Timothy Leary (October 22, 1920 - May 31, 1996) was an American writer, psychologist, and drug campaigner. As a proponent of the drug LSD during the 1960s, he coined and popularized the catch phrase "Turn on, tune in, drop out."
Leary was a psychology professor at Harvard University in the 1950s. While on vacation in Mexico, he tried hallucinogenic psilocybin-bearing mushrooms while participating in a Native American religious ritual, an experience that would vastly alter the course of his life. Upon his return to Harvard in 1960, Leary and his associates, notably Dr. Richard Alpbert, began conducting research into the effects of psilocybin and later LSD with graduate students.
Dr. Leary argued that LSD, used with the right dosage, set (what one brings to the experience), and setting, preferably with the guidance of professionals, could alter behaviour in unprecedented and beneficial ways. His experiments produced zero murders, zero suicides, zero psychoses, and zero bad trips. The goals of Leary's research included finding better ways to treat alcoholism and to reform convicted criminals. Many of Leary's research subjects reported profound mystical and spiritual experiences, which they claim permanently altered their lives in a very positive manner.
Leary and Alpbert were dismissed from Harvard in 1963. Their colleagues were uneasy about the nature of their research, and powerful parents began complaining to the university administration about the distribution of hallucinogens to their children. Unfazed, the two relocated to a large mansion in New York called Millbrook, and 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." Repeated FBI raids brought an end to the Millbrook era.
Leary was convicted of a drug possession charge, fled, and eventually imprisoned for several years. When he arrived in prison, he was given a standard psychological test that the prison used to assign inmates to appropriate work assignments. Having written the test himself, he was able to give the answers that got him a job working in the prison library.
In any case, his prison stay was cut short in 1970 when, for a fee, the Weather Underground Organization broke Leary out of jail and smuggled him and his wife Rosemary Woodruff Leary out of the US and into Algiers. A planned refuge with the Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver went wrong and the couple fled to Switzerland.
Having separated from Rosemary, Timothy Leary was caught in Switzerland and extradited to the US in 1974, where he co-operated with the FBI's investigation of the Weather Underground, in exchange for a reduced sentence .
During his lifetime, Leary was the subject of the Moody Blues song "Legend of a Mind", which memorialized him with the words, "Timothy Leary's dead. No, no, he's on the outside looking in". Conversely, and perhaps more apposite, was the reference in the Who's song "The Seeker" of around the same time; the protagonist, looking for some kind of universal truth, declared: "I asked Timothy Leary, but he couldn't help me".
In the months before his death from inoperable prostate cancer, Leary authored a book called Design for Dying. The book was an attempt to show people a new way of viewing death and dying. After his death, some of Leary's ashes were sent into space on a rocket carrying the remains of 24 people (including Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek).