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Dr. Timothy Francis Leary

Birthplace: Springfield, MA, United States
Death: May 31, 1996 (75)
Los Angeles, CA, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Private
Husband of Marianne Busch
Ex-husband of Private; Birgitte "Nena" Caroline von Schlebrügge; Private and Private
Father of Private and Private

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Timothy Leary

He was an American writer, psychologist, futurist, and advocate of psychedelic drug research. An icon of 1960s counterculture, Leary is most famous as a proponent of the therapeutic, spiritual and emotional benefits of LSD. He coined and popularized the catch phrase "Turn on, tune in, drop out.

Early life:

Leary was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, the only child of an Irish American dentist who abandoned his wife Abigail Ferris and the rest of the family when Leary was thirteen. Leary graduated from Springfield's Classical High School.

In 1940, Leary enrolled as a cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point. After violating the Academy’s honor code for allegedly drinking whiskey and lying about it[citation needed], Leary was informally punished by being ‘silenced’, whereby he was shunned and ignored by his co-cadets as a tactic to pressure him to resign. The alleged incident was dismissed by the official court-martial, however the 'silencing' continued. After nine months, Leary was asked to resign by the honor committee, which he accepted. Almost fifty years later, Leary would remark that it was “the only fair trial I’ve had in a court of law”.

Leary spent two years at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, transferred to University of Alabama where he received a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1943. His obituary in the New York Times said he "finally earned his bachelor's degree in the U. S. Army during World War II," when he was a sergeant in the Medical Corps. He received his master's degree at Washington State University in 1946, and his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1950[3]. The title of Leary's Ph.D. dissertation was "The Social Dimensions of Personality: Group Structure and Process." He became 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 (1959–1963). He was fired from Harvard for failing to conduct his scheduled class lectures, though he claimed that he had fulfilled all of his teaching obligations. The decision to dismiss him was allegedly influenced by his role in the popularity of then-legal psychedelic substances among Harvard students and faculty members.

Leary's early work in psychology expanded on the research of Harry Stack Sullivan and Karen Horney regarding the importance of interpersonal forces in mental health. Leary focused on how the interpersonal process might be used to diagnose disorders and patterns found in human personalities. He developed a complex and respected interpersonal circumplex model, published in The Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality, which offered a means by which psychologists could use MMPI scores to determine a respondent's characteristic interpersonal modes of reaction.

Leary married Marianne Busch in 1945. In 1947 while working on his PhD at the University of California at Berkeley, his wife gave birth to their first child, Susan, followed two years later by a son, Jack. In 1952 the Leary family spent a year in Spain, subsisting on a research grant awarded to Leary. A Berkeley colleague of Leary’s, Marv Freedman later recounted that “…Something had been stirred in him in terms of breaking out of being another cog in society…”.

In 1955, Leary's wife committed suicide, leaving him to raise their son and daughter alone. When Leary was 35 years old he described himself as "an anonymous institutional employee who drove to work each morning in a long line of commuter cars and drove home each night and drank martinis ... like several million middle-class, liberal, intellectual robots."

Psychedelic experiments and experiences:

On May 13, 1957, Life magazine published an article by R. Gordon Wasson that documented the use of psilocybin mushrooms in the religious ceremony of the indigenous Mazatec people of Mexico. Anthony Russo, a colleague of Leary's, experienced psychedelic (or entheogenic) Psilocybe mexicana mushrooms during a trip to Mexico, and related the experience to Leary. In August 1960, Leary traveled to Cuernavaca, Mexico with Russo and ate psilocybin mushrooms for the first time, an experience that drastically altered the course of his life. In 1965, Leary commented that he "learned more about... (his) brain and its possibilities... (and) more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than... (he) had in the preceding fifteen years of studying and doing research in psychology.

Upon his return from Mexico to Harvard in 1960, Leary and his associates, notably Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass), began a research program known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. The goal was to analyze the effects of psilocybin on human subjects (in this case, prisoners, and later, students of the Andover Newton Theological Seminary) using a synthesized version of the then-legal drug—one of two active compounds found in a wide variety of hallucinogenic mushrooms including Psilocybe mexicana. The compound was produced according to a process developed by Albert Hofmann of Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, famous for synthesizing LSD.

