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Timothy Leary

Timothy Leary

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 drug-taking underground.

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.

Mind-Altering Software

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, Telelctronics.

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 ( 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 not?"

Further Reading

Leary wrote or edited, alone or with others, some 17 books. Among them are High Priest (1968), The Politics of Ecstasy (1968), Confessions of a Hope Fiend (1973), Neuropolitics: The Sociobiology of Human Metamorphosis (1977), and How To Use Drugs Intelligently (1983). In 1986 he created a computer program called "Mind Mirror" designed to analyze thoughts. There is no biography of Leary, though he has written his own memoirs, Flashbacks (1983). See also Chaos and Cyber Culture (1994). He has been the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine stories. For most recent stories, see: "Leary's last trip," by Douglas Rushkoff in Esquire, August 1996; and "Dr. Tim's last trip," by Jeffrey Ressner in Time, April 29, 1996. □

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Leary, Timothy (1920-1996)

Leary, Timothy (1920-1996)

With Dr. Richard Alpert, Leary became a controversial figure in the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s. He was born October 22, 1920, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He attended Holy Cross College (1938-39), the U.S. Military Academy (1940-41), the University of Alabama (A.B., 1943), Washington State University (1946), and the University of California at Berkeley (Ph.D. in psychology, 1950).

He was an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley (1950-55), director of psychological research at the Kaiser Foundation, Oakland, California (1955-58), and a lecturer in psychology at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1959-63). After leaving Harvard Leary became the head and first guide of the League of Spiritual Discovery, which was based at a mansion in Millwood, New York.

Leary and Alpert were both dismissed from Harvard for their experiments with psilocybin (later revealed to have been funded by the U.S. government). They engaged in widespread psychedelic experiments and emerged as advocates for the use of LSD and other such drugs to produce altered states of consciousness, and to treat alcoholism, schizophrenia, and other psychophysiological disorders. Together they launched the psychedelic revolution that in less than a decade impacted an entire generation.

The belief that mystical experience could be obtained from mind-altering drugs came from Leary's and Alpert's experiences as well as from the suggestion made a decade earlier in Aldous Huxley 's book The Doors of Perception (1954), which described the sacramental use of peyote by certain North American Indians.

Having exhausted the drug experience by 1967, Alpert went to India in search of more substantial spirituality and experienced a major transformation. He discovered a guru in the Himalayas and returned to the United States as Baba Ram Dass. His transformation became a parable of the emerging New Age movement, and he is a popular teacher of Hinduism and New Age values. Leary had gone to India in 1965 and converted to Hinduism and added a spiritual dimension to his psychedelic activities. After Alpert had left the United States, Leary continued to advocate the psychedelic revolution. His publications during this time reflect his efforts to provide information and instruction on the use of hallucinogens and, influenced by Eastern philosophies and religious texts, reveals Leary's emphasis on the spiritual possibilities of psychedelics. In 1964, Leary, along with Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner, published The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This book relates the death and rebirth cycle experienced through psychedelic drugs to the ancient Buddhist text that prepares followers for the after-death experience.

Various brushes with the law on drug charges resulted in Leary receiving sentences of 10 years imprisonment by a federal judge in Houston on January 21, 1970, and another ten years in Santa Ana, California, on March 22, 1970, both charges involving marijuana offenses. He began serving his sentence at the California Men's Colony West in San Luis Obispo, but escaped in September 1970 and later surfaced in Lebanon. He settled in Switzerland for a time but later returned to the United States and served his sentence at Folsom Prison in California. The 10-year jail sentence in 1970 resulted from possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana, which had a street value of ten dollars. His 42-month imprisonment (29 months in solitary confinement) seemed to reflect mainstream opinion about the psychedelic revolution initiated by Leary and his associates.

Leary's case was reviewed in the mid-1970s, and in March 1975 he was paroled but immediately began serving another sentence. Leary was finally released April 21, 1976. Separated from his wife, Rosemary, in 1971, he married his fourth wife, Barbara, after being released from jail.

Over the next 10 years Leary continued to be in the public eye as a trendsetter in ideas. He lectured widely, though he no longer advocated the psychedelic revolution or drug taking. In September 1976 he spoke to 3,000 students at Princeton University on a scientific approach to self-development. In his book Exo-Psychology (1977), he suggested that human beings could evolve into pure, intelligent, disembodied energy. Other lecture topics include Skylab/space shuttle activities and efforts to increase human intelligence and life-span, summed up in the acronym SMILE (Space Migration, Increased Intelligence, Life Extension). He founded an organization named Starseed, a cooperative to colonize space.

