Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Butler, Butler County
Psychologist Timothy Leary was most famous for his devotion to LSD and the mantra Turn on, tune in, drop out.
A professor of Psychology, Dr. Timothy Leary was a leading member and celebrity of the 1960's American drug culture. Leary acted as what many have called the pied piper of psychedelic drugs, most notably lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Throughout his life Leary served in the Army, worked in Butler County, Pennsylvania; lectured at Harvard, and traveled the world promoting the use of both legal and illegal psychedelic drugs. After traveling the world, spending time in jails and college lecture halls alike, Leary developed terminal prostate cancer and died in his home in California in the spring of 1996.
Turn on, tune in, drop out. —Timothy Leary
Timothy Francis Leary was born October 22, 1920 in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father, Timothy Tote Leary, was a dentist and well-known alcoholic who served in the Army as first lieutenant in the Dental Corps, and eventually became a captain during World War I, stationed at West Point. Leary points out in his autobiography: Flashbacks, verbal abuse by his drunken father who eventually left Leary and his mother in 1933 when Leary was thirteen years old. Leary's mother, Abigail Ferris, was a housewife who lived to see her son's rise to fame in the 1960's and beyond. As Leary's biographer Robert Greenfield notes in his book: Timothy Leary and as Leary himself mentions in his autobiography, Leary would remain a constant disappointment to his mother.
Leary attended Classical High School. Growing up a shy youth, Leary blossomed at the school where he became president of the school senate, editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, a member of the golf team, glee club, traffic-squad and assembly committee according to Greenfield. As Leary missed more class than any other student his senior year, and openly challenged the principal of Classical High in the school paper, he destroyed his ticket to the Ivy League. Leary followed in his father's footsteps and turned to West Point, joining the class of 1944 in June of 1940.
Leary's attendance at West Point wasn't the only footstep of his father's in which he would follow. After an Army-Navy football game at Yankee Stadium, Leary would encounter his first trouble with drugs. Procuring and consuming whiskey with upper classmen Leary became heavily intoxicated and failed to report for church services the following morning. Leary was subsequently silenced at the academy, meaning he could no longer speak to any of his peers and was barred from the West Point's religious activities. Leary failed to be recognized by his upper classmen at his recognition ceremony and was approached by upper classmen to make a deal to leave the academy. He agreed that if the honor committee would agree with Leary's court martial outcome (a verdict of not-guilty) he would resign his commission. The committee agreed and in August of 1941, Leary left.
Leary went on to attend the University of Alabama where he joined the ROTC until he was expelled in 1942 for spending the night in a girl's dormitory. At this time, Leary was called to basic training where he developed bronchitis and lost hearing in one ear. Leary then joined a 9-month program for psychology students at Georgetown University and Ohio State. Afterward he spent several months in Florida and was eventually stationed in Syracuse, New York from which he was to be sent overseas. An old friend from Alabama, a professor named Donald Ramsdell, arranged for Leary a job in Butler, Pennsylvania. After his promotion to corporal, Leary came to Butler as a psychometrician, working with hearing-loss patients. Here he met his first wife, Marianne Busch. They took up residence in an apartment in the mill section of Butler County. They were married in April, 1945.
By mail, Leary completed credits for his degree from Alabama after having his expulsion changed to a suspension. He earned his degree in August of 1945. By January, he was honorably discharged from service. Greenfield points out that Leary received the Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. The couple then moved to Washington where Leary received his Masters Degree in Psychology. In 1947, they moved to California so Leary could attend the University of California at Berkeley. Marianne worked in the speech department. It was here on September 25, 1947 that Marianne gave birth to Susan Leary. Two years later, October 19, 1949 the couple had a son, John Leary. Leary received his Ph.D. in 1950 and began work at Kaiser Permanente Hospital. By this point, Leary was making headway in the Psychological community. As Greenfield says in his book, Having earned his doctorate, Tim seemed to be on the brink of a brilliant career. Leary was an associate of the American Psychological Association and a member of Sigma Xi. Greenfield also notes that he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, participated in founding the department of Psychology at Kaiser Hospital and opened a psychological consulting service.
