Timothy Leary

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Timothy Francis Leary, (born October 22, 1920 in Springfield, Massachusetts – died May 31, 1996 in Beverly Hills, California) was a writer and psychologist and a long-time advocate for research into and use of psychoactive drugs. As a 1960s counterculture icon, he is most famous as a proponent of the supposed therapeutic and spiritual benefits of LSD. He coined and popularized the catch phrase "Turn on, tune in, drop out."

Early life

Leary was born an only child in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father, a dentist, left when he was 13. He graduated from Springfield's Classical High School. He studied for two years at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He then transferred to West Point, but was forced to resign after an incident where he got drunk on smuggled liquor after the 1940 Army-Navy game.

Leary resigned the corps and moved to Tuscaloosa, where he attended the University of Alabama in pursuit of a bachelor's degree in psychology. He was expelled for spending the night in a women's dorm, but, after a brief service in the Army Medical Corps in Pennsylvania he was allowed to re-enroll and complete his degree requirements by correspondence. He was awarded his first degree in psychology from Alabama in 1943. He later earned a master's degree at Washington State University in 1946, and a PhD in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1950. He went on to become an assistant professor at Berkeley (1950-1955), director of psychiatric research at the Kaiser Family Foundation (1955-1958) and a lecturer in psychology at Harvard University at the invitation of David McClelland (1959-1963).

Psychedlic research

Leary was introduced to psychedelic substances by a colleague, Anthony Russo. In the summer of 1960, Leary traveled to Cuernavaca, Mexico with Russo and after drinking several shots of tequila, tried psilocybin mushrooms for the first time. He later commented that he "learned more [...] about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than [...] in the preceding fifteen years of studying doing research in psychology." Upon his return to Harvard that fall, Leary and his associates began a research program known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. The goal was to analyze the effects of psilocybin on human subjects using a synthesized version of the drug--one of two active compounds in the so-called Mexican mushroom--that was produced according to a recipe concocted by Albert Hoffman, a research chemist at Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland. The experiment later involved giving LSD to graduate students.

Like numerous other psychiatric researchers of the time (See Humphry Osmond and John R. Smythies for example), Leary argued that LSD, used under professional guidance, could alter behavior in unprecedented and beneficial ways. The goals of Leary's research included finding better ways to treat alcoholism and to reform convicted criminals. The project was controversial from the start, with suspicions about its scientific credibility and a growing number of scandalous rumors about researchers' behavior and the participation of undergraduates without medical supervision. In May of 1963, at the insistence of Dean John Monro, Leary and Alpert were dismissed from Harvard.

They turned to their own International Foundation for Internal Freedom, founded a year earlier. Attention given to their experiments, however, fueled a black market for psychedelic drugs in Cambridge and prompted the FDA to begin regulating psychedelic compounds. With help from Mellon heirs Peggy, Billy and Tommy Hitchcock, who helped to set up the Millbrook Estate where the research could be continued. The activities at the estate garnered the notice of a local assistant district attorney, G. Gordon Liddy and led to frequent police and FBI raids.

Leary was arrested for possession of marijuana under the Marijuana Tax Act in 1965. He successfully argued that the act was unconstitutional on the grounds that its enforcement required self-incrimination, which was protected by the 5th amendment. (Leary v. United States 1969) The government responded with the passage of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.

In 1969, Leary staged a campaign for Governor of California, running against Ronald Reagan. His campaign slogan was "Come together, join the party." John Lennon wrote "Come Together" while candidate Leary was attending his and Yoko Ono's Montreal Bed-In.

Spreading the LSD gospel

In 1966 the unauthorized manufacture of LSD was made a misdemeanor. Leary founded the "League for Spiritual Discovery" that year in hopes of having the drug legalized as a religious sacrament. He toured college campuses with a multi-media performance called "the Death of the Mind" which attempted to artistically replicate the LSD experience. He encouraged listeners to form their own psychedelic sects, publishing a pamphlet in 1967 called Start Your Own Religion.

On January 14, 1967, Leary spoke at the Human Be-In, a gathering of 30,000 hippies in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, where he first proclaimed and uttered his famous motto, "Turn on, tune in, drop out." Over the next few years, he developed a complicated theory of consciousness, eventually termed the "8 circuit model", which was taken up by Robert Anton Wilson. According to the theory, the human brain had the capacity (circuits) for higher levels of consciousness than were normally accessed. These consciousnesses could be triggered by various means, including psychedelic drugs, and would be needed as mankind expanded beyond the planet Earth.


