Timothy Leary

Timothy Leary was an American psychologist and author who was a leading advocate for the use of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and other psychoactive drugs.

Leary, the son of a U.S. Army officer, was raised in a Catholic household and attended Holy Cross College, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the University of Alabama (B.A., 1943), and Washington State University, from which he earned a master's degree. In 1950 he received a doctorate in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, where he was an assistant professor until 1955.

During the 1950s Leary developed an egalitarian model for interaction between the psychotherapist and the patient, promoted new techniques of group therapy, and published a system for classifying interpersonal behaviour. He acquired a reputation as a promising young scholar and was appointed to the position of lecturer at Harvard University in 1959.

At Harvard, Leary began experimenting with psilocybin, a synthesized form of the hallucinogenic agent found in certain mushrooms. He concluded that psychedelic drugs could be effective in transforming personality and expanding human consciousness. Along with a colleague, he formed the Harvard Psychedelic Drug Research Program and began administering psilocybin to graduate students; he also shared the drug with several prominent artists, writers, and musicians.











Leary explored the cultural and philosophical implications of psychedelic drugs; in contrast to those within the psychedelic research community who argued that the drugs should be used only by a small elite, Leary came to believe that the experience should be introduced to the general public, particularly to young people.

Leary's experiments were highly controversial, and he was dismissed from Harvard in 1963 after colleagues protested. During the mid-1960s Leary lived in a mansion in Millbrook, N.Y., where he formed the centre of a small hedonistic community and began to intensively explore LSD, a more powerful psychedelic drug. His research, which initially had emphasized careful control over the "set and setting" of the psychedelic experience, became increasingly undisciplined and unstructured.

He traveled widely and gave many public lectures, especially on college campuses, and because of his high public profile, he became a focus of the emerging public debate over LSD. 

His phrase "turn on, tune in, drop out" became a popular counterculture slogan. Cultural conservatives saw Leary as a corrosive influence on society.

President Richard Nixon called him "the most dangerous man in America"--while many researchers felt that Leary delegitimized the serious study of psychedelic drugs.

After arrests in 1965 and 1968 for possession of marijuana and a prolonged legal battle, Leary was incarcerated in 1970. He soon escaped and became a fugitive, living outside the United States for more than two years until being recaptured in Afghanistan. He was freed in 1976 and settled in southern California.

During the 1980s and '90s Leary continued to appear publicly in lectures and debates, although he never regained the stature he had enjoyed during the 1960s. He also designed computer software and was an early advocate of the potential of new technologies such as virtual reality and the Internet. Friends fulfilled his final wish, to have his remains launched into space, 21 days after his death from prostate cancer.

Timothy Leary

(in full Timothy Francis Leary)
born Oct. 22, 1920, Springfield, Mass., U.S.
died May 31, 1996, Beverly Hills, Calif.