Timothy Leary

The one-time Harvard psychology professor who through his experimentation with psychedelic drugs inspired much of the culture gumbo of the free-love-and-drug Hippie movement of the 1960's. Leary was the person President Richard Nixon referred to as "the most dangerous man in America."

Early Years

[​IMG]Timothy Francis Leary was the only child born into an Irish Catholic family in Springfield, Massachusetts, an industrial city 90 miles east of Boston, on October 22, 1920. His mother, Abigail (nee Ferris), was a teacher and his father, Timothy F. Leary, Sr., a dentist. Leary claimed that he was conceived on the night that Prohibition went into affect but whether that was true or a boast will never be known for sure. Leary’s father, a heavy drinker, abandoned the family and drifted down the social ladder in an alcoholic haze that started when the boy was thirteen years old. Young Leary then transferred his need for a positive male companion to his high-spirited paternal grandfather, Dennis Leary.
Young Timothy enjoyed reading and his grandfather had a large library where he was encouraged to indulge in his interest. His grandfather referred to his own children, including Tim’s father, as "hell-raising illiterates,” and added that he was particularly proud of Timothy who was more like him—a literate free-thinker. Dennis Leary advised the young boy to never do anything half way. Instead, he told him to go his own way and be one of a kind, words that were not wasted on young Timothy Leary.[1]


[​IMG]As his grandfather had advocated him to do, Leary grew into a free-spirited young hellion. From September of 1938 till June of 1940, he attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Massachusetts. Then, after being pressured by his both his mother, Leary accepted an appointment as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY.[1]
Leary was not cut out for military discipline and within the first few months of his arrival at West Point, he was given several demerits for infraction of rules, including failing to report infractions by other cadets when on supervisory duty. In December 1940, Leary reportedly got drunk on trainride coming back to West Point from an Army-Navy football game and proceeded to lie about it to the Honors Committee, which then asked for his resignation from the corps.
Leary refused to resign and was shunned by the rest of the school, where all students equally applied the silent treatment to try and force his resignation. He was cleared of the drinking charges by a court-martial but the silent treatment kept up and small demerits continued to pile on him. The silent treatment continued through his sophomore year, finally bringing about the intervention of his mother, who appealed to U.S, Senator David I. Walsh, a family friend, to conduct a personal investigation, resulting in Leary’s name being cleared in the end. Leary resigned and was honorably discharged from the Army a short time later.
After leaving West Point, Leary settled on the University of Alabama—which took his application immediately—much to the displeasure of his family. Although he managed to maintain high grades, a place in the university’s ROTC Program and to develop academic interests in psychology and biology, Leary was expelled from the university after being charged with spending a night in the female dorms. He lost his student deferment and was drafted into the U.S. Army right in the middle of the Second World War.
In January of 1943, he reported for basic training at Fort Eustis. He enrolled in an extended academic program at both Georgetown and Ohio State Universities while still on suspension from the University of Alabama, completing his degree via correspondence in 1945. Leary was promoted to corporal in 1944 and then assigned to Deshon General Hospital, Butler, Pennsylvania in the position of staff psychometrician where he worked with the deaf and served out the remaining years of the war. He was discharged at the rank of sergeant in January of 1946 and earned the WWII Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the American Defense Medal and the Good Conduct Medal for his time in the service.[2]
While in Pennsylvania a good friend of Leary’s introduced to him to Marianne (nee Busch). [​IMG]They married in 1945 and moved to an apartment in the mill section of Butler County. Not long after the young couple moved to the state of Washington, where Leary worked towards his Masters Degree in psychology, after which time they then relocated to Northern California, where Leary attended classes towards his Doctorate Degree at the University of California, Berkley.
In September of 1947, the couple’s first child, Susan, was born, followed by a boy, John, in 1949. Marianne took a position in the college’s speech department. Leary graduated from UCLA, Berkley, with honors in 1950 and seemed perched on the brink of a brilliant career, having been elected Phi Beta Kappa and participating in the founding of the Kaiser Hospital’s Psychology department, where Leary then opened a consulting service. Yet things were not all that rosy in the Leary marriage.


As promising as Leary’s career and personal life appeared on the outside, the truth of the Leary’s marriage was anything but idyllic. Leary’s heavy drinking took a strong foothold in those years and the couple became regulars at local parties, where fellow associates considered them alcoholic. Marianne suffered from depression, anxiety and panic attacks, and both she and Leary carried on multiple extramarital affairs. The events of their tumultuous lifestyle culminated in Marianne’s suicide on October 22, 1955, Timothy Leary’s 35th birthday—after which time Timothy Leary’s hair went permanently white.
After his first wife’s death, Leary married Mary Della Cioppa, the woman with whom he had been having an affair. This second marriage was also marked with unhappiness for Leary. The police were called in multiple times after his second wife complained of being physically abused by Leary, although formal complaints were never filed. She further accused him of having a homosexual affair with one of his colleagues, which all led to the culmination of their marriage in 1956, within a year of its start.
That same year Tim's dad, who he had reconciled with a few years earlier (behind his mother's back), died and Leary started a well-documented homosexual affair with Hugh Coffey, the facility advisor of Leary's doctoral thesis. Leary was bisexual, though predominately straight; Coffey was gay, though married with three children. And Coffey was in love with Leary. Once Leary realised the depth of Coffey's emotional involvement, he broke up the affair. Coffey then resorted to picking up men in park bathrooms and was arrested. Upon finding out about Coffey's arrest, Leary became unglued, worrying that his affair with Coffey would become public knowledge. He and his wife Mary's marriage went further on the rocks, culminating in a fight in which Della Cioppa broke Leary's nose. "He was chasing me all over the hills and found me and in the car. I hit him on the nose and and broke it, and he never got it fixed. So the shape of his nose is my handiwork."
After Della Cioppa left him, Leary returned to Mexico with an old colleague, Helen Lane Valdez, with whom he started affair. Leary told Della Cioppa he would bring home divorce papers from Mexico but instead returned with native masks, hinting at reconcilliation. Another fight ensued between the two, ending when Leary punched Della Cioppa in the face and police were called in to intervene. The two divorced not long after. [3]
In 1957, Leary published The Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality, a book that represented a serious break with determinism, the dominant theory of the time. The book established Leary as a bright and upcoming young star in the U.S. psychology theater. With his second marriage behind him, Leary took off for Europe with his two small children in tow. While in Italy in 1959 his friend and colleague Frank Barron talked of studying Mexico’s magic mushrooms, but Leary brushed off the idea. He then met Dr. David McCelland of Harvard’s Personality Research Department, who was so impressed with Leary’s credentials that he offered him a one-year position as a lecturer at Harvard, which Leary gladly accepted. [4]
Not long after joining Harvard, Leary became interested in pursuing the magic in Mexican mushroom after reading a Time Magazine article by amateur mycologist, international banker and author, R. Gordon Wasson. Leary became so intrigued that in the summer of 1960 he ventured down to the area of Cuernevaca, Mexico and had his first psychedelic experience with mushrooms. He was so excited with his find that he decided immediately to share the experience, and the psychedelics, with colleagues at Harvard.
Although psilocybin (which had been synthesized by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann at Sandoz Laboratory, Basil, Switzerland in 1939) was legal in the United States it was still not easy to procure. Leary took it upon himself to put pen to Harvard stationary and write to Hofmann for a supply of the research chemical. Hofmann supplied the school with an ample supply of psilocybin.
Leary then became the self-appointed Johnny Appleseed of psychedelics, giving the substance to beat poet Alan Ginsberg, Ginsberg’s lover Peter Orlofsky and poets Charles Olson and Jack Kerouac. During the fall of 1961, an obscure Englishman named Michael Hollingshead showed up a Leary’s front door with a 16-ounce mayonnaise jar, filled to the brim with a white paste-like substance that turned out to be 5,000 tablespoons of an ounce of Albert Hofmann’s synthesized LSD. One and one-half years later, Leary and his colleagues Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert (later to become Ram Dass) were dismissed from Harvard for taking acid along with their students, igniting a fury of bad press throughout New England and the entire country—bad press that followed Leary for the rest of his life. [5]
In 1962-63 Leary and fellow members of the Harvard Psilocybin Project established the International Federation for Internal Freedom (IFIF), a non-profit organization and research group that were interested in taking their research in a religious and mystical direction. One and one-half years later, Leary and his close colleagues Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert (later to become Ram Dass) were dismissed from Harvard for taking acid along with their students under spiritual pretext, igniting a fury of bad press throughout New England and the entire country—bad press that followed Leary for the rest of his life. [5]
