Timothy Leary  

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Timothy Francis Leary, (October 22, 1920May 31, 1996) was an American writer, psychologist, advocate of psychedelic drug research and use, and one of the first people whose remains have been sent into space. As a 1960s counterculture icon, he is most famous as a proponent of the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of LSD. He coined and popularized the catch phrase "Turn on, tune in, drop out."



General Influence / Popular Culture

Timothy Leary's ideas also heavily influenced the work of Robert Anton Wilson. This influence went both ways and Leary admittedly took just as much from Wilson. Wilson's book Prometheus Rising was an in depth, highly detailed and inclusive work documenting Leary’s eight circuit model of consciousness. Although the theory originated in discussions between Leary and a Hindu holy man at Millbrook, Wilson was one of the most ardent proponents of it and introduced the theory to a mainstream audience in 1977's bestselling Cosmic Trigger. In 1989, they appeared together on stage in a dialog entitled The Inner Frontier in Cleveland, Ohio hosted by the Association for Consciousness Exploration, (the same group that had hosted Leary's first Cleveland appearance in 1979). Wilson and Leary conversed a great deal on philosophical, political and futurist matters and became close friends who remained in contact through Leary's time in prison and up until his death. Wilson regarded Leary as a brilliant man and often is quoted as saying (paraphrase) "Leary had a great deal of 'hilaritas', the type of cheer and good humour by which it was said you could recognise a deity".

Leary's apparent endorsement of care-free LSD usage is also reflected upon in a more negative light in the concluding chapter of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In addition, Owsley Stanley, one of the pioneers of the era, would later write of him:

"Leary was a fool. Drunk with 'celebrity-hood' and his own ego, he became a media clown-and was arguably the single most damaging actor involved in the destruction of the evanescent social movement of the '60's. Tim, with his very public exhortations to the kids to 'tune in, turn on and drop out,' is the inspiration for all the current draconian US drug laws against psychedelics. He would not listen to any of us when we asked him to please cool it, he loved the lime-light and relished his notoriety... I was not a fan of his."

Author and Merry Prankster Ken Kesey remained a supporter and admirer of Leary throughout his career,

"Leary can get a part of my mind that's kind of rusted shut grinding again, just by being around him and talking."

World religion scholar Huston Smith was turned on by Leary after the two were introduced to one another by Aldous Huxley in the early 1960s. The experience was interpreted as deeply religious by Smith, and is captured in detailed religious terms in Smith's later work Cleansing of the Doors of Perception. This was Smith's one and only entheogenic experience, at the end of which he asked Leary, to paraphase, if Leary knew the power and danger of that with which he was conducting research. In Mother Jones Magazine, 1997, Smith commented:

"First, I have to say that during the three years I was involved with that Harvard study, LSD was not only legal but respectable. Before Tim went on his unfortunate careening course, it was a legitimate research project. Though I did find evidence that, when recounted, the experiences of the Harvard group and those of mystics were impossible to tell apart—descriptively indistinguishable—that's not the last word. There is still a question about the truth of the disclosure." [1]


The Psychedelic Experience was the inspiration for John Lennon's song "Tomorrow Never Knows" on The Beatles' album Revolver. Leary once recruited John Lennon to write a theme song for his California gubernatorial campaign (which was interrupted by his prison sentence), inspiring Lennon to come up with "Come Together," based on Leary's theme and catchphrase for the campaign. Leary was also present when Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono recorded Give Peace a Chance during one of their bed-ins in Montreal and is mentioned in the lyrics of the song. He appears in the world television broadcast of "All You Need is Love" as well.

Leary was the explicit subject of The Moody Blues song "Legend of a Mind," which memorialized him with the words, "Timothy Leary's dead. No, no, no, no he's outside looking in" (a lyric later incorporated into the Bongwater's cover version of the Moody Blues song "Ride My Seesaw"). At first, Leary detested the line, but later found the sense of humor to adopt "Legend of a Mind" as his theme song when he hit the lecture circuit.

A number of other musical groups have admired and been influenced by Leary, including:

  • The song "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me," by the alternative rock band Cracker, paraphrases one of Leary's catchphrases in a song about physically escaping mainstream culture (from the album "Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey" (2009).
  • The song "Timothy Leary" by the alternative rock band Guster was on their 2007 release of Satellite EP as well as on the "Rock the Net" multi-artist compilation (2008).
  • The progressive rock band Tool (who sampled one of his monologues during the opening of their live recording of Third Eye from the Salival album)(2000)
  • Marcy Playground*
  • Earlier works by Porcupine Tree
  • The new wave band Devo (Leary even appearing in one of their films).
  • He appears in Blind Melon's video "Galaxie" (1995) as a magician.
  • The metal band Nevermore mentions Leary in their lyrics, and titled one of their albums "The Politics of Ecstasy" (1996) (after Leary's book of the same name). Also, on Nevermore's self-titled album (1995), there is a song named "Timothy Leary".
  • The Psychedelic Trance band Infected Mushroom uses a sound clip of Leary saying "Turn on, tune in, and drop out" in a song.
  • Leary made a cameo appearance in "Stuff" (1993), a short film directed by Johnny Depp and Gibson Haynes about the Red Hot Chili Peppers' guitar player John Frusciante.
  • He also appears on "Gila Copter" from the Linger Ficken' Good album (1993) by the Revolting Cocks, and appears in the video for "Cracking Up".
  • Leary appears as the father in the Suicidal Tendencies video "Possessed to Skate" (1987)
  • Leary is also mentioned in the song "The Seeker" by The Who (1970): "I asked Bobby Dylan/ I asked the Beatles/ I asked Timothy Leary/ But he couldn't help me either", placing him among several other leading figures of '60s pop culture.
  • References to Leary appear in the iconic counter-culture piece "Hair" in the lyrics to "Let the sunshine in" ("Singing our space songs on a spider web sitar / Life is around you and in you / Answer for Timothy Leary, dearie"), and in the song "Manchester England, England".
  • Al Jourgensen of Ministry, who produced and performed on the album "Beyond Life With Timothy Leary", also cites Leary as "more of a father to me than my own father was."

Television and Film

Leary was the inspiration for the character "Brother William" in a 1968 episode of Dragnet. In the episode entitled "The Big Prophet", Jack Webb's character Joe Friday along with his partner Bill Gannon visit Brother William's home and spend the entire episode debating the consequences of using LSD and other drugs. Friday famously tells Brother William "Marijuana is the flame, heroin is the fuse, LSD is the bomb." At the end of the episode Brother William is found guilty of selling narcotics to minors.

In the movie, The Ruling Class, the character, Jack Gurney (played by Peter O'Toole), who thinks he is Jesus, claims that the voice of "Timothy O'Leary" told him he was God. Leary also appeared in Cheech and Chong's Nice Dreams (1981) as a benevolent psychiatrist administering LSD to mental patients.

Leary also had a brief voice-over appearance on the American sitcom Frasier in the episode, "The Show where Lilith Comes Back," as Hank, a man with an over-eating disorder who called into The Dr. Frasier Crane Show.


Leary authored and co-authored over twenty books and was featured on more than a dozen audio recordings. He had an acting career that included over a dozen appearances in movies and television shows, over thirty appearances as himself in the same, and produced and/or collaborated in both multi-media presentations and computer games.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Timothy Leary" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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