to bust Leary out and the Black Panthers to sneak him out of the country. Which, on September 13, 1970, they did…but in 1973, Leary was apprehended at the airport in Kabul and extradited to the US the following year.

While in custody, Leary apparently snitched on all of his associates in an attempt to lessen his sentence—even testifying to a grand jury that Kennedy had been the mastermind behind the whole jailbreak plot, putting him in serious jeopardy of disbarment and even prison.

"Kennedy masterminded my escape from prison in such a way that there was no way he could possibly be imprisoned," Leary said in a 1991 interview. "He did nothing illegal, but he was my spiritual counselor. He directed and announced it."

According to Kennedy's former partner and best friend Michael Tigar, that accusation may have been an attempt at retribution after he and Kennedy had refused to represent Leary in the Brotherhead case years earlier.

"Leary wanted Michael and me to represent him in the Orange County case," Tigar recounts in his book Sensing Injustice. "We said we already had a client, Michael Randall, and could not do that. Leary tightened his lips. His expression became slightly demented. He looked at Kennedy and said, “Michael, if you don’t represent me, I can make things very tough for you.” Michael shrugged and we left. A couple of years later, Leary struck a bargain with the federal and state authorities and offered to give testimony against his former wife Rosemary, his former lawyers, and others. For a time, the Justice Department tried to sell those cases to local United States attorneys in various parts of the country. Nobody was buying."

High Times inserT: tribute to Timothy Leary after his death, 1996.
High Times insert: a tribute to Timothy Leary after his death, 1996.

Kennedy always denied his involvement in Leary’s escape, as does Eleanora to this day. Nevertheless, considering that he was the lynchpin that connected all of the parties involved, many still believe he did in fact organize the plot. Regardless of whether the allegations were true or not, however, the FBI was ultimately unable to corroborate them and the charges against him were dropped in 1977. As a result, though, Leary and Kennedy didn’t speak again for around two decades…that is, until 1996, when—by Eleanora’s account—Leary called from his deathbed to say goodbye.

“Michael,” he said, “I’m dying, and I just want you to know…I forgive you.

Despite his betrayal, Kennedy was still big enough to pen an honest but honorable obituary to his former friend and client in the tribute supplement High Times published following Leary's death.


Yet another prominent counterculture group that Kennedy was involved with was the infamous hashish and LSD syndicate, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. When the Brotherhood’s leader Michael Boyd Randall and their famous chemist Nick Sand (co-creator of the Orange Sunshine acid) were indicted by a grand jury on multiple counts of drug smuggling and manufacturing, it was Kennedy and Tigar who represented them. Not long after Randall was arrested on December 31, 1972, the Kennedys—along with Tigar and his wife—rented a house in Laguna to serve as their home base while working the case…which, according to Eleanora, they were making excellent progress on.

“The two of them were whooping it in court every day,” she attests. “They were winning all of their pre-trial motions, and that really steamed up the government.”

Unbeknownst to them, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) had procured another arrest warrant for Randall on a passport violation charge. On the evening of March 9, 1973, they spotted Randall’s car and followed it to Kennedy’s beach house, where they attempted to re-arrest him.

Michael & Carol Randall at Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, 2011. [Jerry Krecicki]
Michael & Carol Randall at Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, 2011. [Jerry Krecicki]

"Michael [Randall] came over with his wife and was going to make us a Mexican dinner," Eleanora recalls. "We were all in the kitchen cooking when all of a sudden there was a knock on the door. It was one of those doors where the top and bottom open separately, so Michael opened the top of the door, and said, "It's the pigs!" and slammed the door in their faces. Well, they kicked the bottom part in, and on their hands and knees came in with guns blaring. They went over to Randall, and they took from their pocket three joints and put them in his shirt pocket, then pulled them out and said, 'See what we found, Mr. Kennedy?' They handcuffed him and dragged him out…and punched him in the stomach for no reason. Michael saw that, and he started screaming epithets at them. I never heard such curses!”

A detailed accounting of the raid is included in the transcript of the US Senate hearing on Operation BEL released in October of that year:

Mr. Strange: We were faced with the delicate situation of arresting the defendant in the attorney’s home… So we went to the front door en masse and knocked on the door. Mr. Kennedy opened the door, and of course, he recognized myself and state Agent Barnes. We all had our credentials out and we advised him that we had a warrant, who we were, what we were there for, and he slammed the door and bolted it and refused us entry into the house. A forced entry was required and Mr. Randall was taken into custody and those six marihuana cigarettes were found on his possession at the time and he was also charged with possession of marihuana in the State court.

Mr. Sourwine: Well, did Mr. Kennedy resist you any further after you forced entry?

