Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert on April 3, 1931, penned numerous New Age and spirituality books, including the 1971 spiritual best-seller Be Here Now, and was a contemporary of fellow Harvard academic and psychedelic researcher Timothy Leary throughout the 1960s.
Dass' spiritual awakening came after meeting and becoming a disciple of Maharajji Neem Karoli Baba during a trip to India in 1967. During this time, the Maharajji gave Alpert the name Baba Ram Dass, meaning servant to God.
Under the advisement of the Maharajji, Dass returned to the United States in 1968 and began lecturing about eastern philosophy and spirituality across the country. He believed God existed in everyone, advising followers to "Treat everyone you meet like God in drag."
Bob Lee, a freelance broadcast journalist, remembers hearing Dass speak at Reid Park's band shell in 1975. Lee says he was a straight-laced guy for the 1970s, but a former girlfriend had introduced him to Dass' teachings years prior. Out of curiosity, he decided to attend the event.
"Everyone I knew was into the 'Be Here Now' thing, so I was peripherally involved," Lee said. "In 1975 I went to concerts at TCC, but not too much into the alt-lifestyle."
Lee says he doesn't remember what Dass spoke about but the event was unassuming, with Dass sitting on a blanket spread on the ground and without a microphone or amplification.
"There was no P.A. or anything like that, but (Dass) was just speaking to the people who were there," Lee said. "There was a pretty good crowd of about 100 or so young people, too."
While Dass continued to write New Age best sellers throughout the '80s and '90s, he formed various foundations and charities aimed at helping prisoners and people close to death find equanimity. Another of Dass' foundations is dedicated to fighting blindness in India and Nepal, as well as another promoting health education for Native Americans in South Dakota.
Dass became partially paralyzed and briefly unable to speak after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 1997. He eventually made a recovery and was able to continue writing books and lecturing on the internet until his passing.
Ram Dass is survived by his son, Peter Reichard, 53, who is the love child of Dass and an undergraduate student at Stanford University while he was a professor.