John Sinclair, Political Activist, Ex-MC5 Manager & Inspiration for a John Lennon Song, Dead at Age 82

John Sinclair, a Detroit-based poet, political activist, and marijuana advocate who once managed the influential proto-punk band the MC5, passed away Tuesday, April 2, at age 82.

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Sinclair’s rep, Matt Lee, confirmed to The Detroit News, that he died of congestive heart failure at Detroit Receiving Hospital.

[RELATED: Tom Morello, Alice Cooper Among Rock Artists Paying Homage to Late MC5 Guitarist Wayne Kramer]

Sinclair managed the MC5 during the late 1960s, and helped the band get signed to Elektra Records. He also was the co-founder of the White Panther Party, a militant left-wing organization that sought to help the Black Panthers in their campaign against racism.

During his time as MC5’s manager, he encouraged the band to embrace the revolutionary political ideology espoused by the White Panthers. Sinclair contributed liner notes to the group’s 1969 debut album, Kick Out the Jams, and was listed as providing “guidance” to the band in the credits.

The MC5 fired Sinclair as their manager in 1969, with band members blaming him for derailing the group’s commercial prospects because of his adherence to his radical beliefs.

Also in ’69, Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he was arrested multiple times for marijuana possession. One of his arrests occurred after he offered two marijuana joints to an undercover police officer.

About the “John Sinclair Freedom Rally”

Sinclair had spent about two years in prison when a star-studded protest was organized calling for his release. The “John Sinclair Freedom Rally” was held in December 1971 at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It featured performances and speeches by such musicians as John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Phil Ochs, and David Peel, poets Allen Ginsberg and Ed Sanders, and countercultural figures Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale.

At the event, Lennon performed his original song “John Sinclair,” which he wrote about Sinclair’s legal plight. The tune late was included on Lennon and Ono’s 1972 album Some Time in New York City.

Just a few days after the rally, Sinclair was released from prison when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state’s marijuana laws weren’t constitutional.

Sinclair also was involved in a noteworthy legal battle stemming from him and two associates being charged with plotting to bomb a CIA office in An Arbor. The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972, with the court ruling in favor of Sinclair and his co-defendants. The ruling prohibited President Richard Nixon’s administration from using electronic surveillance against parties without a warrant.

Sinclair’s Support of Legalizing Marijuana

Sinclair continued to fight for the legalization of marijuana in Michigan throughout most of his life. In 2018, an initiative to legalize cannabis in the state was passed, and sale of pot for recreational use began the following year.

Sinclair’s Other Endeavors

Sinclair’s many other endeavors included working as a radio DJ and a music journalist. He also performed his poetry with backing by a band called the Blues Scholars. In addition, he recorded many albums with the Blues Scholars and with various other musicians accompanying him, including late MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer.

Iggy Pop Pays Tribute

Iggy Pop, whose old band The Stooges were closely associated with the MC5, paid tribute to Sinclair on his social media sites.

“He was a truly interesting man, one of a kind,” Pop wrote. “Thanks and praises.”

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