Eden Ahbez, who continued to live amid the rustic, awkward charm of Big Tujunga Canyon even after he had earned tens of thousands of dollars from his hit song “Nature Boy,” has died as a result of injuries suffered in an auto accident in the Palm Springs area.
Ahbez, one of the devotees of Gypsy Boots who followed that early “flower child” through the berry fields and date orchards of Northern California before settling in Los Angeles, was 86.
He died Saturday of injuries suffered in an accident last month.
Ahbez, Boots (born Robert Bootzin), Gypsy Gene (real name unknown) and other long-haired young Nature Boys with more mundane names such as Bob Wallace and Fred Pfister became the vanguard of the health food faddists who traveled California playing their guitars and dining under the stars on cucumbers, persimmons and various sprouts while espousing the cleansing and aphrodisiac properties of herbal tea.
Boots--probably the most flamboyant of the tightly knit group of troubadours--achieved a certain measure of fame through TV appearances and becoming an ongoing presence at parades and ball games. Ahbez--who refused comment on the meaning of his assumed name--was of a more scholarly bent, writing poems and songs while marrying and having a child.
In 1944 he took one of his poems and set it to music, although an East Coast publishing company said years later that he had lifted the melody from a Hebrew hymn. Ahbez’s brother-in-law, Al H. Jacobson, said the dispute was settled out of court and all rights to the song remained with Ahbez.
Legend has it that in 1948 Ahbez tried to show the song to Nat (King) Cole, who was appearing at a Los Angeles theater. Ahbez was refused permission to see the rising pianist and singer, so the frustrated composer--born in Brooklyn and the author of several other, lesser-known songs--left his score with a stagehand.
The manuscript reached Cole within hours. He looked it over and started an immediate search for the composer that lasted two weeks.
Cole recorded this tale of “a very strange enchanted boy who wandered very far,” and Ahbez’s composition jumped to the top of the charts.
Ahbez estimated that in 1948 alone his royalties would amount to $30,000 but scorned the money, saying: “I live on $3 a week. That’s what vegetables, fruits and nuts cost me.”
After the immediacy of his success, Ahbez retreated into relative obscurity, writing his mystical poems and songs and working on a book while living most recently in Palm Springs.
His wife and son preceded him in death, a family spokesman said.