Who Was Eden Ahbez? The First Hippie's Strange Biography

By | April 15, 2021

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Eden ahbez on the cover of his 1960 album, 'Eden's Island.' Source: Apple Music

In the 1940s, eden ahbez's look of long hair, beard, sandals, and flowing garments wasn't common. Nor was his back-to-earth lifestyle -- he was a hippie before the word existed. When Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" was released in 1948 it was credited to eden ahbez. Anyone looking at the seven inch single from Capitol might have thought that there was a spelling error on the label, but everything aside from the capitalization was on the money. Aside from penning this monster of a number one single, ahbez was as far away from being an industry type as one can be.

In the 1940s he was living a life that hippies emulated 20 years later. He grew his hair long, he slept under the stars (allegedly beneath the L in the Hollywood sign), and he was a raw vegan who subsisted on $3 a week. Known as eden ahbez, he didn't believe that he deserved to have capital letters in his name, this early hippie and songwriting legend is one of the more mythological pop culture outliers, and his real story is impossible to untangle from his legend.

New York born, Kansas raised

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source: Full Moon Films

Even though eden ahbez looks like the kind of guy who grew straight out of the ground in Los Angeles, he was born George McGrew in Brooklyn, New York in 1908. His parents were destitute at the time and sent him to live at the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York where he was adopted in 1917 by a family from Chanute, Kansas.

While growing up in Kansas, McGrew was already leaning into his far out lifestyle by doing pretty much whatever he wanted but doing so with a gentle demeanor. His foster mother said of his kind disobedience:

If I told him he could not have permission to do a thing, he always said, ‘Yes, mother,’ and then went ahead and did what he pleased. He is the kindest person imaginable. He’s just different.