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Timothy Leary: Harvard's LSD king


Expert Pharmacologist
Jul 6, 2021
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Psychologist and drug activist Timothy Leary had a tumultuous life: he tried to make psychology an exact science, researched LSD and psilocybin at Harvard, became one of the leaders of the «psychedelic revolution» and hippie protests, escaped from prison with the support of the armed underground, and years later befriended the sheriff who put him away. In 2006, Robert Greenfield wrote the most comprehensive biography of the countercultural legend — and BBgate residents have prepared a timeline of the life of the most important ideologue and practitioner of consciousness change.

22.10.1920 — Timothy Francis Leary was born into an Irish Catholic family in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA. Father — Timothy Francis, dentist, alcoholic, mother Abigail — housewife, uncle — priest, aunt — opera singer, eccentric grandfather Dennis — watchmaker, owner of a popular jewelry store (grandfather advertises it on the radio), owner of a large collection of theater posters, connoisseur and connoisseur of Shakespeare.

1930 — Leary reads «The Adventures of Tom Sawyer» in Grandpa's library, Grandpa is angry, calls all his descendants, except Timothy — the only book reader in the family, «a redneck rising from hell».

1931 — Tim's father leaves.

1938-1940 — Leary attends the Jesuit College of the Holy Cross. In letters to his mother, Tim complains about the cold, too short lunch hour; begins betting on horse races, plays poker, uses the proceeds to buy an automobile, visits Boston and New York.

1940-1941 — West Point Military Academy. Freshman Leary gets drunk and is caught, the Honor Committee asks him to leave the academy, he refuses. His case is sent to the military court of the highest instance, and he himself, by the decision of the committee, is excommunicated from the society of officers-teachers and cadets: he is declared a boycott, no one sits next to him in the dining hall, if he needs something, he must write on paper, the only one with whom he is allowed to talk — the priest.

The court-martial acquits Leary, but does not revoke the excommunication — the other cadets still do not talk to him, all his misbehavior is reported to higher officers. Leary endures the ordeal and writes to his mother.


1941 — Reads Joyce's «Ulysses» and enrolls at the University of Alabama.

1942-1943 — Expelled for attending a women's dormitory. Goes to the University of Illinois. Leary is drafted into the army, earns bronchitis, goes deaf in one ear, gets into officer's training — three months at Georgetown University, then another six at Ohio University. He studies with Carl Rogers, one of the founders of humanistic psychology.

1945 — Timothy and Marian get married. Leary is reinstated at the University of Alabama and receives a bachelor's degree.

1946 — Awarded four medals, Leary is discharged with the rank of sergeant. Enrolls in a master's program at the University of Washington; Marian goes with him. Writes master's thesis on the use of statistical methods in the study of the effects of hearing loss on intellectual development.

1947 — Changes the title of her master's thesis to «Dimensions of Consciousness», defends herself, and enrolls in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. A daughter, Susan, is born to the couple.

1948 — Begins writing her PhD dissertation, «Social Dimensions of Personality: group structure and dynamics». Records and transcribes thousands of hours of group work; develops a method for recording recurrent attitudes and their dynamics in interpersonal interaction.

1949 — Birth of son Jack. Leary collaborates with child development theory pioneer Erik Erikson.

1950 — Defense of his dissertation.

1951 — Organizes a psychology department at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, neighboring Berkeley; opens a firm specializing in psychological counseling.

1952 — Receives a grant to write a book; flies to Mallorca for a year with his family.

1953 — Timothy and Marian have a drinking problem; they begin cheating on each other. Has an affair with Maria della Chiappa, who soon becomes his second (secret) wife.


1954 — Timothy Leary and Frank Barron conduct a pioneering study of the effectiveness of the methods then in use in psychiatry at Kaiser Hospital. They observe the progression of illness in 150 patients awaiting treatment: over the course of the study, one-third of the participants' condition did not change, while the remaining two-thirds worsened and improved respectively, identical to the percentages of stability, worsening, and improvement in patients undergoing treatment, calling into question the efficacy of psychiatric practice as such.

Marian's suicide.

1959 — The beginning of his career at Harvard. Instead of sending graduate students to intern in Freudian-oriented hospitals and clinics, Leary encourages them to work in ghettos, slums, orphanages, and prisons. He and his graduate students interview drug addicts, police officers, and social workers; he arranges a meeting with Bill Wilson, the creator of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Leary drinks heavily, during another binge he tells Professor Charles Slack,
«I’m a psychopath. How many points of the American Code of Ethics for Psychologists have you violated?» Slack: «None. How about you?» Leary: «All of them except the ones having to do with money». Slack asks if he has slept with patients and gets an affirmative answer.