In 1982 Leary toured on a debate circuit with convicted Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy, who participated in a 1966 raid on Leary's Millbrook drug community. In the 1990s Leary had taken on a role as a futurist guru, advocating ways to stimulate human development and intelligence. He had popularized the concept of SKPI (Super Knowledge, Processing Interaction), using computers as mind-expanding tools. Although Leary refrained from advocating mind-expanding drugs, he expressed no regrets for his part in the psychedelic revolution.

A comprehensive assessment of Leary, his kaleidoscopic career and philosophies, and the views of other commentators can be found in Contemporary Authors (Vol. 107, 1983). In addition to Leary's own biographical works, see also Psychedelic Drugs, Hallucinogens, and Mushrooms. Leary died of cancer on May 31, 1996 in Beverly Hills, California.


Kleps, Art. Millbrook: The True Story of the Early Years of the Psychedelic Revolution. Oakland, Calif.: Bench Press, 1977.

Leary, Timothy. Changing My Mind among Others: Lifetime Writings. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1982.

. Flashbacks. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1983.

. High Priest. New York: World Publishing, 1968.

. The Politics of Ecstasy. New York: G. P. Putnam's, 1968.

. The Psychedelic Experience. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1964.

. Psychedelic Prayers after the Tao te ching. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1966.

Leary, Timothy, Robert Wilson, and George A. Koopman. Neuropolitics: The Sociobiology of Human Metamorphosis. Los Angeles: Starseed/Peace Press, 1977.

Slack, Charles W. Timothy Leary, the Madness of the Sixties, and Me. New York: Peter H. Wyden, 1974.

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Leary, Timothy

Leary, Timothy 1920-1996


Timothy Francis Leary was a psychologist, scientist, and philosopher who made substantive contributions to interpersonal theory and methodology and also gained notoriety for his endorsement of and research on hallucinogens. Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on October 22, 1920, Leary was an only child raised by his mothers family in a devout Irish Catholic household. His father, a successful dentist and prominent member of the community, left the family when Leary was thirteen years old. Initially expelled from the University of Alabama for spending a night in the womens dormitory, he appealed the dismissal in 1945 and was awarded his bachelors degree in psychology while serving in the army during World War II (19391945).

Leary met his first wife, Marianne, in 1944 while serving as a psychometrician at Deshon General Hospital in Butler, Pennsylvania. A year later they were married in the same hospital before departing for the state of Washington, where Leary began work on his masters degree. In 1946 Leary received his master of science degree under the supervision of renowned psychologist Lee Cronbach (19162001) at Washington State University. The title of his masters thesis was The Clinical Use of the Wechsler/Mental Ability Scale: Form B, which he later retitled The Dimensions of Intelligence. Following the completion of his masters degree, Leary entered the doctoral program in clinical psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1950 he received his PhD in clinical psychology with the dissertation The Social Dimensions of Personality: Group Process and Structure.

Learys seminal monograph, The Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality: A Functional Theory and Methodology for Personality Evaluation, was a direct product of his doctoral thesis. First published in 1957, Leary considered his monograph to be a methodological extension of the interpersonal theory of Harry Stack Sullivan (18921949). According to Leary, the emotional, interpersonal, and social life of individuals could be best understood as attempts to avoid anxiety. Learys monograph focuses on five levels of personality that include: (1) public communication, (2) conscious communication, (3) private communication or preconscious symbolization, (4) unexpressed or unconscious communication, and (5) the value or ego-ideal.

The majority of Learys monograph is devoted to the development of a two-dimensional circumplex model of personality, his most lasting contribution to clinical psychology. Developed by Leary in collaboration with several of his mentors at Berkeley, the circumplex model presents a methodology for measuring interpersonal behavior using a collection of simple and specific behavioral descriptors. Each behavior is situated along a continuum defined by two dimensions: dominance-submission and hostility-affiliation. Sixteen generic interpersonal themes are identified along the circumference of a circle where the two dimensions comprise the circles axes. The circumplex model can be utilized for a variety of purposes, including the assessment of the structure of personality, temporal variation in personality, and variability in personality due to situational context. Extensions and revisions of the Leary circumplex continue to be developed with the primary goal of better measuring and understanding the multifaceted and complex nature of interpersonal relationships.