Beat poet Allen Ginsberg asked Leary to participate in the experiments after hearing about the Harvard research project. Leary was inspired by Ginsberg's enthusiasm and the two shared an optimism in the benefit of psychedelic substances to help people ‘turn on’ (discover a higher level of consciousness). Together they began a campaign of introducing other intellectuals and artists to psychedelics.

Leary argued that psychedelic substances, used at proper dosages, in a stable set and setting could, under the guidance of psychologists, alter behavior in beneficial ways not easily attainable through regular therapy. Leary's research focused on treating alcoholism and reforming criminals. Many of Leary's research participants reported profound mystical and spiritual experiences, which they claim permanently altered their lives in a very positive manner. According to Leary's autobiography, Flashbacks, LSD was given to 300 professors, graduate students, writers and philosophers and 75 percent of the test subjects reported the experience as one of the most educational and revealing experiences of their lives.

The Concord Prison Experiment was designed to evaluate how the effects of psilocybin combined with psychotherapy would rehabilitate prisoners upon being released. After being guided through the psychedelic experience ('trips') by Leary and his associates, 36 prisoners allegedly repented and swore to give up future criminal activity. For prisoners in USA, the average recidivism rate is 60 percent; the recidivism rate of the subjects involved in Leary's project dropped to 20 percent. The Concord Prison experiment demonstrated that long-term reduction in overall criminal recidivism rates could be achieved with a combination of psilocybin-assisted group psychotherapy (inside the prison) along with a comprehensive post-release follow-up support program modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous. The study concluded that psilocybin-assisted group psychotherapy and a post-release program would significantly reduce recidivism rates. No further study or experiment took place as psilocybin was declared to be a dangerous substance with no medical benefits by the Drug Enforcement Agency of USA.

Leary and Alpert founded the International Foundation for Internal Freedom in 1962 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This was run by Lisa Bieberman (now known as Licia Kuenning), a disciple of Leary and one of his many lovers.Their research attracted a great deal of public attention and, as a result, many people wanted to participate in the experiments, but were unable to do so because of the high demand. In order to satisfy the curiosity of those who were turned away, a black market for psychedelics developed near the Harvard University Campus.

According to Andrew Weil, Leary was fired for not showing up to his lecture classes, while Alpert was fired for allegedly giving psilocybin to an undergraduate in an off-campus apartment. This version is supported by the words of Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey, who, regarding Leary's termination, released the following statement on May 27, 1963:

   "On May 6, 1963, the Harvard Corporation voted, because Timothy F. Leary, lecturer on clinical psychology, has failed to keep his classroom appointments and has absented himself from Cambridge without permission, to relieve him from further teaching duty and to terminate his salary as of April 30, 1963."

Leary's activities interested siblings Peggy, Billy and Tommy Hitchcock, heirs to the Mellon fortune, who in 1963 helped Leary and his associates acquire the use of a rambling mansion on an estate in the town of Millbrook (near Poughkeepsie, New York), where they continued their experiments. Leary later wrote:

   "We saw ourselves as anthropologists from the twenty-first century inhabiting a time module set somewhere in the dark ages of the 1960s. On this space colony we were attempting to create a new paganism and a new dedication to life as art."

Later, the Millbrook estate was described by Luc Sante of The New York Times as:

   "the headquarters of Leary and gang for the better part of five years, a period filled with endless parties, epiphanies and breakdowns, emotional dramas of all sizes, and numerous raids and arrests, many of them on flimsy charges concocted by the local assistant district attorney, G. Gordon Liddy."

Others contest this characterization of the Millbrook estate; for instance, in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe portrays Leary as only interested in research, and not using psychedelics merely for recreational purposes. According to "The Crypt Trip" chapter of Wolfe's book, when Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters visited the residence, the Pranksters did not even see Leary, who was engaged in a three-day trip. According to Wolfe, Leary's group even refused to give the Pranksters acid.

