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
Having exhausted the drug experience by 1967, Alpert went
to India in search of more substantial spirituality and experiEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Leary, Timothy
enced 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 Skylabspace 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 mindexpanding
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,
———. 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
StarseedPeace Press, 1977.
Slack, Charles W. Timothy Leary, the Madness of the Sixties, and
Me. New York Peter H. Wyden, 1974.

Previous article‘‘King, John’’
Next articleLam