John Sinclair, Renowned Detroit Counterculture Poet, Writer, and Activist, Dies at 82


John Sinclair wears a paisley shirt while making a peace sign with his fingers and holds a marijuana legalization sign.

John Sinclair in 1968. Photo by Leni Sinclair.

Poet, writer, and activist John Sinclair has died at age 82.

According to the Metro Times, he died of heart failure this morning at Detroit Receiving Hospital and had been struggling with health problems in recent months.

Born in Flint in 1941, Sinclair was a highly regarded leader in Detroit’s counterculture scene of the 1960s and 1970s. Famous for his radical politics, Sinclair also managed the MC5 and co-founded the White Panther Party and the Ann Arbor Sun.

In 1969, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after offering two joints to an undercover female narcotics officer.

Various public and private protests soon culminated in response to Sinclair’s sentencing, including John Lennon writing a song called “John Sinclair” and the launch of an annual marijuana legalization rally in Ann Arbor that would later become known as Hash Bash.

Sinclair’s sentencing also sparked the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in 1971 at Ann Arbor’s Crisler Arena. It featured an all-star lineup of artists and speakers, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Phil Ochs, The UpCommander Cody and His Lost Planet AirmanBob Seger, Stevie Wonder, Bobby Seale, Jerry Rubin, Allen Ginsburg, and others.

Ann Arbor District Library’s Archive is full of photos, interviews, essays, documents, and recordings about Sinclair, his life, and the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in 1971.

To learn more, visit AADL’s retrospective, Freeing John Sinclair: The Day Legends Came to Town.