June 1, 1996OBITUARY
Timothy Leary, Pied Piper Of Psychedelic 60's, Dies at 75
By LAURA MANSNERUS
Timothy Leary, who effectively introduced many Americans to the psychedelic 1960's with the relentlessly quoted phrase, "turn on, tune in, drop out," died yesterday at his house in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 75.
However indelible his connection with another era, Mr. Leary was very much a man of the moment, and made his death a final act of performance art by having video cameras record it for possible broadcast on the Internet. He had planned a celebration, and Web sites had collected Leary memorabilia -- texts of his books and lectures, tributes from friends, a listing of his daily drug intake, legal and illegal -- from the time he was told last year that he had prostate cancer.
Carol Rosin, a friend who was at Mr. Leary's bedside, said his last words were: "Why not? Why not? Why not?"
Mr. Leary's stepson, Zachary Chase, said that until the end, "he was maintaining his rascal quality." And R. Couri Hay, another friend who joined a small gathering around Mr. Leary on his last night, said: "Tim told us, 'Don't let it be sad. Buy wine. Put soup on the stove.' Tim loved life."
In his long and extravagant public career, Mr. Leary was an accomplished clinical psychologist at Harvard University, a dabbler in Eastern mysticism, a fugitive and convict, a stand-up comedian and actor, a writer and a software designer and an exponent of cybernetics.
Most of all, he was known as a kind of publicist for psychedelic experience, a career that blossomed in the heady days of the 1960's after he was dismissed from Harvard for his drug experiments. The phrase "turn on, tune in, drop out" came to him shortly afterward, in the shower, after Marshall McLuhan advised him to come up with "something snappy" to advertise the wonders of LSD.
As the era of drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll unfolded, it seemed that Mr. Leary was at every scene, alongside a strange cast of famous characters. He took psilocybin trips with, among others, Arthur Koestler, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Robert Lowell, Maynard Ferguson and William Burroughs. He was arrested by G. Gordon Liddy. He sang "Give Peace a Chance" with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. As a fugitive on drug charges, he lived in Algeria with Eldridge Cleaver and dined in Gstaad with Roman Polanski; back at Folsom prison in California, he was a jailmate of Charles Manson.
To each of his enthusiasms, including death, Mr. Leary brought an elegant, happy contempt for authority that made him popular with college audiences decades after the psychedelic experience had expired. Over and over, he was referred to as a priest or a guru, but Mr. Leary hated everything the titles stood for; at most, he said, he thought of himself as a coach.
Well into his 70's, though he had lost his reputation as a corrupter of youth, Mr. Leary was stepping up to microphones in his white sneakers, telling audiences that the liberation and exchange of knowledge by electronic communication would free their brains and souls from the oppressive orthodoxies of education, religion and politics. He often presented a multimedia show called "how to operate your brain," and his new motto was "just say know."
Timothy Francis Leary was born Oct. 22, 1920, in Springfield, Mass., an only child in an Irish Catholic household. He attended Holy Cross College, West Point and the University of Alabama, was a discipline problem at each, and finally earned a bachelor's degree in the Army during World War II.
He received a doctorate in psychology in 1950 from the University of California at Berkeley, where he became convinced that conventional psychotherapy was not only politically disagreeable but also useless. He began experimenting with group therapy and theories of transactional analysis, which the psychiatrist Eric Berne would later popularize in his book "Games People Play."
He taught at Berkeley, was director of psychological research at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Oakland, Calif., from 1955 to 1958, and joined Harvard's faculty in 1959.
At this point, he was personally unsettled. His wife, Marianne, had committed suicide in 1955, leaving Mr. Leary to raise their school-age son and daughter. On a trip to Spain, he suffered a mysterious wrenching illness. In his 1968 book "High Priest," he recalled a powerful moment in his delirium: "With a sudden snap, all the ropes of my social self were gone. I was a 38-year-old male animal with two cubs. High, completely free."
The succeeding mind-altering experiences would be purposeful, beginning with a mushroom-induced high in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 1960. With a few Harvard colleagues, notably Richard Alpert (who later took the Hindu name Ram Dass), Mr. Leary introduced others to psilocybin, the mushroom's active ingredient, which was legally available for psychiatric research.
At Harvard, he administered the drugs to other researchers, prison inmates and even a group of divinity students, who, Mr. Leary wrote later, showed that "spiritual ecstasy, religious revelation and union with God were now directly accessible."
Still, his superiors were growing nervous, and after he tried LSD in 1962 and proposed to use it in experiments, the departmental powers turned on him. Newspapers reported a drug scandal at Harvard. In 1963, having confirmed that undergraduates had shared in the researchers' stash, Harvard dismissed Mr. Leary and Mr. Alpert. Mr. Leary's status as an outlaw, quite literally at times, would continue for years.
Once dismissed, he was free to embrace drugs strictly for sensation -- and he did. With Mr. Alpert, Mr. Leary left Cambridge for a country estate in Millbrook, N.Y., which was provided by a millionaire sympathizer and was to be the headquarters of a foundation for drug research. It turned out to be more like a hippie commune, suffused with Eastern religion. Guests meditated and took drugs. The neighbors were horrified.
