60s activist

(completely revised and updated February 2021)

The Making of a 60s Activist

Larry Brilliant was a former hippie, a follower of a Hindu Guru, a buddy of Wavy Gravy, and lived in the Mill Valley outside of San Francisco.  Does that sound like the bio of a major contributor to the eradication of smallpox on the planet?  It certainly is a bio of a 60s activist.

Well, that is exactly part of Larry Brilliant’s background.

Those experiences would all shape Larry Brilliant (how is that for a name) into the quintessential child of the 60s.

Brillian’s life is an egg in the face for all the commentators who say, we baby boomers (children of the 60s, hippies, or whatever they sometimes call us)  were self-centered folks just looking for the next tab or hit.

He is just one of the many boomers who has been active in development and community service their entire lives.  Making the world a better place.  That is really the heart of our generation. 

This 60s activist grew up in Detroit, Michigan.  His family afforded him many opportunities to expand his mind and outlook on human potential.  His father was a successful entrepreneur who empowered many life-changing projects with his profits. 

Brilliant recieved all of his degrees from Michigan universities, with his M.D. coming from Wayne State University School of Medicine.

Alcatraz Baby Delivery Launches Larry Brilliant’s Career of Service

After receiving that degree, he left for California where he had been accepted into an internship at the California Pacific Medical Center.  This move launched him into experiences and exposure to other like-minded children of the 60s wanting to make a difference in the world.

In 1969 when Indigenous Americans (Indians) took over Alcatraz.  One of the women in the group needed help to give birth to her baby.  Brilliant heard an appeal for a doctor’s assistance and responded at once. 

This launched his career as a 60s activist.

Reports are that the baby boy he delivered was named Wovoka after the shaman who created the powerful, ghost dance religious movement.  The dance was to chase the white man out of the American Indian land.

“When Wovoka was born, it meant renewal for the Indians,” Brilliant remembers. “I had never met an Indian until I went out to the island. I’m from Detroit.”

Medicine Ball Caravan

While on Alcatraz island, the 60s activist, help some injured people.  When he returned to shore, reporters met him.  Some of the brass at Warner Bros. saw the news reports and invited him to be one of the doctors on the upcoming film which they wanted to piggyback on the success of the Woodstock film.   

The film was called Medicine Ball Caravan.  The film was about a group of hippies who follow the Grateful DeadJefferson AirplaneJethro Tull, and Joni Mitchell.  They traveled, in communal style, on a bus.

Larry Brilliant

Among the fellow travelers was Wavy Gravy of the Hog Farm fame.  Remember him at Woodstock?  “Good morning! What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for four hundred thousand.”

Larry Brilliant

When the Caravan’s bands completed the tour in Canterbury, England, Wavy Gravy came up with a great idea.  He thought it would be great for the bands and their hippie followers to rent some buses and head for East Pakistan.   Those people had just suffered a catastrophic cyclone.  

“Wavy’s idea was that if the hippies can deliver aid, we’ll embarrass the U.N. and Red Cross into doing more,” Brilliant says. “That was the vague idea on which we began our journey to the east.”

An ongoing civil war in Pakistan threw a spanner in their plan.  The 40 or so hippies decided to deliver their extremely beneficial aid to Tibet.  


Brilliant and his wife ended up in India, living in the Himalayan ashram of Neem Karoli Baba, also known to followers as Maharaji, a Hindu guru and mystic known for the Americans he attracted in the 1960s and ’70s, including Marin musicians Krishna Das and Jai Uttal.

Civil unrest stopped the relief caravan so he spent several years in India studying at a Himalayan ashram with Neem Karoli Baba (a Hindu sage) from whom he received the name Subramanyum. After about a year Neem Karoli Baba advised Brilliant to eradicate smallpox, a project on which he would spend the next several years.

He participated, as a medical officer, in the World Health Organization (WHO) smallpox eradication program that in 1980 certified the global eradication of smallpox.[6] Brilliant found that Indian officials became more receptive to his efforts when they learned of Neem Karoli Baba’s involvement, to which he credits a significant portion of the program’s success.[7] Brilliant contributed a seven-page account of his experiences to the book Miracle of Love: Stories of Neem Karoli Baba.[7]

became a devotee of the guru Maharaji and, oh yeah,

Larry Brilliant

played a key role in eradicating smallpox in India.

Larry Brilliant

Larry is one of the unsung heroes of the Baby Boomer generation.



His penetrating book

Larry Brilliant

Sometimes Brilliant: The Impossible Adventure of a Spiritual Seeker and Visionary Physician Who Helped Conquer the Worst Disease in History


Listen to this Wisconsin Public Radio show about Larry Brilliant.

Larry Brilliant on Covid-19

Here is a link to KQED and Brilliant’s interview about Covid-19. Remember this is the guy who helped eradicate small pox.

 He was the inaugural Executive Director of Google.org,[2] the charitable arm of Google established in 2005,

By Chowning

Richard Chowning was a teenager during the 60s. Being a Southern California resident during those years, he experienced many of the events and trends that distinguished those times.