Mr. Strange: Just through verbal abuse and—

Mr. Sourwine: You mean he cussed at you? Used vile language, did he?

Mr. Strange: Yes sir.

Mr. Sourwine: Well, I will not ask you to repeat it for this record then.

(That Senate report entitled “Hashish Smuggling and Passport Fraud: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love”—which we have an original copy of in our museum collection—was also the first time that the scheme to spring Leary was made public.)

According to Eleanora, as a result of that incident, her husband was hit with 42 counts of obstruction of justice and several other charges—all of which were later dismissed. Kennedy got Randall released again the next day…but after that raid, Randall figured that he was never going to get a fair shake, so he jumped bail and took his family on the lam. He spent the next 12 years as a fugitive before finally being caught by the DEA in July 1983, after which he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

LSD chemist Nick Sand found guilty

In 1974, Nick Sand (who Kennedy was also representing) was convicted for manufacturing LSD and sentenced to 15 years. Upon learning that his final appeal was being denied in September 1976, he too fled from justice—moving to Canada and continuing to make psychedelics for two decades before getting busted again in 1996. He ended up pleading guilty and serving about three years of a 14-year sentence before being paroled in 2001.

Silk BEL flag gifted to the Kennedys by the Randalls.
Silk BEL flag gifted to the Kennedys by the Randalls.

As a token of their gratitude and affection, Michael Randall’s wife Carol gifted the Kennedys with one of only a handful of the Brotherhood banners they’d made, as well as a gold mandala that, back in the day, indicated that you were a trusted member of the Brotherhood—both of which Eleanora still has to this day (and which she’s promised to lend us for the Brotherhood exhibit when our museum opens). That same flag was displayed on stage at the Cannabis Cup when the Randalls came to Amsterdam to attend their induction into High Times' Counterculture Hall of Fame in 2011.

High Times founder Tom Forcade,
High Times founder Tom Forcade,


Perhaps the most consequential of Kennedy’s counterculture clients, however, turned out to be Yippie/Zippie activist, weed smuggler, and High Times magazine founder Thomas King Forcade. Kennedy reportedly first met Forcade in 1976 after one of his smuggling runs into Florida went horribly awry. Apparently, after police swarmed the dropoff, Forcade had escaped into the Everglades with the cash and buried it in the swamp. Once the coast was clear, he recovered the boggy bag and brought it to Kennedy for assistance. In an article about Forcade's life published in the October 1989 issue of High Times, Kennedy recounted the tale to former HT publisher John Holmstrom:

“Tom came to me with a suitcase full of what looked like mud...but when you began to look at the thing, it was several hundred thousand dollars. He said, ‘We’ve got a serious money-laundering problem here.’ It was the dirtiest money I’d ever seen—caked in mud and scum and grime and alligator-shit and everything else. It was unbelievable.”

As with his other clients, Kennedy had no moral qualms about sidestepping the law in helping Forcade stick it to the man.

“The money was so crusted in mud you couldn't even separate the bills," Eleanora recalls. "But Michael had the nerve to go to the mint with the damaged money and got it exchanged for Tom.”

From then on, Kennedy became one of Forcade's personal attorneys and most trusted consiglieris.

“Tom and I became friends,” Kennedy once wrote. “We had years of revolutionary pretense and fucking with the begrudgers. There were more Grand Juries, betrayals, and sordid legal encounters. Tom brought street theater to everything he did.”

By all accounts, Forcade was a visionary but troubled genius. Between his mental health issues (bipolar disorder), increasing scrutiny from the law, a combative relationship with his new wife Gabrielle, and the loss of his best friend Jack in a plane crash during one of their runs, Tom's inner demons eventually got the best of him when, in November 1978, he took his own life. In a private memorial service held at the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center in New York (the highest place in the world at the time), Kennedy shared a joint containing a portion of Forcade's ashes with NORML's Keith Stroup and High Times editor Craig Copetas in tribute to their departed friend.

Windows on the World atop the old World Trade Center tower.
Windows on the World atop the old World Trade Center tower.

In the event of his death, Forcade had tasked Kennedy with establishing a trust intended to ensure the magazine would go on, and that its parent company Trans-High Corporation (THC) would remain an activist-oriented endeavor. This trust was designed to dissolve in the year 2000, at which time ownership of THC would be split between three beneficiaries: the Alternative Press Syndicate (APS), which Forcade had helped establish; the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which Tom wholeheartedly supported; and any employees who’d been working at the magazine for ten years or more. Until then, the company was to be managed by a board of trustees, to which Forcade appointed his wife Gabrielle Schang, a few HT staffers, and Kennedy, who served as the board’s Chairman (as well as the magazine's general counsel).