After taking their leave from Harvard, Leary and his band of friends that made up the IFIF traveled to Zihuatanejo, Mexico to establish a psychedelic retreat for paying customers who wanted to experience LSD in the comfort of a calm, tropical environment. But since Leary was not willing to pay off local officials, the Mexican government closed the group down in less than six weeks. The group tried again in the Caribbean and failed in less than a month.
[​IMG]The remaining member of the IFIF returned to Massachusetts, lacking in a plan for the group’s continuation. Not long after Peggy Hitchcock, a friend of both Leary and Alpert who had been a test subject for the Psilocybin Project, offered them a solution to their problem. Peggy Hitchcock was an heir to the Mellon fortune and she introduced her twin brothers Billy and Tommy Hitchcock III to Leary's group. The brothers, who had recently bought a large estate of several buildings in Millbrook, New York, imbibed in the group’s psychedelics and decided to offer the homeless caravan of characters a refuge. In November of that year, the seven adults and six children that made up the IFIF moved into the 2,500 estate’s 64-room mansion of the Hitchcock family. Not long after settling in, Leary disbanded the IFIF and renamed it the Castalia Foundation, after a group of intellectual elite thinkers out of the Hermann Hess novel, The Glass Bead Game.[6]
The Castalia Foundation began work on a scholarly journal, The Psychedelic Review, as they lived communally and offered meditation, group therapy, yoga and psychedelic experiences to willing participants who paid well for the pleasure of the retreat’s offerings. They also put on “psychedelic theatre” presentations in nearby New York City.[7]
The Hitchcock estate became the headquarters for the Leary crew for a little shy of five years, a time filled with infinite parties, epiphanies and breakdowns, life tragedies of all variations and multiple raids and arrests—many of them concocted charges courtesy of local DA, G. Gordon Liddy (of the Watergate fame).
During this time, Alpert and Ralph Metzner wrote “The Psychedelic Experience,” and Leary’s two children’s mental health continued to unravel. One year into his stay at the Hitchcock mansion, Leary married fashion model Nena von Schlebrugge; the couple divorced a few months later. Around that same time the mantra "turn on, tune in, drop out" was defined and the popularity of psychedelic experimenting reached an all-time high.
In 1965, Leary and his then-girlfriend Rosemary Woodruff went on a sojourn to Mexico, along with his two children. Leary planned on writing a book; on the return trip from Mexico to California, U.S. Customs Service agents who stopped them found marijuana in Susan’s underwear. Leary took responsibility for the marijuana and was charged with possession (under the Marihuana Tax Act on March 11, 1966), given a $30,000 fine, ordered into psychiatric treatment and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He appealed the case and won but was busted again three years later in Laguna Beach, California (for possession of two roaches), which Leary claimed were planted on him by police. Leary was sentenced to 20 years in a low-security jail, which he escaped from later the same year.[1]
In 1970, Leary was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for his California arrest, to be served consecutively—not concurrently—with the previous Texas sentence of an additional 20 years. During his pseudo-dramatic trial Leary compared himself to both Socrates and Jesus, and the general public attitude towards Leary swayed. His once honored title of Psychedelic Master was slowly being replaced with that of a buffoon.
[​IMG]Leary’s third wife, one-time actress and airline stewardess, Rosemary, accompanied him on his flight from justice. After paying a $25,000 fee to the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the Weathermen smuggled the family out of the U.S. and eventually into a 18-month exile in Algeria, where Leary sought the patronage of Eldridge Cleaver (the early leader of the Black Panther Party). But the arrangement went sour after Leary claimed Cleaver held them hostage instead of helping them find freedom.
In 1971 they fled to Switzerland and were again held imprisoned by an arms dealer. In 1972 the U.S. government, under the watch of then President Richard M. Nixon, asked the Swiss government to take Leary into custody, which they refused to do. Rosemary and Timothy separated, then divorced. Leary's next marriage took place two week's after meeting Swiss-born British socialite Joanna Harcourt-Smith, stepdaughter of financier Arpad Plesch.
In 1973, Leary was hunted down by American agents in Afghanistan and brought back to justice in California, where he spent an additional three years (in 29 different penal facilities in the state), with the likes of prison mate Charles Manson. Upon his release in 1976, Leary moved into a home in Beverly Hills and took up the job of promoter of space colonization, anti-aging expert and fellow campus lecturer, along with his one-time nemesis, G. Gordon Liddy.