In January 1970, Leary received a ten-year sentence for his 1968 conviction. Because of his familiarity with the psychological tests used to assign prisoners, he was able to secure a transfer to a low-security work farm, from which he escaped. Supporters smuggled him with his third wife to Algeria and he made his way to Switzerland, where he was sheltered by arms dealer Michel Hauchard. U. S. Attorney General John Mitchell convinced Switzerland to arrest the fugitive, but was unable to secure his extradition. Leary, called "the most dangerous man in America" by President Nixon, was arrested by US agents aboard an airliner bound for Kabul, Afghanistan in 1973. He was placed in solitary confinement in California's Folsom Prison. He cooperated with Federal investigations against the Weathermen and other radical groups in order to reduce his 95-year sentence.

Later life

He continued to develop his theories through a number of writings completed in prison. Notably he first proposed colonization of outer space in his 1974 book Terra II: A Way Out. He was released by Governor Jerry Brown on April 21, 1976. Unable to secure a return to academia, he partnered with former adversary G. Gordon Liddy on the lecture circuit. The use of psychedelic drugs continued as a lifestyle choice, but his public pronouncements turned toward a trans-humanist call for space colonization and extension of lifespan. He supported NASA scientist Gerard O'Neill's plans for orbiting colonies.

In the mid to late 1980s Leary began incorporating video games and computers, and later virtual reality and the internet into his theories. The Electronic Arts game "Timothy Leary's Mind Mirror" was released in 1985. His website at www.leary.com was one of the earliest public sites on the World Wide Web. In 1995 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He wrote an outline for a new book, "Design for Dying" while his associates published a daily online record of his last months at home -- an early instance of weblogging. His death was, at his request, recorded on videotape.

Leary's body was cremated, and the ashes divided among surviving family and friends. Seven grams of his ashes were sent into space on a Pegasus rocket on February 9, 1997. The craft orbited earth for six years before burning up in the atmosphere.

Creative works


  • Leary, Timothy (1957) Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality: A Functional Theory and Methodology for Personality Evaluation.
  • Leary, Timothy, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert. (1964) The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. ISBN 0806516526
  • Leary, Timothy (1966) Psychedelic Prayers & Other Meditations. ISBN 0914171844
  • Leary, Timothy (1967) Start Your Own Religion. ISBN 1579510736
  • Leary, Timothy (1968) The Politics of Ecstasy. ISBN 091417133X
  • Leary, Timothy (1968) High Priest. ISBN 0914171801
  • Leary, Timothy (1970) Jail Notes
  • Leary, Timothy (1973) Confessions of a Hope Fiend.
  • Leary, Timothy (1974) The Curse of the Oval Room
  • Leary, Timothy (1976) What Does Woman Want?: Adventures Along the Schwartzchild Radius.
  • Leary, Timothy (1976) The Periodic Table of Evolution.
  • Leary, Timothy (1977) Exo-Psychology: A Manual on The Use of the Nervous System According to the Instructions of the Manufacturers. Starseed/Peace Press.
  • Leary, Timothy (1977) Game of Life
  • Leary, Timothy (1979) Intelligence Agents Ronin Publishing. ISBN 1561840386
  • Leary, Timothy (1982) Changing My Mind Among Others: Lifetime Writings. Prentice Hall. ISBN 0131278290
  • Leary, Timothy (1983) Flashbacks: An Autobiography. Tarcher. ISBN 0874771773
  • Leary, Timothy (1987) Info-Psychology: A Revision of Exo-Psychology ISBN 1561841056
  • Leary, Timothy (1988) Change Your Brain. ISBN 1579510175
  • Leary, Timothy (1988) Your Brain is God. ISBN 1579519523
  • Leary, Timothy (1994) Chaos & Cyber Culture
  • Leary, Timothy and Robert Williams (1995) Surfing the Conscious Nets: A Graphic Novel. Last Gasp. ISBN 0867194103
  • Leary, Timothy and R. U. Sirius (1997) Design for Dying HarperCollins. ISBN 00618700X


  • Leary, Timothy (1966) L.S.D.
  • Leary, Timothy (1967) Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. motion picture soundtrack. Mercury Records 61131
  • Leary, Timothy (1970) You Can Be Anyone This Time Around.
  • Leary, Timothy and Robert Anton Wilson (1989) The Inner Frontier
  • Leary, Timothy (1989) From Psychedelics to Cybernetics
  • Leary, Timothy (1990) Origins of Dance
  • Leary, Timothy (1992) How to Operate Your Brain


  • Greenfield, Robert ( ) Timothy Leary: An Experimental Life. Harcourt
  • "Timothy Leary." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 18 Feb 2007, 00:37 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 18 Feb 2007 [1].
  • MacAdams, Lewis (May 31, 2006) "Timothy Liar". L. A. Weekly.
  • Menand, Louis (June 26, 2006) "Acid Redux: The life and high times of Timothy Leary." New Yorker.
  • Taylor, Drew (October 22, 2020) "Timothy Leary at 100: How the counterculture icon got kicked out of the University of Alabama". CBS42.com

External links