Naturally, Abbie Hoffman showed up at the solidarity reading of Salman Rushdie's works in New York this winter. He was, himself, the author of controversial books, the most recent titled "Steal This Urine Test." Besides, Hoffman, who died Wednesday at 52, seemed incapable of resisting a good, juicy fight against authoritarianism. "Nobody likes to get bad reviews, but this is ridiculous," he announced to reporters, still his loyal chroniclers after all these years. Naturally, too, he looked distinctly damp. Hoffman was one of the few writers in the airy loft who'd joined the earlier demonstration outside the Iranian mission, where the celebs were sparser and the protesters had endured a driving rain. Once he had been so shocking, in his flag shirt and wild hair, that he could spout off to the ever-present press about his plan to psychedelicize Chicago during the 1968 convention by dumping LSD in the water supply -- and have officialdom actually believe it, assume it possible, take countermeasures. In the 50,000 or so pages of government files Abbie Hoffman inspired during The Great Craziness, there probably are reams of stolid reports on the clear and present danger of the Youth International Party, as if it were ever more than an esthetic and a gag, dreamed up by Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and confreres because they liked the word Yippies (rhymed with hippies), and then publicized with their typical panache. He scared people, not only with his intriguing but absurd threats (10,000 naked protesters floating in Lake Michigan) but with what he proved an educated middle class person could become: the pleasure principle incarnate, laughing at restraint, giving authority the finger, reveling in rebellion. The unnerved U.S. attorney who had prosecuted Hoffman and the rest of the Chicago Seven, speaking in an unguarded moment to the "Boosters Club" at a Catholic high school in 1970, gave voice to all those parental fears: "We've lost our kids to the freaking fag revolution." But by the '80s, what had become most striking about Abbie Hoffman was, in the best sense, his predictability. Coming up from underground in 1980 after six years on the lam from a cocaine bust, he was pretty much what he had always been. He hadn't wigged out, checked out, sold out. Looking his age at last -- he was already beyond the age kids shouldn't trust anyone past, back when he was tossing dollar bills onto the floor of the Stock Exchange and planning to levitate the Pentagon -- he had become a literal graybeard. But he could be counted on to march and sign and sue, to oppose imperious officials and rapers of rivers and stiflers of writers (and Frank Lorenzo). He was reliable. Some sinister force seems intent on denying the Movement its elder statespeople. Quite a few died before they got old. Of the surviving leaders, for every Tom Hayden, trying to learn what to do with the old anger without repudiating his ideals, there's someone selling barbecue sauce or specializing in networking. But Abbie Hoffman, of all people, was demonstrating how to be a middle-aged activist. He had been living ("in sin") in rural Pennsylvania, fighting a losing battle against the local utility about nukes and the Delaware River, declining to own real estate or securities or a car, making 60 grand a year ("That's two talks for Ollie North"). His landlord found him dead in his bed -- of what? sudden stroke? suicide? An autopsy is being performed. Life, as the father of Abbie's fellow protester Amy Carter once said in a different context, is unfair. Hoffman leaves a political legacy that still provokes debate, even among those in sympathy. Yippies learned early on (as Ronald Reagan did later) that making one's case via the press could be a highly effective tactic for those skilled in media manipulation, as Hoffman was. Bored with the standard strategies of the Left, old and New, he and Rubin were counting on revolution through television. If they were theatrical enough, rude enough, imaginative enough (countering cops' threat of Mace with an invented spray called Lace, an alleged LSD derivative that "penetrates quickly to the bloodstream, causing the subject to disrobe and get sexually aroused," as duly "demonstrated" by two couples with water guns at a press conference) -- if they simply grabbed enough coverage -- the alienated youth of America would rise up. Calculated outrageousness. It's an approach that lives on in such events as the "kiss-in" staged by AIDS activists at the Democratic convention in Atlanta last summer, but also one coming in for criticism as historians start raking through the not-distant past, trying to understand how so much passion dissipated so quickly. Yippie-ism was a romp, a sexy media stunt, a pie in the face; at the time, Hoffman showed little stomach for the more arduous modes of political change. But no one could top him in the inspired use of that potent political weapon, ridicule. He escorted Jefferson Airplane chanteuse Grace Slick (in a see-through blouse) to a White House tea Tricia Nixon was hosting for Finch College alumnae; turned away, he left the flag of "the new nation" -- a marijuana leaf rampant on a black background -- draped over the White House fence. Hoffman and his fellow freaks nominated a pig called Pigasus for president in 1968. ("I think the pig won," he later commented.) Subsequently tried -- by a judge also named Hoffman -- with the Chicago Seven for conspiracy to riot, he never missed a chance to refer to himself as the judge's illegitimate son, or to rail in court that Judge Hoffman was a "shtunk." At a stand-up comedy gig at a New York club last summer, he was still making love not war, talking rapturously about a supposed one-night fling with the Rev. Jerry Falwell ("He was warm, caring, giving ..."). Respect for authority, the observance of social niceties, sometimes reason itself, were counterrevolutionary. So were pay toilets. His compadres were offering instant eulogies yesterday. Attorney William Kunstler observed that "a unique character has left the American scene." Jerry Rubin saw him as a tribute to what one person could accomplish. "What was Abbie Hoffman?" he asked rhetorically. "Just a man and a mouth." And The New York Times offered an oddly dignified obit: "Peace and Environmental Activist," the headline called him, accompanied by a photo of Abbie in a tie and jacket. He had stayed around long enough to be semirespectable. And to take a longer, less apocalyptic view. "I guarantee you there's light at the end of the tunnel," he told his youngish comedy audience last year. "There's a new generation ready to carry the flag down the street. Just don't flush the toilet while I'm taking a shower."