International Cannabis Business Conference

High Times' Michael Kennedy (1937–2016)

Michael Kennedy (right) with former High Times editor Ed Dwyer at the magazine’s 40th anniversary bash in 2015. (Courtesy of High Times)

The longtime leader of High Times, Michael Kennedy succumbed to cancer at Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York on Jan. 25. Kennedy was 78 years old.

He was the lawyer for High Times founder Tom Forçade, the notorious pot smuggler and rabble-rouser who started the magazine in 1974.

"Tom and I became friends," Kennedy wrote in 2015. "We had five 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. HIGH TIMES was all theater. 1974, New York. Tom had publishing experience, muckraking; he preferred shit-disturbing."

After Forçade's death in 1978, High Times' parent company, Trans High Corp., operated as a trust until 2000 when the company was broken up into shares. Kennedy and his wife Eleanora and Forçade's family retained control of the company with Kennedy being named Chairman of the Board. He was also Trans High's legal counsel. During his extensive legal career, he defended the likes of acid king Timothy Leary and Black Panther Huey Newton.

Michael Kennedy (Photo by Andre Grossmann)

Tributes pourer in for Kennedy. NORML founder Keith Stroup tells CelebStoner: "Michael Kennedy was an old friend and political ally, and an unflappable supporter of NORML since the founding of High Times in 1974. Michael was both a brilliant criminal defense attorney and the chair of the board of Trans High Corp, the publisher of High Times magazine. He was an extraordinary human being who spent his entire life fighting for the rights of the individual against the awesome power of the state. He will truly be missed by all who knew him." Read Stroup's article about Kennedy here.

I worked for the Kennedys and Forçade family from 1988 to 2007. (I was also a member of the Board of Directors from 2000 to 2007.) They ran Trans High Corp. with stern hands, but generally gave the staff plenty of freedom to produce what had long been seen as an outlaw magazine. Kennedy loved to give the finger to the establishment. It was him and his wife's support of marijuana legalization that kept the magazine going during its darkest times, especially the "Just Say No" '80s when High Times nearly went out of business. By the '90s, marijuana was in vogue again and High Times began it's long uphill climb to respectability. Since states started legalizing marijuana in 2012, High Times has become a media darling, after years of being treated as a publishing outcast. 

Kennedy is survived by his wife, children Scott, Lisa and Anna, and five grandchildren.

Update: A memorial service was held for Kennedy at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York on Jan. 28. Among the speakers were his son Scott and former Weather Underground member Bernadine Dohrn, who Kennedy represented. Following the service, family and friends convened at the Sherry Netherland Hotel. Attendees included Candice Bergen, Bianca Jagger, Keith Stroup, Allen St. Pierre, Rick Cusick, Danny Danko, Frank Max, Nico Escondido, Zena Tsarfin, Mary Jane Gibson and Mike Gianakos. He was buried on Jan. 29.

Read the New York Times obit, "Michael Kennedy: Lawyer for Underdogs and Pariahs," here.

Read Chris Simunek's High Times obit, Requiem for a Dragonslayer," here.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.