Man, seriously, after reading and researching this a guy a little bit more, somebody’s just GOT to make a movie of this dude's life.
The Journey Begins
Timothy Leary was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on October 22, 1920. His father, a dentist by trade would abandon the family when Leary was only thirteen but before he left had made a huge impact on his only son. From early on, he taught young Tim to question authority and to be suspicious of big government. Leary went on to graduate from Classical High School and would later attend five colleges on the path to his enlightenment.
His first one was (surprisingly) the Jesuit College of the Holy Cross located in nearby Worcester, Massachusetts. Perhaps he didn’t find it challenging enough and soon afterwards he found himself attending (even more surprisingly) West Point.
It should come as no surprise that that the discipline and structure at West Point and the rigid cadet lifestyle didn’t really fit in with Leary’s own mindset and he was soon called on the carpet for various violations of the Academy’s code of ethics. Most of these instances had to do with his drinking and lying about it and it wasn’t long before he was called on the carpet by his superiors and “silenced” for nine months. That meant having little or no interaction with his fellow classmates and given his gregarious style, Leary soon quit the Point and went off to study psychology at the University of Alabama. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1943.
After a brief stint in the Army in the Medical Corp, Leary enrolled at Washington State University and would subsequently get his master’s degree in 1946. From there it was off to the University of California, Berkeley where he eventually earned his Ph.D in 1950. He would also teach there as an assistant professor until 1955.
In 1959 he moved back east and began lecturing at Harvard University. In 1963 he was officially expelled from his position for not attending his own lectures. Unofficially though, he raised the ire of his fellow professors for his endorsement of the use of psychedelics (they were legal at the time) amongst the student body and for other “research projects”.
It was also while at Harvard that Leary met the acquaintance of one Dr. Richard Alpert who would later come to be known as Ram Dass
and the both of them conducted various experiments using LSD
and other hallucinogens under a program called the Harvard Psilocybin Project..
Leary would later claim in his autobiography that they had administered LSD to over three hundred professors, graduate students and other scholars and that seventy five percent of them reported the experience as mind altering. He would also claim to have dosed two hundred members of the clergy and that approximately eighty percent of them reported having “religious experiences”.
Upon his first personal use of psilocybin Leary would later comment that he had learned more about his own brain, its capabilities and possibilities in five hours than he had in the previous fifteen years of studying.
It wasn't long before the feds had taken notice of the increase in popularity towards hallucinogens and were well on the way to declaring them illegal. In an effort to confront this, Leary founded something called the League for Spiritual Discovery. He declared it a religion and LSD was to be its sacrament and those using the drug for religious purposes would be allowed to do so under the auspices of “freedom of religion” The feds weren’t listening though and in October of 1966 declared LSD illegal and further put such strict controls on it that its use was criminalized and all research involving the drug, legal or not, were shut down.
By this time Leary had caught the attention of the “the man” and it was on one of his forays into Mexico that got him busted. He and his daughter were searched at the border and she was “carrying”. Leary claimed the weed that was found was his and would later be convicted of possession under something called the Marihuana Tax Act. The feds must have figured he wasn't one to fuck around with and he was sentenced to thirty years behind bars, fined thirty grand and ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment. He would later appeal the case under the grounds that the act he was convicted under was unconstitutional and in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
Leary didn’t help his cause any when, while out on appeal, he was busted with two roaches that he would later claim were planted on him by the police.
In 1969, in Leary v. United States the Supreme Court agreed with him and his conviction was overturned and the case thrown out. He used the occasion to announce his candidacy for the governorship of California running against one Ronald Reagan. His campaign slogan, “Come together, join the party”
In June of 1969 Leary would make the trek to Montreal to join John Lennon and Yoko Ono at their infamous attempt to end the Viet Nam war that was known as a “Bed In”. Lennon would later pen the tune “Come Together” as a campaign song for Leary’s run for the office.
Leary might’ve beaten the one rap but he was convicted on the roaches and was sentenced to, believe it or not, ten fuckin’ years! Upon his arrival in prison, Leary was ordered to undergo psychological tests in order to determine which job suited him best while behind bars. Leary had an ace up his sleeve though. He found that he himself had designed many of the actual tests and crafted his answers as such to land himself a job in forestry and gardening in a low level security environment.
In September of 1970, Leary made his move and escaped. A fee paid by a group then known as “The Brotherhood for Eternal Love” was paid to the Weather Underground and Leary and his wife were smuggled out of the country to Algeria. It was there that he hooked up with some other folks on the lam, most notably, Eldridge Cleaver of The Black Panthers and began calling for the violent overthrow of the United States government.
In 1971, perhaps sensing that the “heat” was on, Leary and his wife took off for Switzerland. Then President Richard M. Nixon tried to convince the Swiss that Leary was threat and to have him extradited. The Swiss refused the extradition request but did imprison him for a month. Upon his release, he resumed his life on the run by traveling to Vienna, Beirut and Kabul, Afghanistan. It was there that he was arrested and was deported back to America.
Along the way, the plane stopped in the United Kingdom and Leary quickly asked for political asylum. Since Nixon had branded him as the “most dangerous man in America”, it comes as no surprise that his request was denied. When he got back he was staring at a ninety five year sentence and was placed in solitary confinement in California’s notorious Folsom Prison right next to one Charles Manson. His bail was set at five million dollars, at the time, the highest in US history.
Ninety five years is a long fuckin’ time and Leary decided to roll the dice by cooperating with the FBI in its ongoing investigation of various radical groups and other assorted subversives. In return for his testimony, he was granted a reduced sentence and released in April of 1976. He would later claim that much of the testimony he gave was useless and that nobody was ever prosecuted as a result. Despite that, his friends in the counterculture never quite welcomed him back with open arms.
After moving around some, Leary found himself in Hollywood doing what he called “stand up philosophy”. It was there that he struck up a friendship with former Watergate co-conspirator and convicted felon and now right wing radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy. The two formed a symmetry and in starting in 1982 they toured across the country giving lectures on and debating what was the “soul of America”. It was a financial windfall for the both of them.
Leary took up permanent residence in Beverly Hills and tried to crossover into mainstream movies but the studios and sponsors weren’t buying. He continued to be a regular on the party circuit though and eventually went back to using drugs, this time on a more private level.
It was at about this time that Leary focused his attention away from the planet Earth and began to preach about the prospect of space colonization. His master plan would change greatly over the years but the main thrust of it was that one day he would migrate in to outer space. He began to think that the matters of us mere mortals like ecology, the peace movement and causes like Greenpeace were trivial compared to what lay in store for him. He called the Earth and most of its inhabitants a “fouled nest” and that only the “larva” would choose to live here. His plan called for him to leave along with five thousand of the planets most gifted humans on a vessel called “Starseed One”.
Timothy Leary's dead.
No, no, no, no,
He's outside looking in.
In the beginning of 1995 Leary was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer. He outlined his plans for a book about the experience that was called Design for Dying. His website became somewhat of a daily blog detailing what he ate, what drugs he used and what he said throughout the day. His mantra or whatever you want to call it now included embracing death as the most important thing you can do in your life.
Timothy Leary departed this world on May 31, 1996. Reports are that Leary’s actual death was videotaped and his last words were "Why? Why not? WHY NOT? Why not? Why not? Why not?" and later, "Beautiful."
What a long strange trip its been
Timothy Leary was subsequently cremated and on February 9, 1997 seven grams of his ashes along with the cremations of twenty four others were placed aboard a Pegasus rocket and shot up into space. One of his fellow passengers was Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek. The rocket was to remain in orbit for six years before burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Safe travels Tim, I hope you had a good landing wherever it is.