The time spent in California would prove to be as turbulent a period for the young couple as it was promising for Leary's career. A popular couple, the Learys hosted and attended lots of parties and became what many would consider alcoholics. Leary and his wife both conducted extra-marital affairs. Marianne reportedly suffered from depression and panic attacks. The events culminated with Marianne's suicide on the eve of Leary's thirty-fifth birthday in 1955.
In 1955, Leary and Mary Della Cioppa (the woman with whom he had been having an affair) were married. Greenfield notes an occasion of police being dispatched to the Leary household in reference to a complaint of Leary hitting his wife, although no report was filed. Also mentioned is a report by Cioppa claiming that Leary and his doctoral thesis faculty advisor were having a homosexual relationship. Finding themselves in a less-than-perfect arrangement (the second for Timothy), the Learys were divorced in 1956.
Leary took the children and headed for Europe. In 1959, while in Italy, a colleague and friend of Leary's named Frank Barron brought up studying the hallucinogenic effects of Mexico's magic mushrooms, an idea that Leary scoffed at. Shortly after this meeting, while in Europe, Leary met with the director of the Center for Personality Research at Harvard University, Dr. David McClelland. Impressed with Leary's work, McClelland offered him a one-year position as a lecturer at Harvard.
While on vacation in Mexico in the summer of 1960, Leary ingested the psychedelic mushrooms he had heard so much about, an experience he claimed changed his life. From then on he became obsessed with various psychedelics. At Harvard, he started the Harvard Psychedelic Project. With what seemed a never-ending supply of psilocybin (the psychedelic chemical in the Mexican mushrooms Leary had eaten) pills from the Sandoz corporation, Leary began administering the drug to faculty, graduate students and as many celebrities as he could, including writers Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. Accused constantly of recreational drug use, Leary only led several psychedelic sessions that resembled a scientific approach to research. One such project was the Conchord Prison Project where researchers and prison inmates would take the pills together in an effort to curb recidivism rates. The results were illegitimate though, as Leary and his fellow researchers worked tirelessly to find these inmates homes and jobs after their release, contaminating results.
Eventually Leary ingested LSD, and instantly became an advocate of the drug, spending the next decade running psychedelic sessions for all he could (however while in trouble with the law Leary would repeatedly claim to never have been an LSD advocate). He wrote in Flashbacks, I have never recovered from that ontological confrontation. I have never been able to take myself, my mind, or the social world quite so seriously. Since that time I have been aware that everything I perceive, everything within and around me, is a creation of my own consciousness. And that everyone lives in a neural cocoon of private reality. From that day I have never lost the sense that I am an actor, surrounded by characters, props, and sets for the comic drama being written in my brain.
Despite the mounting controversy over his experiments, Leary managed to renew his contract with Harvard but shirked his duties. His supply of psychedelics from Sandoz was now limited. Most of the experiments (using the term loosely) were now conducted with psychedelic chemicals like LSD and DMT. Leary was also beginning to alienate his children, who would eventually experiment heavily with drugs and do time in jail.
By this time Leary was looking south for a place to experiment freely with psychedelics. In Zihautanejo, Mexico in an old hotel, Leary's summer camp would be established. As would become his style, Leary wore out his welcome in Mexico and was made to leave the hotel along with his patrons and students who had followed him. Meanwhile he and his colleague Richard Alpert were both fired from Harvard, Leary for failing to meet his contractual obligations and Alpert for giving LSD to an undergraduate student. The group would travel from Mexico to several other countries getting deported from every one until they found sanctuary on a large estate in Millbrook, New York. The 64-room mansion would become the group's home, attracting numerous guests from Charles Mingus to Ken Kesey. On December 12, 1964 Leary and fashion model Nena von Schlebrugge were married at the estate and soon divorced. The Millbrook estate would also attract attention from government officials and lead to numerous arrests and raids headed by then assistant District Attorney G. Gordon Liddy, who would later be incriminated in the Watergate scandal.
Around this time, Leary began promoting a mantra to the psychedelic movement. The phrase, turn on, tune in, drop out would be repeated ad nauseum on television appearances and public speaking engagements. He wrote in Flashbacks, 'Turn on' meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. 'Tune in' meant interact harmoniously with the world around you — externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. 'Drop out' meant self-reliance, a discovery of one's singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean 'Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity'.
