Timothy Leary’s Alive


As we left LA, and wound up the coast on Highway 1, I was reminded of all the stories of Timothy Leary: his years at Harvard, his recipes for acid, his long stint in San Francisco, his brief stint in prison in San Luis Obispo, breaking out, going on the lam overseas, finally getting busted again, doing more time, turning informant to get out early, with Ken Kesey and everyone else turning against him, then his last hoorah in the Hollywood Hills, and his new crowd of followers, including Johnny Depp and Susan Sarandon.  Then the way he embraced death, documenting how the cancer took him, toying with cryonic suspension, and finally his ashes blasted into outer space in 1997.

Whether you admired or despised him, the dude led quite a life.  Was he a philosopher, or a just a wasted fool who struggled with heroin addiction, among other things?  Here’s what one of the pioneers of the era, Owsley Stanley, had to say about that:

“Leary was a fool. Drunk with ‘celebrity-hood’ and his own ego, he became a media clown- and was arguably the single most damaging actor involved in the destruction of the evanescent social movement of the ’60’s. Tim, with his very public exhortations to the kids to ‘tune in, turn on and drop out’, is the inspiration for all the current draconian US drug laws against psychedelics. He would not listen to any of us when we asked him to please cool it, he loved the lime-light and relished his notoriety… I was not a fan of his.” 
I’m inclined to agree with Stanley.  Either way, Leary was undoubtedly brilliant, certainly charming, and damn well had an impact on the course of history.  Hard to believe he was the same age as my father.

Anyway, I told this story to my sons as we drove up the coast.  They were enthralled.  Good, so long as that doesn’t take the form of following in his footsteps.

When we hit Big Sur I’ll tell them about Henry Miller, and the time I spent the night in his library.


Leave a Reply