John Maher, the founder of a San Francisco-based drug-rehabilitation program called the Delancey Street Foundation, died Saturday at his mother's home in New York City, according to friends. He was 48.
A former New York street hoodlum and child heroin addict, Maher had turned his own life around after coming to Los Angeles in the late 1960s and becoming a member of Synanon, one of the nation's pioneering recovery programs for drug addicts.
In 1971, Maher broke from Synanon and founded Delancey Street in San Francisco with the help of a few close friends, including Mimi Silbert, a criminologist and psychologist who has run the program since 1985.
Facilities in 5 Cities
Delancey Street gradually expanded its operations, growing to a program of more than 600 residents with facilities in Santa Monica, New York, Santa Fe, N.M., and Greensboro, N.C., in addition to its San Francisco base.
A prominent figure in San Francisco politics, Maher helped elect his younger brother, Bill Maher, to the San Francisco Board of Education and later the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
"He was a wonderful man, and the things he left behind are his legacy to all of us," Bill Maher said Saturday.
A charismatic and outspoken advocate of liberal causes, Maher was the subject of two books, a television movie and dozens of adoring newspaper and magazine articles at the height of his popularity in San Francisco.
After building Delancey Street into a nationally recognized leader in the rehabilitation of drug addicts and former convicts, Maher resigned from the organization in 1985 after personal problems which included a drunk-driving arrest in San Francisco. He returned to New York where he was employed as a construction worker at a housing project on Roosevelt Island.
History of Heart Trouble
Silbert said Saturday that she was told by Maher's family that he died in his sleep and that no cause of death has been established. Maher had a history of heart trouble.
"He started something that has helped thousands and thousands of people, and he will be remembered by them for a very long time," Silbert said.
Silbert said that funeral services for Maher in New York are pending and that there are plans for a memorial service at Delancey Street's San Francisco headquarters later this month.