1920 - 1996
Leary was born on October 22, 1920 in Springfield Massachusetts.
His mother was from a very conservative background, while his
father was from a far more liberal environment. His father was
contemptuous of authority figures that worked for the political
"system" and often read stories while intoxicated to his wife
and son. He first attended college classes at the Jesuit College
of the Holy Cross, but was not satisfied. He took a test to
become a student at West Point and was accepted based on his
In the 1940s, Timothy attended classes at the US Military
Academy at West Point. He was not exactly a model cadet and
began to suffer reprimands. On one morning after an alcohol
party, he was awakened early by a superior and said that he was
dying and would never be able to make reveille again. He was
subsequently charged with violation of honor and silenced for
nine months, making other cadets unable to converse with him.
The African-American cadets showed sympathy for Timothy and
started hanging out with him. They too had been silenced,
although it was for reason of racism. Timothy began writing his
first book and studied philosophy during this time.
Several of his classmates that were on the honour committee came
to him and asked him to quit from the school since his
punishment of silence was decreasing the morale. He agreed to
leave on the condition that they read a statement in the
cafeteria proclaiming him innocent of the charges previously
placed against him, which they did to the cheers of his
classmates. Timothy resigned from West Point with a bitterness
towards the racist authority figures that controlled society and
government at the time.
Timothy next travelled to the University of Alabama, where he
studied psychology. Although he was a 4.0 student, he was
expelled after spending the night at a girlfriend's room in the
female dormitory. He lost his deferment and was forced to join
the military for the World War 2 effort, although he was allowed
to finish his degree during that time. At one point, he was in
danger of being placed on the battlefront in the South Pacific
offensive, but the chief psychologist at an army hospital in
Pennsylvania managed to have him transferred there for a
In 1944, he met a woman named Marianne and married her soon
after. They moved to Berkeley, California and he earned his
doctorate there, conducting research in psychotherapy. In the
1950s, he became a university professor at UC-Berkeley, but his
wife, suffering from post-partum depression after her second
child, committed suicide on October 22, 1955 by running the car
in the garage.
Timothy was horribly depressed by his wife's death and moved to
Europe, where he was given a research grant. His friend Frank
Barron from Berkeley visited him and told him about a trip he
made to Mexico, where he had a religious experience after eating
mushrooms. At first, he ignored the importance of Frank's words,
warning him about his scientific credibility.
Timothy was able to interview for a teaching position at Harvard
University when the director of the Harvard Centre for
Personality Research, David McClelland, came to Europe.
McClelland was very impressed by Timothy's ideas on
psychotherapy and offered him a position in 1960.
Timothy's first experience with hallucinogens occurred during a
research expedition to study the traditional healing methods
used by Latin Americans. He consumed psilocybin mushrooms while
he was in Mexico in 1960 and returned to Harvard in order to
initiate the Harvard Psilocybin Project with his old friend
Frank Barron. This established him as one of the founders of the
Psychedelic Movement that occurred during the 1960s.
The group was allowed to administer psilocybin to prisoners at
the Concord state prison. After the prisoners were released,
they were placed in support groups, resulting in only 10% of the
released returning to prison. They also conducted placebo tests
by giving divinity students placebos and actual psilocybin. The
results were obvious, with the students who took the psilocybin
describing a true spiritual experience.
In 1962, Timothy tried LSD and described it as the most
shattering experience of his entire life. A man named Michael
Hollingshead from the UK came with a mayonnaise jar filled with
LSD-laced powdered sugar. However, Harvard became very
suspicious of Timothy's activities and required extensive
supervision of his research, particularly the administration of
drugs to students. Parents became angry when their children had
a spiritual experience that completely changed their lives,
causing some to move to India or drop out of school. This put
immense pressure on the university and in 1963, Timothy was
fired from his position.
Timothy continued researching LSD with his friend Richard Alpert
(also fired from Harvard) in a mansion near New York City. It
became a popular hangout for the incredibly hip, who came on the
weekend to have their spiritual experience. However, Timothy
began to become distanced from Alpert, who he thought was
allowing the research to get out of hand. Alpert eventually
changed his name to Baba Ram Dass and departed to teach Eastern
In 1964, Timothy remarried to a woman named Nena Von Schlebrugge,
but their relationship quickly dissolved. He began dating a
woman named Rosemary Woodruff and left on a vacation to Mexico
with his two children, but was not allowed to enter the country.
On the way back through customs, an amount of marijuana was
discovered in his daughter's handbag. Timothy took the blame for
it and was sentenced to thirty years in prison, while his
daughter received five years. His imprisonment made him a martyr
to the LSD movement and became even more popular throughout the
country. Richard Nixon declared him the most dangerous man in
America and began undertaking a more militant strategy against
He began widely promoting the powers of LSD with a philosophy of
"Tune in, Turn on, and Drop Out" in order to fight the
conservative anti-drug values endorsed by the government.
Timothy moved to California after his marijuana possession case
was overturned by the Supreme Court and became a big member of
the anti-war movement. He recorded music albums with artists
like Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon.
However, one day Timothy and his wife Rosemary were pulled over
by a police officer known for planting drugs. They were charged
with possession of marijuana, LSD, and hashish, resulting in a
sentence of ten years in prison, although the charge usually
only merited six months of probation. He was immediately placed
in jail, despite initiating a lengthy appeals process. He was
sent to a low security prison in San Luis Obispo and managed to
escape by dodging search lights and pulling himself along on a
cable that went over the barbed wire fences.
He moved to Algiers after being offered asylum, but was placed
under house arrest. He moved to Switzerland, where he was able
to meet Dr. Albert Hoffman, the man who discovered LSD. The
United States government was able to get him extradited, but he
escaped to Afghanistan, only to be handed over to the DEA.