After a brief tenure as assistant professor at Berkeley (19501955), Leary worked as director of the prestigious Kaiser Foundation in Oakland, California (19551958), where he applied his circumplex model to understand the process of group psychotherapy. During the time of his greatest academic achievements, Leary experienced a personal tragedy when his wife committed suicide in 1955, leaving him to raise their eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son.

In 1958 Leary left Berkeley with his two children and moved to Harvard, where he accepted a position as lecturer at Harvards Center for Personality Research and began the most controversial period of his academic career. In collaboration with his Harvard colleagues, most notably Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner, Leary started an experimental research program examining the effects of psychedelic/hallucinogenic drugs on behavioral change. In a series of studies with Metzner, Leary explored the rehabilitative effects of psilocybin on young criminal offenders at the Massachusetts Correctional Facility in Concord. Leary believed that psilocybin, under guided professional supervision, could act as a conduit for internal reflection and behavioral change. In a second series of studies, Learys doctoral student, Walter Pahnke (19311971), examined the effects of psilocybin on the mystical and religious experiences of volunteer seminary students, hypothesizing that psychedelic drugs would facilitate such experiences.

Learys research, and his expulsion from Harvard in 1963, would catapult him into the public spotlight, where he became a counterculture icon. Popularizing the catch phrase Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out in the 1960s, Leary was an open advocate of the use of psychedelic drugs as a method of exploring and expanding consciousness. He published several books on the subject, including The Psychedelic Experience (1964), coauthored with his former Harvard colleagues Metzner and Alpert. A controversial and outspoken figure throughout his life, Leary died of prostate cancer in 1996.

SEE ALSO Castaneda, Carlos; Consciousness; Drugs of Abuse; Hallucinogens; Personality


Greenfield, Robert. 2006. Timothy Leary: A Biography. New York: Harcourt.

Leary, Timothy. 1957. Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality: A Functional Theory and Methodology for Personality Evaluation. New York: Ronald Press.

Leary, Timothy. 1983. Flashbacks: An Autobiography. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.

Metzner, Ralph, Ralph Alpert, and Timothy J. Leary. 1964. The Psychedelic Experience: Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Berkeley, CA: University Books.

Jamie D. Bedics

David C. Atkins

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Leary, Timothy Francis

Timothy Francis Leary, 1920–96, American psychologist and educator, b. Springfield, Mass.; B.A., Univ. of Alabama, 1943; M.A., Washington State Univ.; Ph.D., Univ. of California at Berkeley, 1950. Teaching (1950–55) at Berkeley and directing research (1955–58) at an Oakland hospital, he spent the early years of his career in normative psychology. Later, however, he turned to the study and promotion of psychedelic drugs and was dismissed as a lecturer in psychology at Harvard, where he taught from 1959 to 1963, for encouraging students to experiment with the hallucinogen LSD. Shortly thereafter, he and a colleague established a foundation for the study of psychedelic substances in Millbrook, N.Y. Leary was an outspoken advocate of hallucinogenic drug use; his exhortation "turn on, tune in, drop out" became a catchword of the 1960s. After LSD was classified as illegal (1965) he was frequently arrested. In 1970 he escaped from prison and fled to Algeria, then to Switzerland, Austria, and finally Afghanistan, where in 1973 he was extradited and returned to an American prison. After his release (1976) he claimed to be rehabilitated and continued writing and lecturing. During the 1980s and 90s the charismatic Leary styled himself as a postmodern guru, and celebrated computer technology as a utopian, boundary-demolishing force. He took leave of life in the style in which he had lived it, detailing his illness and drug-taking on a website. In 1997 a Spanish satellite carried some of his ashes into space.

See his autobiographical Jail Notes (1970), Flashbacks (with W. S. Burroughs, 1983), Design for Dying (with R. U. Sirius, 1997), and Politics of Ecstasy (with R. U. Sirius, 1998); biographies by R. Greenfield (2006) and J. Higgs (2006); R. Forte, ed., Timothy Leary: Outside Looking In: Appreciations, Castigations, and Reminiscences (1999); B. H. Friedman, Tripping: A Memoir of Timothy Leary & Co. (2006); D. Lattin, The Harvard Psychedelic Club (2010).

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