Recent Times

During the remaining 20 years of his life Leary continued to travel the college lecture circuit and branch out into acting and writing for documentaries. While his worldwide fame died he still managed to attract the young, many of whom spent their time bringing him--wheelchair bound--into chic nightspots, like Johnny Depp's NYC Viper Room and clubs on the Japanese nightclub scene, even after he became ill with inoperable prostate cancer one year before his death in 1996.. He continued to use psychedelics and alcohol regularly until his death. Leary remained restless and young at heart till the end and continues to remain a legend to this day and beyond.[​IMG]
*It was recently discovered (October, 2013) that among the cybersex to cryogenics documents, and the letters to famous actors and artists that make up the over 300 floppy disks of the Timothy Leary collection at the NYC Library archives, there are also a collection of video games the late Leary developed. His legend, it seems, goes on and on. Here's is a link to the story from our News Section for further review.


Leary died on April 22, 1996 from in-operable prostate cancer. His ashes were launched into space the following year, along with the ashes of 23 others, from Grand Canary Island off the Moroccan coast.

Notable Events and Accomplishments

  • Director of Psychological Research at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Oakland California
  • Author of the Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality, named the best book in psychotherapy for l957.
  • l961 - Conducted a psilocybin research project dedicated to fostering positivve personality changes with prisoners in a Massachusetts prison.
  • 1963-65 - Established the Castalia Foundation (from the IFIF) in Millbrook, NY
  • 1966- "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out" campaign
  • 1967-Brotherhood of Eternal Love Organization
  • 1967 televised debate with Jerry Lettvin
  • Recorded "Give Peace a Chance," in Montreal, Canada with John Lennon and Yoko Ono
  • Author of many books and papers
  • Lecturer, psychedelic guru of the 1960s
  • 1970 and beyond - Poltical turmoil and arrests



Leary was not a political person, although his view of the illegality of drugs brought him into the public political arena.
Three drug arrests: Laredo, Texas in l965, another at the Millbrook Estate in l966, and the last in Laguna Beach, California in l968, followed by imprisonment, escape and re-imprisonment, serving a total of 3 years in the California penal system.


Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), Robert Anton Wilson, Frank Barron, Dr. David McCelland, Alan Ginsberg, Charles Olson, Jack Kerouac, Albert Hofmann, Stanislav Grof, The Beatles, G. Gordon Liddy, Peggy, Billy and Tommy Hitchcock, Ken Kesey, Ralph Metzner, Marshall McLuhan, Eldridge Cleaver, Richard M. Nixon, John C. Lilly, Robert Anton Wilson, William Gibson, Norman Spinrad, David Byrne, Jerry Brown, Ron Paul, Billy Idol, Johnny Depp, Susan Sarandon, Dan Aykroyd, Carl Sagan, Stanton J. Freeman and many others


Leary was the self-appointed leader of the U.S. psychedelic experimentation movement of the 1960's and self-named "Performing Philosopher" and second-class Hollywood actor


Set precedent for the 1960's drug culture

Was Influenced By

All of his above-mentioned peers and friends

Had an Influence On

Most everyone

Collected Works


  • Psychedelic Prayers: And Other Meditations by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Michael Horowitz (1969))
  • Jail Notes by Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg (1972)
  • Game of Life by Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson (1975)
  • The Intelligence Agents (1979)
  • Changing My Mind, Among Others: Lifetime Writings (1982)
  • What Does Woman Want? (1976)
  • Flashbacks, by Timothy Leary and William S. Burroughs (1983)
  • Maintenance Electrician (1987)
  • Smile (1987)
  • The Politics of Psycho-pharmacology (1988)
  • Evolutionary Agents (1989)
  • Neuropolitique (1989)
  • The Psychedelic Experience, Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner (1989)
  • NeuroLogic (1993)
  • Chaos & Cyber Culture by Timothy Leary and Michael Horowitz (1994)
  • Surfing the Conscious Net (1995)
  • Design for Dying (1997)
  • Confessions of a Hope Fiend (1999)
  • The Delicious Grace of Moving One's Hand: Intelligence Ultimate Aphrodisiac (1999)
  • Turn On, Tune in, Drop Out (1999)
  • Change Your Brain by Timothy Leary and Beverly A. Potter (2000)
  • The Politics of Self-Determination (2000)
  • The Psychedelic Reader: Selected from the Psychedelic Review (2000)
  • Your Brain is God (2001)
  • Info-Psychology: A Revision of Exo-Psychology (2002)
  • Musings on Human Metamorphoses (2003)
  • Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality (2004)
  • Start Your Own Religion by Timothy Leary and Scoop Nisker (2005)
  • The Fugitive Philosopher (2007)
  • Cyberpunks Cyberfreedom: Change Reality Screens (2008)
  • Search for the True Aphrodisiac (2009)
  • Alternatives to Involuntary Death (2009)
  • Exo-Psychology: A Manual on the Use of the Human Nervous System According to the Instructions of the Manufacture (2012)


Research Papers

For a full list of the over 400 research papers of Timothy Leary, please click here.