In 1967, Leary married Rosemary Woodruff, a former actress and airline stewardess. On a trip with Leary, his wife and two children to Mexico, they would be denied access to the country and were turned around. Upon re-entering the US, in Texas, the car was searched and a large stash of drugs found. Leary was charged with the unlawful transport of marijuana. According to Greenfield, the bail for the whole family, set at $25,000, was posted. After this incident, Leary would be arrested several more times. Eventually, Leary had to do hard time. Throughout the drug experimentation, run-ins with the police, and travel, Leary would continually publish books concerning the exploration of human consciousness including a translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead into an English guide to navigating the throes of a psychedelic encounter.
In 1970, Leary ran for governor of California, unsuccessfully. With the Texas bust still looming he was arrested again in California for possession of marijuana and sentenced to another 10 years in prison. After joining forces with the Weather Underground, a terrorist group of political activists, Leary escaped from prison. They gave him the Leary interpersonal diagnostic test, which he had designed (sic)? he came out as docile, easily led, looking for leadership. So they put him in a minimum security prison and he climbed the rope? said novelist Robert Anton Wilson. Leary fled to Europe and wound up in Algeria seeking political asylum. He was put into the custody of Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver. Eventually he would be sent to jail in Switzerland and again in the US. While in Europe, Leary and Woodruff separated. Always searching for female companionship, Leary met and married Joanna Harcourt-Smith who for the next several years worked to remove Leary from jail.
Leary remained in prison in America until 1976, including a stint in California's Folsom Prison in a cell next to Charles Manson. While together, Manson told Leary he was a fan of his work, according to Greenfield. Leary was freed for giving the government information on past lawyers, members of the Weather Underground and close friends, tarnishing his already diminished reputation with the American drug-culture, coming to be known as a rat. While in the witness protection program, the couple separated and Leary went on lecturing. He met and married his fourth wife, Barbara Chase. Leary kept writing books and lecturing, including a popular lecture-tour with Liddy in 1982. Perhaps out of fear of the government, Leary spoke less and less of drugs and focused on more culturally acceptable topics like outer-space exploration.
In 1990, Leary's daughter Susan committed suicide while in prison by hanging herself. In 1992, after accompanying Leary on a lecturing tour through Brazil, Chase would leave Leary for a Brazilian she had met there. Leary had also been dabbling in computer software design and was fascinated with the internet. After pulling in a younger tech-savvy following Leary was hospitalized for pneumonia. While in the hospital, he was made aware he had terminal prostate cancer. He lost his life to the disease on May 31, 1996. On his death-bed, Leary was visited constantly by friends, family and celebrities wishing to pay respects to the counter-culture revolutionary. Leary consumed large amounts of drugs in his final months, daily consuming morphine, nitrous-oxide, cocaine, alcohol and phentynol. His body was cremated and some of his ashes were released in outer-space.
Leary lived a wildly romantic and at times depressing life. Facing jail time, alienation from society, and death of a child and wife, he endured many tribulations. However, he constantly was photographed smiling, even when in custody. He published more than 20 books, lectured extensively and traveled the world. By the age of 75, the man whom Richard Nixon called the most dangerous man in the world, was dead, leaving behind a legacy of personal exploration and an army of angry parents.
The Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality. New York: John Wiley and Sons Inc, 1957.
Psychedelic Prayers after the Tao Te Ching. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1966.
The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1964.
Start Your Own Religion. Millbrook, NY: Kriya Press. 1967.
The Politics of Ecstasy. New York: Putnam, 1968.
High Priest. New York: NAL-World, 1968.
Confessions of a Hope Fiend. New York: Bantam. 1973.
NeuroLogic. San Francisco, CA: Starseed Information Center, 1973.
The Game of Life. Los Angeles: Peace Press, 1979.
Changing My Mind Among Others. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1982.
Greenfield, Robert. Timothy Leary: A Biography. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2006.
Leary, Timothy. Flashbacks: An Autobiography. Los Angeles: J.P Tarcher, Inc., 1983.
Mansnerus, Laura. Obituary Timothy Leary, Pied Piper of psychedelic 60's, dies at 75. New York Times 1 Jun. 1996: 1+.
Politically Incorrect. Perfs. Wilson, Robert Anton; Maher, Bill. ABC, May, 1996.