He Didn't Need A Weatherman

It's always humorous when your karma comes home,'' Jerry Rubin wrote in 1976. He was telling about getting burglarized by a fellow revolutionist who hadn't grasped ""the difference between stealing from General Motors and stealing from me.'' Rubin had also come to see ""karmic irony'' in getting drummed out of the Yippies -- which he had cofounded -- for being over 30, and in the $20,000 the trustee of his parents' estate had invested for him while he ""went around the country attacking the stock market.'' Nothing shook Rubin's sense of his own importance, or his bemused resilience when things fell apart. The man who became a media celebrity by means of such defiant theatrics as peeing on the Pentagon would have been the first to discern karmic irony in his own death. ""Walk on red lights,'' he had urged in his 1970 transgressionist tract ""Do It!'' (Other injunctions: ""Burn the flag.'' ""Blow up Howard Johnson's on the turnpike -- the universal oppressor of everybody.'') On Nov. 14, he chose to jaywalk across Wilshire Boulevard near his home in L.A.; he was hit by a car, and never regained consciousness before dying last week, at 56.

Certainly he would have appreciated the coverage -- though in the end he didn't get quite as much ink as his role model, rival and ""cosmic partner'' Abbie Hoffman, who committed suicide in 1989. In college his ambition was to be ""a famous reporter'' -- before he saw it was better just to be famous and let reporters help. He edited his high-school paper in Cincinnati and later worked as a cub sportswriter. (Yes, Jerry Rubin once interviewed Ted Kluszewski.) He dropped out of graduate school at Berkeley, got radicalized by the Free Speech Movement and a trip to Cuba, and joined the new psychedelicized revolutionaries; in ""Do It!'' Rubin called himself and his colleagues ""the biggest media freeks and publicity seekers since Jesus Christ.''

Rubin soon became a star, thanks to his beard, his costumes -- from Santa Claus to bare-chested guerrilla with bandolier of live bullets and toy M-16 -- and his promotional skills. (He was surely the only Yippie leader who prepped for the part by reading Dale Carnegie.) No one sensed more keenly than Rubin that the Movement lived largely by media hype. ""After the demonstration we rush home for the six o'clock news,'' he wrote. ""The drama review. TV packs all the action into two minutes -- a commercial for the revolution.'' And he saw that Yippies and conservatives fed each other's needs. ""To build their myth they exaggerate our myth,'' he wrote. ""The right wing are our theatrical directors.'' He helped create the Yippies (Youth International Party), a sort of performance-art IWW. He was a leader of the 1967 demonstration against the Vietnam War that sought to levitate the Pentagon. And in 1968: Chicago.

After the street protests that disrupt-ed that year's Democratic National Convention, the Feds charged Rubin, Hoffman and six others with conspiring to incite violence. The Chicago Seven trial -- Black Panther leader Bobby Seale was tried separately -- became Rubin's defining moment. Rubin gave Judge Julius Hoffman (no relation to Abbie) the Nazi salute, appeared in judicial robes of his own and boasted that his indictment had been ""the Academy Award of protest.'' The convictions were later overturned in part because Judge Hoffman was goaded into haranguing defendants and attorneys. ""What do you do for an encore?'' said Rubin in 1970. ""Man, I'm only 31.''

The solution he finally hit upon was to promote himself as the baby boomers' representative man. ""Politics and rebellion distinguished the '60s,'' he wrote in The New York Times in 1980, upon taking a job on Wall Street. ""The search for self characterized the spirit of the '70s. Money . . . will capture the passion of the '80s.'' Sure enough, Rubin had spent much of the '70s sampling every crank therapy in the human-potential movement, from est to a Rolfing session where he allowed a finger to be stuck up his nose. In the '80s, as a capitalist convert, he ran ""networking'' parties at Manhattan discos. ""The energy level at the Palladium at 10 o'clock on a Tuesday night,'' he said, ""is the highest energy anywhere in America at that time. It's a powerful male/ female energy and it's a powerful business energy.'' His last gig was distributing ""smart'' drinks with such names as Wow! and Go For It! His promotional video had clips of JFK and Martin Luther King; he claimed to be making $60,000 a month.

Rubin may have been a cultural fashion victim, but at least he wasted no energy brooding over the '60s he'd done so much to oversell. During hard times, he and a grumpily unreconstructed Abbie Hoffman even turned a buck with ""Yippie vs. Yuppie'' debates. Hoffman, said their agent, was seen as ""a kind of folk hero. Jerry is looked upon as someone who sold out.'' As always, Rubin had an answer. ""People are working out their own problems,'' he said, ""and I represent the part of themselves that is no longer radical.'' No one worked harder than Jerry Rubin to be famous, but no one would have paid attention if we hadn't needed someone for the part.