Actor in: Medium Rare (TV series) 1993; "Police Doc" 2010, Demon Island; "Jonas the Chemist" 2002; Duelin' Firemen! (Video Game); Hot Dog Gawker 2," 2000; Twister: A Musical Catastrophe (Video) 2000; Anarchy TV 1998; Conceiving Ada, 1997; French Exit "Herbal Ecstacy Guy" 1995; Invisible Universe (Video Game); Voice of "Poetry Reader," 1995; The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr (TV series); "Dr. Milo" 1994; Fraiser (TV series), "Hank" 1994; Cityscrapes: Los Angeles "Phillip" 1994; Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me "Mr. Jones," 1992; Roadside Prophets, 1992; Super Force (TV series); "Police Commissioner Pfister" 1991; Ted & Venus "Judge W. H. Converse, 1991; Night Visions (TV movie) 1990; Fatal Skies "Buddy" 1990; Shocker (TV Evangelist, as Dr. Timothy Leary) 1989; Rude Awakening (Dinet at Ronnie's, as Dr. Timothy Leary) 1989; Moonlighting (TV Series) "Wynn Deaupayne," 1989; Hard Knocks (TV series); "Guru" 1987; We're All Devo (Video); "Dr. Brythford," 1983
Writer: How to Operate Your Brain (video documentary) 1994- also starred as himself, Dr. Timothy Leary (Video) 1979, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out (documentary) 1967, --also produced my Timothy Leary
DIRECTOR:Dr. Timothy Leary (video) 1979 also written by Timothy Leary
Ram Dass, Fierce Grace (documentary) "special thanks" 2001, Hyperdelic E-Mission (video documentary) "thanks" 1991
Auto-Biographical: The Actor (documentary) 2013, The Psychedelic Pioneers (TV documentary) 2005, Children of the Revolution: Tune Back In (documentary) 2005, American Masters (TV series documentary) 1994-1999, Timothy Leary's Last Trip (documentary) 1997, Timothy Leary's Dead (documentary) 1996, Ein Traum von Kabul (documentary) 1996, Synthetic Pleasures (documentary) 1995, Space Ghost Coast to Coast (TV series) 1994, Drug-Taking and the Arts (documentary) 1994, Cultivating Charlie 1994, Stuff (TV short) 1993, Blossom (TV series) 1992, One on One with Josh Tess (TV series) 1992, SchneeweiBrosenrot (documentary) 1991, Flashbacks (documentary short) 1990, Cyberpunks (video documentary) 1990, Flashing on the Sixties: A Tribal Documentary (video documentary) 1990, 20 Years After: A Woodstock Reunion (video) 1989, Wired (TV series) 1998, Growing Up in America (documentary) 1987, The Best generation: An Americam Dream (documentary) 1987, It Was 20 Years Ago Today (documentary) 1983, Everyman (TV series documentary) 1986, Comme en California (documentary) 1983, Tomorrow Coast to Coast (TV series) 1981, Nice Dreams 1981, Fried Shoes Cooked Diamonds (documentary) 1979 The Mindbenders: Scary Drug Education Films from the 60's Volume 1 (video documentary)1978, San Fransisco Good Times (documentary) 1977, Breathing Together: Revolution of the Electricity Family (documentary) 1971, Walden (documentary) 1969, The David Forest Show (TV series) 1969, romeo und Julia 70 (TV mini-series) 1969, Honeymoon (documentary) 1967 NET Journal (TV series documentary) 1967 Be-In (documentary) 1967.

Also See

  • The Leary video "A Conversation On LSD" is available for viewing here.
  • Timothy Leary Image-Gallery photos available here.
  • Rare Timothy Leary Video Interview here.


  1. ^ a b chttp://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/books/review/25sante.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  2. ^http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/bios/Leary__Timothy.html]
  3. ^http://books.google.com/books?id=of4J2dbKvMoC&pg=PA96&lpg=PA96&dq=Leary's+marriage+to+Mary+Della+Cioppa&source=bl&ots=EMDphFH
  4. ^ http://www.dennismcdougal.com/files/ArchiveofTimothyLeary_appraisal_by_box.pdf
  5. ^ a b http://www.laweekly.com/2006-06-01/art-books/timothy-liar/]
  6. ^ http://www.has.vcu.edu/wrs/profiles/LeagueForSpiritualDiscovery.htm
  7. ^ http://site.dyingtoknowmovie.com/

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