Dusty Street, a disk jockey at KSAN-FM in San Francisco and a veteran of the pioneer underground FM station KMPX, remembers McKernan from a long time back: “I knew Pig from when we were both 15 or 16 in Palo Alto,” she said. “We used to sit around and drink together.
“Well, he drank himself to death. Toward the end, he was real skinny — real skinny, man his arms were skinnier than mine. He was down to about 126 pounds, and in his prime he was 180.
“He drank junk — Ripple and Thunderbird, even Thunderbird mixed with raspberry Kool-Aid. And even after he was making some money, the highest-grade lush he ever drank was Bourbon Deluxe. He was never quite sober, even when he woke up in the morning; he’d wake up drunk.
“To make it worse, he used to drink and not eat. We all were telling him not to drink, for years. Then he got sick, and he couldn’t drink any more. Ironically, about that time we all started to drink.”
The funeral was held March 12th at a modernistic, cinder block-and-stained-wood funeral home half a dozen blocks from where McKernan lived. About 200 people attended, nearly all of them friends from the Acid Test and Dead family scene, including Ken Kesey and head Merry Prankster Ken Babbs. At least a dozen Hell’s Angels, including New York Angels president Sandy Alexander, attended. There was also a tiny handful of conservatively dressed older people in attendance at the traditional Roman Catholic funeral.
“His family really blew our minds, man,” said Dead manager Rock Scully. “They had him laid out in an open casket — dressed in his leather jacket and his brown cowboy shirt, with his hat on the pillow.” The funeral service did not include a eulogy, but the Rev. James Healy delivered a short, impersonal sermon on the importance of music “as an instrument for good in interpreting the voice of the future and the young.” The body was buried at Alta Mesa Memorial Park on the peninsula.
The night before the funeral there had been a wake, held at Bob Weir’s home. “There were tons of people there,” said Dusty Street, “maybe 75 or so. Lots of people I haven’t seen in years, like Jason, the eight-year-old orphan of the Haight, whose mother lived with the Dead. There were lots of roast fowls around, turkeys and other kinds; and ham, roast beef, salad. The chicks knocked themselves out on it. There was lots of booze and no reminiscing. People sat around and listened to music and talked and got drunk.
“It’s what he would have wanted. It was a good party. I’m glad I went.”