But the power vacuum left by Tom’s death, coupled with the future wealth HT was expected to generate for its owners, initiated a land-grab mentality among some of the parties involved. Over the 6-8 months that followed, a period of negotiation and litigation ensued. Gabrielle hired a trust-busting lawyer to try to get the agreement dissolved and take control of the magazine herself, and two of the employees initially named in the trust were deemed untenable and removed from the board (those two employees sued, and eventually settled out of court). Finally, in order to stabilize the situation, Kennedy stepped down from the board and instead installed Eleanora and Forcade’s mother L.B. and sister Judy as the trustees, who then appointed Schang as the new publisher and editor-in-chief of the magazine.

Michael with Tom Forcade's sister (and fellow HT trustee) Judy.
Michael with Tom Forcade's sister (and fellow HT owner) Judy.

That female trustee triumvirate remained intact for the next 20 years. By the time the trust was set to dissolve in 2000, the APS had long since ceased to exist (in 1982), and NORML had negotiated away their ownership rights in exchange for an ongoing pledge of support from HT in the form of corporate donations and editorial and ad space each month; this arrangement was later challenged in a lawsuit by former High Times writer Ed Rosenthal (which was unsuccessful) and by a NORML board member, attorney Don Wirtshafter, whose motion to sue was voted down. A handful of long-time employees did indeed receive shares in the company as promised by the trust, but the Kennedys and the Goodsons retained the controlling interests.

Over the years, some accusations have been put forth by former HT employees alleging that the Kennedys had assumed control of the company illegitimately—that Forcade had never intended Kennedy to run the trust or the company. In his blog, The Tin Whistle, former HT editor-in-chief Steven Hager accuses Kennedy of writing himself into the trust and claims that one of HT's early employees told him that Forcade explicitly said he didn't want Kennedy in charge.

“One day A. Craig Copetas, one of the original High Times employees, visited the office,” Hager writes. “He seemed surprised to hear Kennedy had taken control. ‘Right before he died, Tom held a meeting and told us not to let Kennedy get control,’ said Copetas.”

Kennedy on the cover of New York magazine with Ivana Trump (1991).
Kennedy on the cover of New York magazine with Ivana Trump (1991).

As recounted in a New York Magazine hatchet job on Kennedy published in 1991, a few hours before his suicide, Forcade allegedly told an unnamed HT employee to “get a good lawyer—you’re going to need one with Kennedy.” But according to former HT associate publisher (and WOC advisory board member) Rick Cusick—who’s been doing extensive research into the topic for a "history of High Times" book—none of those allegations have ever been substantiated. What’s more, Cusick believes that if it hadn’t been for Kennedy’s leadership, and the legal cover his presence afforded the magazine and its staff, High Times would never have survived.

“Michael didn’t do anything untoward regarding the trust,” Cusick attests. “Did the Kennedys use High Times to feather their nest? Sure…but they were also the ones responsible for keeping the company solvent through some very difficult times when it probably should’ve gone under. I think High Times got its money's worth and then some.”

For better or worse, the Kennedys were the ones primarily responsible for overseeing the operations, evolution, and success of High Times for nearly three decades…and despite some major missteps, they managed to keep it alive and—for the most part—true to its purpose.


Kennedy had many other high profile clients throughout his career: in the 1960s and ‘70s he defended Mexican-American labor leaders Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, Black Panther leader Huey Newton, and adult entertainment moguls Jim and Artie Mitchell; in the 1980s, he defended the Irish Republican Army and mob bosses John Gotti and Gaetano Badalamenti in the notorious “Pizza Connection” case in NY—pitting him against then-prosecutor Rudy Giuliani; and in 1991, he served as Ivana Trump’s divorce lawyer—helping her renegotiate her settlement with future insurrectionist-in-chief Donald Trump. As Eleanora explains it, it was rich clients like these that enabled Michael to take on all of those activist cases.

“Fifty percent of his work was pro bono—for mostly marginalized people, who were victims of every kind of injustice but couldn’t afford a good lawyer, and the other fifty percent was for people who had a lot of money. So he balanced this out in his own head, and it worked for us.”

This dichotomy had the couple essentially leading a double life, both personally and professionally: fraternizing amongst high society elites and celebrities, while at the same time using their wealth, status, and privilege to aid and abet the nation’s most radical activists. It was a lifestyle philosophy summed up by one lawyer in that 1991 New York magazine article as “Think left, live right.”