During the 70s, he spent about four years in prison and, after
his release, found himself without a house, job, or credit. He
moved to Los Angeles, where he socialized with celebrities and
married Barbara Chase in 1978.
During the 80s, Timothy traveled throughout the nation, giving
lectures at universities about the coming computer age and how
it would change the world. He also started his own software
design firm called Futique, which digitized thought-images.
Throughout the 90s, he continued giving lectures and working on
his website, leary.com.
Timothy Leary died from prostate cancer on May 31, 1996 in
Beverly Hills, California. He was cremated and part of his
remains were launched into outer space.
Timothy Leary (1920-1996) was a psychologist, author, lecturer,
and cult figure. He was best known for having popularized the
use of mind-altering drugs in the 1960s.
Timothy Leary was born October 22, 1920, in Springfield,
Massachusetts. He was educated at Holy Cross College, the U.S.
Military Academy, the University of Alabama (A.B., 1943),
Washington State University (M.S., 1946), and the University of
California at Berkeley (Ph.D., 1950). During World War II, Leary
served in the U.S. Army, achieving the rank of sergeant in the
Medical Corps. Subsequently he was an assistant professor at the
University of California; director of psychiatric research at
the Kaiser Foundation, Oakland, California; and a lecturer in
psychology at Harvard University.
Tuned In To LSD
At Harvard, Leary became interested in the properties of
hallucinogenic drugs, notably a compound known as LSD
(d-lysergic acid diethylamide). He and his colleague Richard
Alpert were propagandists for psychedelic drugs as well as
experimenters, alarming Harvard to the point where they were
instructed not to use undergraduates as subjects for research.
Violating this rule led to their expulsion from the Harvard
faculty in 1963. (Leary was actually charged with absence
without leave.) By this time, Leary and Alpert had left the
conventions of science far behind. An article by them published
in the Harvard Review hailed the drug life: "Remember, man, a
natural state is ecstatic wonder, ecstatic intuition, ecstatic
accurate movement. Don't settle for less."
Leary and Alpert then founded the International Foundation for
Internal Freedom (IFIF) to promote LSD and similar drugs. In
1965 Leary visited India and converted to Hinduism, announcing
that his work was basically religious. The following year, IFIF
headquarters at Millbrook, New York, was raided by local police
under the direction of G. Gordon Liddy, later to become
notorious himself as the iron man of the Watergate scandal. Four
people were arrested for possession of drugs. At about this
time, Leary founded the League for Spiritual Discovery, which he
defined as a religious movement "dedicated to the ancient sacred
sequence of turning on, tuning it, and dropping out." It staged
multimedia liturgical celebrations in various places around the
country. Leary was more responsible than any other single person
for the widespread consumption of LSD and other psychedelic
drugs in the 1960s. Millions are thought to have "dropped acid"
during those years, including many famous Americans. As LSD was
found to have dangerous side-effects its glamour faded and the
use of it was confined mainly to hard core members of the
Jailed for Possession of Marijuana
Leary's popularity as the leader of a national cult declined
thereafter and his troubles worsened. He had been arrested for
possessing a small quantity of marijuana in 1965 and again in
1968. He was given ten-year sentences on each count, to be
served consecutively rather than concurrently. This harsh
sentence was almost certainly a result of his notoriety, as it
bore little relation to the offenses, which even then were not
regarded as serious. After serving only six months, Leary, with
the aid of the Weather Underground, a left-wing terrorist
organization, escaped from prison. Thereafter, he resided in
Algeria, Switzerland, and finally Afghanistan. In 1973 he was
seized and returned to California, where he was given an
additional sentence for his prison escape. Leary was not
released from confinement until 1976.
Interest in Outer Space
After his release, Leary became an active writer and lecturer on
behalf of various enthusiasms. No longer obsessed with drugs, he
promoted self-development in other ways. He advocated theories
looking to the emergence of disembodied intelligence. He
organized Starseed, a cooperative that hoped to colonize outer
space. In 1982 he toured the lecture circuit debating with G.
Gordon Liddy, who took an opposite stand on all issues. Leary
acted in movies, appeared often on television and radio,
performed in night clubs, and worked as a disc jockey.
Leary was always entertaining when sharing his beliefs. He
lectured at colleges and performed at comedy clubs with equal
ease. He remained interested in new ways to alter conciousness
and increase intelligence. He developed SMILE in 1980, which
stood for "Space Migration, Increased Intelligence, Life
Extension." He published his autobiography, Flashbacks in 1983.
The following year, He launched Futique, Inc., a Hollywood-based
company that would create mind-altering software. "Mind Mirror,"
a self-analysis program was released by Futique in 1986. The
next year, "Mind Movie," through which users could create
electronic novels was marketed by the company. By the decade's
end, Leary had become the head of a second software company,
Leary's last book, Chaos and Cyber Culture (1994) was a
hypertext instruction book of sorts, proclaiming that "the pc is
the lsd of the '90s." Leary even "wired" his own final days on
his World Wide Web site (www.leary.com) in word and image. Leary
surrounded himself with friends, famous and otherwise, as well.
As Gen X chronicler and longtime friend of Leary, Douglas
Rushkoff wrote in Esquire, "On learning of his inoperable
prostate cancer, Tim realized he was smack in the middle of
another great taboo: dying. True to character, he wasn't about
to surrender to the fear and shame we associate with death in
modern times. No, this was going to be a party." Originally,
Leary had planned to have his brain cryogenically frozen, but
decided instead to have his ashes shot into space. Leary died in
Beverly Hills, California, on May 31, 1996. His last words: "why
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This web page was last updated on:
12 December, 2008