In 1964, Leary co-authored a book with Alpert and Ralph Metzner called The Psychedelic Experience, based upon the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In it, they wrote:

   "A psychedelic experience is a journey to new realms of consciousness. The scope and content of the experience is limitless, but its characteristic features are the transcendence of verbal concepts, of spacetime dimensions, and of the ego or identity. Such experiences of enlarged consciousness can occur in a variety of ways: sensory deprivation, yoga exercises, disciplined meditation, religious or aesthetic ecstasies, or spontaneously. Most recently they have become available to anyone through the ingestion of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, DMT, etc. Of course, the drug does not produce the transcendent experience. It merely acts as a chemical key—it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures."

Repeated FBI raids ended the Millbrook era. Regarding a 1966 raid by G. Gordon Liddy, Leary told author and Prankster Paul Krassner: "He was a government agent entering our bedroom at midnight. We had every right to shoot him. But I've never owned a weapon in my life. I have never had and never will have a gun around."

On September 19, 1966, Leary founded the League for Spiritual Discovery, a religion declaring LSD as its holy sacrament, in part as an unsuccessful attempt to maintain legal status for the use of LSD and other psychedelics for the religion's adherents, based on a "freedom of religion" argument. (Although The Brotherhood of Eternal Love would subsequently consider Leary their spiritual leader, The Brotherhood did not evolve out of IFIF International Foundation for Internal Freedom.) On October 6, 1966, LSD was made illegal in the United States and controlled so strictly that not only were possession and recreational use criminalized, but all legal scientific research programs on the drug in the US were shut down as well.

In 1966, Folkways Records recorded Leary reading from his book The Psychedelic Experience, and released the album, The Psychedelic Experience: Readings from the Book "The Psychedelic Experience. A Manual Based on the Tibetan...".

During late 1966 and early 1967, Leary toured college campuses presenting a multi-media performance "The Death of the Mind", which attempted to artistically replicate the LSD experience. Leary said the League for Spiritual Discovery was limited to 360 members and was already at its membership limit, but he encouraged others to form their own psychedelic religions. He published a pamphlet in 1967 called Start Your Own Religion, to encourage people to do so (see below under "writings").

Leary was invited to attend the January 14, 1967 Human Be-In by Michael Bowen the primary organizer of the event. Leary spoke at the Human Be-In, a gathering of 30,000 hippies in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and uttered his famous phrase, "Turn on, tune in, drop out". The phrase came to him in the shower one day after Marshall McLuhan suggested to Leary that he should come up with "something snappy" to promote the benefits of LSD.

At some point in the late 1960s, Leary moved to California. He made a number of friends in 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."

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Leary (in collaboration with the writer Brian Barritt) formulated his circuit model of consciousness, in which he claimed that the human mind/nervous system consisted of seven circuits which, when activated, produce seven levels of consciousness (this model was first published as the short essay, "The Seven Tongues of God"). The system soon expanded to include an eighth circuit; this version was first unveiled to the world in the rare 1973 pamphlet "Neurologic" (written with Joanna Leary while he was in prison), but was not exhaustively formulated until the publication of Exo-Psychology (by Leary) and in Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger in 1977. Wilson contributed significantly to the model after befriending Leary in the early 1970s, and has used it as a framework for further exposition in his book Prometheus Rising, among other works.

Leary believed that the first four of these circuits ("the Larval Circuits" or "Terrestrial Circuits") are naturally accessed by most people in their lifetimes, triggered at natural transition points in life, such as puberty. The second four circuits ("the Stellar Circuits" or "Extra-Terrestrial Circuits"), Leary claimed, were evolutionary off-shoots of the first four that would be triggered at transition points that we will have when we evolve further, and would equip us to encompass life in space, as well as the expansion of consciousness that would be necessary to make further scientific and social progress. Leary suggested that some people may "shift to the latter four gears" (i.e. trigger these circuits artificially) by utilizing consciousness-altering techniques such as meditation and spiritual endeavors such as yoga, or by taking psychedelic drugs specific to each circuit. An example of the information Leary cited as evidence for the purpose of the "higher" four circuits was the feeling of floating and uninhibited motion experienced by users of marijuana. In the eight circuit model of consciousness, a primary theoretical function of the fifth circuit (the first of the four developed for life in outer space) is to allow humans to become accustomed to life in a zero or low gravity environment.


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Timothy Leary's Timeline

October 22, 1920
Springfield, MA, United States