Leary meets Richard Alpert, a young professor who teaches courses in motivational psychology, psychoanalysis, and child developmental psychology.

1960 — Leary travels with his son Jack to Cuernavaca, Mexico for the summer. Nearby is Erich Fromm's experimental camp studying Native American life. Tim makes the decision to try «magic mushrooms». He, filmmaker Bruce Connor, and Lothar Knauth, a researcher of ancient Aztec texts written in Nahuatl who has discovered numerous references to the ritual use of sacred mushrooms, go in search of them in the village of San Pedro on the slope of a volcano near Mexico City. An encounter with the «witch» Old Woman Juana. The first psychedelic journey.

After a while they are joined by Alpert, to whom Leary says:
«I have learned more in five or six hours than I have learned in my entire academic career». Under the influence of psilocybin, Leary declares: «We're all schizophrenics now! And we're in our own institution! And I understand Joyce for the first time in my life!»


1961 — Alpert tries psilocybin, for the first time in his life experiences a state of deepest peace, laughs, runs out into the snowy night. Then he shows up at his parents' house at five in the morning, takes a shovel, starts shoveling snow off the porch. A second-story window opens, Alpert's strict Jewish dad, a successful businessman and lawyer, shouts: «Go back to sleep, you idiot! Nobody shovels snow at five in the morning!» But Alpert realizes that there is nothing wrong with shoveling snow at five in the morning, looks at his parents and laughs while dancing, his parents smile, close the window and go to bed. Alpert says, «It was the first experience in my life of transferring positive emotion to other people».

An experiment at Concord Prison (1961-1963), designed to determine whether mind-expanding substances could help rehabilitate criminals. Experiment with theology students, aiming to see if psychedelics could induce authentic religious experiences. An introduction to the English philosopher Alan Watts.

1963 — Dismissal of Leary (for not attending his own classes) and Alpert (for giving psychedelics to undergraduate students) from Harvard. Leary prepares Hotel Catalina in Siuatanejo, Mexico, for a summer research camp, invites Life, Newsweek, CBS to a press conference, the offer is a success (the cost — $200 a week — includes lodging, meals, psychedelic sessions), many sign up for the entire summer (Leary: «It was the ultimate — Hotel Nirvana»).

1965 — Leary and Nena divorce. Tim quarrels with Alpert, suspecting him of having a homosexual relationship with his son Jack, and meets Rosemary Woodruff. He writes Psychedelic Prayers and Other Meditations. Leary, Rosemary, his children Jack and Susan take a trip to Mexico, near the U.S.—Mexico border the whole family is arrested — three unfinished marijuana cigarettes are found in Susan's panties.

1966 — A lengthy trial, Leary is sentenced to 30 years in prison, required to pay a $30,000 fine and undergo psychiatric treatment; Tim appeals. There is a police raid in Millbrook. Leary proposes a one-year moratorium on substance use until their legal status is clarified.


1967 — Leary meets yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and invents the slogan: «Let the State Disappear». San Francisco's Golden Gate Park hosts A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In, or simply Human Be-In. Leary, Ginsberg and Jerry Rubin perform in front of more than 10,000 people.

Leary gives a short speech: «The only way out is the way in. Turn on, tune in, drop out! Drop out of school, stop being a manager, follow me!».

Jerry Rubin, out of jail on bail this morning, calls for a move to political action. A parachutist falls from the sky and hands out LSD to everyone.

Henry Saperstein makes the movie Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out starring Leary, Metzner and Woodruff, the same year a soundtrack record is released. A week after its premiere in Los Angeles, the movie disappears without a trace, so some people think there was never really a movie, although Leary did receive $300,000 from Columbia Pictures for it.

The situation in San Francisco is heating up; by the end of the year, about 150,000 people under the age of 20 come here from all over the country, most of them without means of subsistence. In addition to marijuana and LSD, methamphetamine becomes widespread for the first time. Many are starving. Leary's son Jack joins the Brotherhood of Infinite Love, a «hippie mob» that distributes psychoactive substances and seeks revolution to overthrow the unjust bourgeois system.

Leary moves to California, where his wedding to Rosemary takes place. In Millbrook, the police find marijuana, LSD, methamphetamine and a gun. From now on, Millbrook is closed.


1968 — Leary writes his autobiography, «The High Priest».

Martin Luther King, the leader of the civil rights movement for African Americans, is assassinated. Following this, riots break out in more than a hundred American cities, 46 people are killed. At a meeting with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Leary presents «A New Declaration of Independence», suggests that each person become the progenitor of his nation and write his own
«Declaration of Evolution», thus creating one of thousands of new nations.