As the Millbrook group (and a brief second marriage) split up, a decade of legal troubles began. Mr. Leary was stopped in Texas with a small amount of marijuana and was convicted on several charges. While the verdict was on appeal, the Millbrook house was raided; Mr. Leary was roused from bed and arrested by G. Gordon Liddy, then of the Dutchess County Sheriff's Department, who would later gain notoriety as an overseer of the Watergate burglary.
Mr. Leary's career veered into light shows and exhortations at love-ins and be-ins. He started a church called the League for Spiritual Discovery. He threw over Millbrook for Hollywood. When he married his third wife, Rosemary Woodruff, in 1967, the event was directed by Ted Markland of "Bonanza." All the guests were on acid.
Mr. Leary was still productive, writing two books, "High Priest" and "Politics of Ecstasy," in 1968 alone. He was busy on the lecture circuit, usually appearing in white duck trousers, Indian silk shirts and bare feet.
"Dr. Tim" was accused of sending many young people off on bad drug trips, and Richard Nixon called him "the most dangerous man in America." But it was not only the right that was cutting: "His rhetoric has a patina of phoniness," The New Republic's review of "High Priest" said. The New Yorker, reporting on a "celebration" in 1966, was merely condescending, saying that after the show, "with his disheveled hair and his white garments, he looked like a shipwrecked sailor, and very much alone."
In that era Mr. Leary publicly disavowed politics, dismissing the left's power games as much as anyone else's, but in 1970 he suddenly declared his candidacy for governor of California. The campaign was interrupted when Mr. Leary was convicted on a new marijuana charge in California and sentenced to 10 years in prison; he was still awaiting 10 years on the Texas charge.
In prison at San Luis Obispo, Mr. Leary plotted escape from Day 1. In his autobiography, "Flashbacks" (Tarcher/Patnam 1983), he wrote:
"Consider my situation. I was a 49-year-old man facing life in prison for encouraging people to face up to new options with courage and intelligence. The American Government was being run by Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, John Ehrlichman, Robert Haldeman, G. Gordon Liddy, John Mitchell, J. Edgar Hoover and other cynical flouters of the democratic process. Would you have let men like these keep you in prison for life for your ideas?"
The escape was spectacular: Mr. Leary hoisted himself to a rooftop and up a telephone pole, shimmied along a cable across the prison yard and over barbed wire, and dropped to the highway.
A clutch of helpers, described by Mr. Leary and others as members of the ultra-leftist Weathermen but never conclusively identified, spirited him to Algeria, where, oddly, he was placed under the watch of Eldridge Cleaver's American government-in-exile.
Mr. Leary chafed under constant instructions from Mr. Cleaver's rather militaristic band of fugitive Black Panthers, and made his way to Switzerland and then Afghanistan. He was captured there, and, in 1973, returned to the United States.
He spent three more years in California's prison system and was released in 1976 by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.
The last two decades of his life were divided between his home in Beverly Hills and the campus lecture circuit. He tried comedy clubs, too, and public debates with Mr. Liddy. To some he was a has-been and a crackpot, and to others an interesting relic, but he tapped into the information age early, around 1980, attracting an entirely new following among the young and wired.
Mr. Leary took drugs well into his 70's, but his regular pleasures were cigarettes and wine. He hailed cybernetics as the new vehicle of expanded consciousness, played with virtual reality, designed computer games and started a software company.
At the same time, Mr. Leary became fascinated by death, both by the near-death, out-of-body experience and by the social controls surrounding the dying. In his last book, "Chaos and Cyber Culture" (Ronin Publishing, 1994), which skewered "the priests and mullahs and medical experts" who "swarmed around the expiring humans like black vultures," he wrote, "The time has come to talk cheerfully and joke sassily about personal responsibility for managing the dying process."
When he learned in January 1995 that he had inoperable cancer, Mr. Leary said he was "thrilled."
"I'm looking forward to the most fascinating experience in life, which is dying," he said in the interview last fall. "I've been writing about self-directed dying for 20 years. You've got to approach your dying the way you live your life, with curiosity, with hope, with fascination, with courage and with the help of your friends."
His friends were everywhere, it seems, and often at his house. They helped in his death project, collecting his older writings and papers and filming the ever-discursive Mr. Leary. From a site on the World Wide Web ( http://www.leary.com), he greeted visitors and recorded his drug intake, which consisted mostly of cigarettes, coffee and wine but also included marijuana, cocaine, nitrous oxide and a modest list of pharmaceuticals.
His family life was not so blessed. After his first wife's suicide and two divorces, he separated from his fourth wife, Barbara, a few years ago. His daughter, Susan, committed suicide in 1990.
In addition to Mr. Chase, his stepson, Mr. Leary is survived by a son, Jack, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Mr. Chase said the family was planning a small wake next week. No public service is planned.
Correction: June 7, 1996, Friday
An obituary of Timothy Leary on Saturday misstated the surname of his surviving son Zachary. Formerly a stepson, Zachary was adopted by Mr. Leary. He is Zachary Leary, not Chase.