Jack MacPherson, the Ultimate Beer Buddy Jack MacPherson, a Southern Californian surfer who became famous for organizing "beer orgies," recently died of liver and kidney failure. MacPherson had been the inspiration for Tom Wolfe's novel The Pump House Gang.

Jack MacPherson, the Ultimate Beer Buddy

Jack MacPherson, the Ultimate Beer Buddy

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Jack MacPherson, a Southern Californian surfer who became famous for organizing "beer orgies," recently died of liver and kidney failure. MacPherson had been the inspiration for Tom Wolfe's novel The Pump House Gang.


NPR's Luke Burbank has joined us here in the studio with a story about a guy who seems to have embodied California - at least the sun, sand and suds part. Luke, take it away.

LUKE BURBANK: Well, I don't know if you remember, but yesterday I was carrying around this obituary from the L.A. Times of a guy named Jack MacPherson, who passed away in La Jolla. What got my attention, and a lot of our attention, was actually the headline, which is Jack MacPherson, 69, La Jolla Legend Known for Huge Beer Orgies. And I mean I had never seen an obituary headline like that in a respectable newspaper sort of operation. So I decided I would call around and try to figure out who this guy Jack MacPherson actually was.

(Soundbite of telephone)

Mr. TIM McMULLEN(ph) (Bartender): West End, this is Tim.

BURBANK: Tim McMullen is a bartender at London's West End pub, which is actually in La Jolla. For the past 20 years, the West End served as the backdrop to Jack MacPherson's life. He drank there.

Mr. McMULLEN: He told me that he's been drinking 18 beers a day for 50 years.

BURBANK: Then, when he retired from his real work as a postman, MacPherson, who everyone there knew as Mac, started working the 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. bartending shift at the West End.

Mr. McMULLEN: He's an icon. You could see it from a block away. The guy was a total icon.

BURBANK: Brad, TB, or Tall Brad, as he's known around the West End Bar, was friends with MacPherson for the last 30 years. They met when Tall Brad was just a teenager. He was medium-size Brad back then. MacPherson was already about 30 by then. He was the son of a San Diego surgeon, and MacPherson and his buddy, Bob Raikstra(ph), had already formed a sort of weird, pro-bono demolition gang known as the Mac Media Destruction Company.

Mr. McMULLEN: They just enjoyed demolishing things, and they would literally do it for free.

BURBANK: As long as the owner bought them a keg, the Mac Media Destruction Company would totally demolish an old house using sledgehammers, brute force and reportedly sometimes even a member of the San Diego Chargers football team. Mac Media grew and grew in the 1960s. Actually, 10,000-plus people would show up for birthdays at the bar where MacPherson would hang out.

Mr. McMULLEN: That's pretty legendary. The FBI always wanted to know what, you know, what sort of gang this was. Everybody was totally perplexed.

BURBANK: It wasn't actually a gang as much as a sort of loose affiliation of deadbeats, doctors, trust-fund babies and other assorted weirdoes. The Mac Media scene was even immortalized by Tom Wolfe in his book, "The Pump House Gang," published in 1968. Jack MacPherson's favorite foods, in order of how much he consumed, were Budweiser, Spam, chicken hearts, string cheese and pickled eggs. Still, says Tim McMullen, he was fit up until the very end.

Mr. McMULLEN: He could do a Chinese push-up like nobody - like my son can bench press 350 pounds, and my son couldn't do a Chinese push-up.

BURBANK: A Chinese push-up, by the way, in La Jolla parlance, apparently being harder than a normal one. MacPherson certainly lived the life of a surfing party boy, but not all his friends were happy with the L.A. Times obituary headline saying he was legendary for throwing beer orgies. Tom McMillan(ph), who owns the West End Pub.

Mr. TOM McMILLAN (Pub Owner): Yeah, orgy. I mean, why do you throw that word into it? I mean, it's synonymous to group sex and - I mean it's horrible and just, you know, it killed me when I saw that.

BURBANK: McMillan remembers a guy who, however hard he partied, always showed up for his 6:00 a.m. shift no matter how late he'd been out the night before. He says McMillan was late two times in 20 years. Now Tim McMullen, who took over Jack MacPherson's 6:00 a.m. shift, said his buddy loved to sing.

Mr. McMULLEN: And then his favorite song was "Your Feets Is Too Big" by Fats Waller. We'd sing it together.

BURBANK: Can you - I know it's kind of early. It's 6:32 in the morning. Can you give me a few notes of "Your Feets Are Too Big?"

Mr. McMULLEN: From the waist up, you sure are sweet, but from there on down, there's just too much feets.

BURBANK: Jack Mac MacPherson will be remembered with drink specials all day December 10 at the West End bar in La Jolla. Luke Burbank, NPR News.

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