A student sit-in is underway at Columbia University in New York City to protest racial discrimination. It is followed by similar actions across the country. Police arrive at the university and brutally beat the protesters, all men with long hair are arrested. Robert Kennedy, the Democratic presidential candidate at the time, is assassinated.

Tim and Rosemary visit the secret ranch of the «Brotherhood of Infinite Love», which has declared Leary its spiritual leader.

The Moody Blues record the song Legend of a Mind:
«Timothy Leary is dead. No, no, no, no, no, he's outside looking in».


Leary writes «The Politics of Ecstasy» and dedicates it to «psychedelic socialist» Abbie Hoffman. The Leary couple is arrested, and two half-smoked marijuana cigarettes are found during a search. Tim claims they were planted («Because we don't do skinny joins like that in California. We spin big fat spliffs»). Leary's son Jack, under the influence of LSD, strips naked and masturbates in his jail cell non-stop for the next three days (officer: «What did you do to him with your turn on tune in drop out?», Leary: «He's just bored, that's all»).

1969 — «Bloody Thursday»: police shoot at a demonstration of Berkeley students.

Leary is running for governor of California: «Now pleasure is a political issue». Promises to double police officers' salaries, make them smoke marijuana and ban them from carrying guns.

The slogan of the election campaign becomes Come together, join the party. Lennon writes Come together, which would end up on the Beatles' Abbey Road record that same year. Leary meets Jimi Hendrix. Tim and Rosemary miss Woodstock, but participate for the first time in a march against the Vietnam War.

1970 — Leary is sentenced to 20 years: 10 for the 1965 charges and 10 for the 1968 charges. In prison, Leary is asked to take a test he himself had designed 13 years earlier, and he answers the questions in a way that makes him appear to be a malleable conformist with a penchant for gardening. He ends up in a minimum-security correctional facility, where he is assigned as a prison gardener. Leary's «Prison Notes» is published, with a foreword by Ginsberg. Leary decides to escape.


«Brotherhood of Infinite Love» pays «Weather Underground» $17,000 to organize an escape. Countercultural protest in America is rapidly transforming into armed and political protest, with 4,330 bombs planted by left-wing activists exploding in various U.S. cities in 18 months, about nine a day. The Weather Underground was directly involved in some of them.

A Yippie delegation visits Algeria; Eldridge ends up putting Leary and Rosemary under house arrest.

1971 — Leary and Rosemary fly to Zurich. They meet a sophisticated arms dealer, Michel Auchard, who declares he will be their patron («A gentleman's duty is to protect philosophers»). Auchard sets up Leary's arrest, offers to take over all costs in exchange for profits from Leary's works for the next 12 years. Leary and Rosemary part ways.

1972 — The Swiss government releases Leary from prison. He meets Albert Hofmann, the inventor of LSD, in Lausanne. Leary reads Crowley and writes Confessions of a Hope Obsessed Man. Alpert, who has undergone a spiritual transformation to become the Hindu guru Ram Dass, comes to Switzerland. For several weeks Leary tries heroin with the Rolling Stones. He meets Joanna Harcourt-Smith, «the fox of the twenty-first century, <...> the snow queen of Chelsea» (Timothy Leary, What a Woman Wants, 1976), a former girlfriend of Oshard, as well as Andy Warhol.

Leary: «There are only three brilliant people in America — you, me, and the third is different all the time». Leary and Joanna travel to Austria, meeting Leary's daughter Susan in Vienna. Susan gives Joanna a drink of water she brought from the sacred Indian river Ganges, Joanna drinks it, turns orange, and is diagnosed with hepatitis.

Dennis Martino, a friend of Leary's, says that Tim and Joanna should fly to Afghanistan, as Amanullah and Hayatullah Toki, the main hashish suppliers of the Brotherhood of Endless Love, live in Kabul. Leary and Joanna fly to Kabul, but FBI agents detain them at the airport.


1973 — Leary is in jail, receiving gifts from Charlie from the cell next door (tobacco, sugar, cream, honey, crackers, coffee, as well as Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous, Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan, and Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita). His neighbor is Charles Manson. Leary and Charlie can't see each other, but they can hear each other and spend long hours in philosophical conversations. Leary writes Neurology and The Star Seed.

1974 — Agrees to cooperate with the FBI. Will later say that he only provided the agents with information they already had. Indeed, Leary's testimony resulted in no arrests or prosecutions.

1975 — Writes the fantasy novel What a Woman Wants. Letter to Pynchon in which Leary admits that Gravity's Rainbow is the only book not written by Joyce that he has read many times.