There’s no denying that Michael Kennedy was a complicated, even contradictory man: a military officer who defied authority and hated the government; a Communist-sympathizing radical who rubbed elbows with the wealthy elite; a man who devoted his life to the law, yet was eager to subvert it at every turn. But if there was one thing he was unwavering about, it was his commitment to fighting for individual liberty against the power of the state. In his final interview, recorded just three months before his death, an emotional Kennedy confessed:

“I’ve lived a phenomenal life, and what I loved about it most was that I was never afraid—not once. Because if we don’t rebel, if we don’t stand up, no one will.”

Michael in his final interview, three months before his death.
Michael in his final interview, three months before his death.


Michael John Kennedy died on January 25, 2016, after a battle with cancer. He was 78 years old. In her eulogy at his funeral in New York, Dohrn called Kennedy "a fearless, off-the-rails lunatic, a courageous wordsmith and street fighter, capable of charging the bench in the name of justice, willing to risk contempt by manifesting his own scorn for the structures rigged against his clients." And in his official High Times obituary, former editor-in-chief Chris Simunek wrote:

At the High Times 40th anniversary party in NYC. [Liam McMullen]
At the High Times 40th anniversary party in NYC. [Liam McMullen]
“For 42 years, Michael Kennedy provided HIGH TIMES an impenetrable legal shield that has allowed us the freedom to expose the lies behind the War on Drugs, and to recover the truth about the cannabis plant that generations of opportunistic politicians, morally bankrupt enforcement agencies, and fact-challenged scientists have attempted to expunge from the public record. He was our mentor, our counselor, and our friend, and his passing has left us with a sadness we can scarcely express.”

Following Michael’s death, High Times posthumously presented him with their Lifetime Achievement award...but with its patriarch gone, things at the company began to change rapidly and dramatically. As with Forcade’s death nearly 40 years prior, the leadership vacuum left by Kennedy’s absence threw Trans-High Corp. into turmoil. Two of the remaining employee shareholders joined forces with the Goodsons to wrest control of the company away from Eleanora. They then sold the company to a hedge fund shark named Adam Levin, who irrevocably altered the nature, culture, and reputation of the brand from a close-knit—albeit dysfunctional—stoner family into a callous, capitalist entity that, in my humble opinion, dishonors the principles that both Tom and Michael fought for so long to uphold.

Thankfully, there are others who have chosen to honor Kennedy’s activist legacy. Shortly after his passing, NORML named an annual award after him: the Michael J. Kennedy Social Justice Award, recognizing progressive individuals who are working to advance the cause of social justice in America. Among the first recipients of this new award were Kennedy's former partner Michael Tigar and client Bernardine Dohrn (who was introduced by her friend Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine), as well as the late Dr. Lester Grinspoon.

And now, a new film is also paying tribute to this steadfast defender of underdogs and the First and Fourth Amendments.

Promo for "Radical Love" documentary film.
Promo for "Radical Love" documentary film.


Kennedy with director William Kirkley.
Kennedy with director William Kirkley.

After interviewing Kennedy about the Brotherhood of Eternal Love for his documentary Orange Sunshine, director William Kirkley was so impressed with him that he decided to make him the subject of his next project. The result is Radical Love—a short documentary from The New Yorker about the Kennedys' life, love, and legacy. The film—which focuses primarily on their marriage and relationship with the Weather Underground—is only 20 minutes long, but Kirkley hopes to eventually release a full-length version that covers Kennedy's entire career.

Radical Love made its public debut this past June as part of the Tribeca Film Festival at NYC’s Hudson Yard. The premiere was attended by Ayers and Dohrn, as well as Kennedy's friend Roger Waters of the legendary rock group Pink Floyd.

After the screening, Eleanora sprinkled a portion of her late husband’s ashes into the Hudson River. Shortly after his death, she’d mailed portions of his ashes to a number of people whom she says Michael had held in high regard—asking that the recipients use the ashes to honor him in some way and let her know what they’d done. I’m proud to say that I was one of the chosen few to receive some of them, and for my part, I chose to honor my former boss in the most appropriate way I could think of—that is, the same way that he once honored Tom: I rolled a big joint using a 24k gold rolling paper, sprinkled some of his ashes inside, and smoked it with a select few of my former HT colleagues while sharing memories of him.

A young Michael Kennedy.

Though I didn’t agree with many of the business decisions Michael made while running High Times, I nevertheless felt a great reverence toward him. He was without a doubt one of the most fearless, intelligent, and inspiring men I’ll ever have the privilege to know—a true outlaw and badass, and an indisputably influential figure in counterculture history.


For more on Michael and Eleanora Kennedy's life, love, and legacy, listen to Episode 14 of our Cannthropology podcast below.

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