1976 — Coming out. Joanna: «Tim came out of prison a fat impotent drinker». Letter to mom. Breaks up with Joanna, moves to Los Angeles. Begins giving public lectures.


1977 — Advocates space migration: «I’ve always been an enemy of gravity». At age 92, Abigail, Leary's mother, dies; he misses the funeral. Meeting Barbara Chase. He gets a facelift (the first of three). Changes his view of homosexuality, calling it a «positive genetic mutation»; attends the first ever «Gay Night» at Disneyland; tries MDMA.

Leary and Barbara Chase get married. In addition to lecturing, he begins performing as a comedian, a «standup philosopher», with a show titled «How to Joyfully and Profitably Survive the Collapse of Civilization in the Next Ten Years». Hosts a radio show. Writes «The Game of Life». Together with Barbara, they organize a literary salon at home.

Tim is friends with Larry Flynt, writes for Hustler and Chic.

1982 — Writes «Changing My Mind, Among Other Things». Engages in a public debate with Gordon Liddy, the sheriff responsible for his imprisonment, who later became a figure in the Watergate scandal and spent 52 months behind bars for breaking into Democratic Party headquarters. He did not, unlike Leary, cooperate with the investigation and wrote two successful books.

Leary and Liddy's debates are so successful that they are repeated many times — on Broadway, where they are interviewed by Andy Warhol, in Cannes, where they eventually become friends, and then around the country.

1983 — Alan Rudolph directs Return Engagement, a documentary about Leary and Liddy's talk tour. An ex-military man with a disfigured face and plastic eyes appears in the movie, talks about how someone under the influence of LSD shot him in the face with a shotgun, says he forgives Tim, blesses him, and wishes him a good night. Leary, Alpert, and McClelland go to Harvard to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the closing of the Harvard psilocybin project and the firing of Leary and Alpert.


1984 — Leary publishes his autobiography Flashbacks. Becomes an activist of computerization, creates with Jeff Sheftel programs «Box Office Prediction Scale» and «Mirror of Consciousness». Friends with William Gibson and Grace Jones.

1985 — Meets Liza Minnelli at Andy Warhol's funeral. Friends with Douglas Rushkoff.

1986 — In response to a reporter's question as to whether he uses lysergic acid, he replies:
«I have a wife and a child. It's very precious to me. You know Barbara is very fond of all things beautiful. And here's one thing I've noticed about mind-expanding substances — they double your rent — every time we take them, in the morning Barbara says we need to move to a more expensive house».
Leary's daughter Susan shoots her boyfriend in the head, he survives.


1987 — Susan is on trial for murder. Leary seeks to have her declared insane. Susan is in an institution for the mentally ill. Unable to help, Leary writes her letters at night, but never sends any.

1988 — Susan commits suicide. Rosemary and Joanna try to reconnect with Tim.

1989 — Lecture tour in Brazil. Breaks up with Barbara, but continues to be friends with her son Zach, and together they go to raves. Leary meets many computer geeks, befriends transhumanist A.Y. Sirius, writes for his magazine Mondo 2000. He meets Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. He meets Rosemary for the first time in 20 years, proposes marriage to her and is rejected.

1990 — Drinks a lot, goes to Smashing Pumpkins concerts, goes on tour with Alice in Chains and Rage Against the Machine. Friendship with Johnny Depp. Abuses cocaine, works hard, goes to the hospital with pneumonia and dehydration. During a Ministry concert, announces from the stage his engagement to Eileen Getty, granddaughter of billionaire John Paul Getty. That same night, Tim and Eileen are arrested for smoking in an airport baggage claim.

1992 — Leary is diagnosed with prostate cancer. Upon learning of Tim's illness, Rosemary arrives. Leary wants to see her son, but is afraid to meet him.


1993 — Leary weeps, declares his imminent death: «I've been waiting for this for years. <...> I'm very scared». Attends his last rock festival at Ken Keesey's ranch. Keesey canonizes Leary with a cannon shot, puts a wizard's hat on his head and gives him a magic wand in his hand. Leary's birthday party, 800 people show up, including Liza Minnelli, Trent Reznor, Douglas Rushkoff, Allen Ginsberg, Ram Dass, William Burroughs, Laura Huxley, Nena and Robert Thurman. Publishes «Design for Death». Asks to be taken to church. Says he is most hurt by the way he treated his children.
Clenches his hand into a fist, says: «Why?», unclenches: «Why not? It's beautiful!»

Gives up the spirit.

Leary's ashes are scattered in outer space.
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