Leary, Timothy Francis

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Leary, Timothy Francis

Timothy Francis Leary, 1920–96, American psychologist and educator, b. Springfield, Mass.; B.A., Univ. of Alabama, 1943; M.A., Washington State Univ.; Ph.D., Univ. of California at Berkeley, 1950. Teaching (1950–55) at Berkeley and directing research (1955–58) at an Oakland hospital, he spent the early years of his career in normative psychology. Later, however, he turned to the study and promotion of psychedelic drugs and was dismissed as a lecturer in psychology at Harvard, where he taught from 1959 to 1963, for encouraging students to experiment with the hallucinogen LSD. Shortly thereafter, he and a colleague established a foundation for the study of psychedelic substances in Millbrook, N.Y. Leary was an outspoken advocate of hallucinogenic drug use; his exhortation "turn on, tune in, drop out" became a catchword of the 1960s. After LSD was classified as illegal (1965) he was frequently arrested. In 1970 he escaped from prison and fled to Algeria, then to Switzerland, Austria, and finally Afghanistan, where in 1973 he was extradited and returned to an American prison. After his release (1976) he claimed to be rehabilitated and continued writing and lecturing. During the 1980s and 90s the charismatic Leary styled himself as a postmodern guru, and celebrated computer technology as a utopian, boundary-demolishing force. He took leave of life in the style in which he had lived it, detailing his illness and drug-taking on a website. In 1997 a Spanish satellite carried some of his ashes into space.

See his autobiographical Jail Notes (1970), Flashbacks (with W. S. Burroughs, 1983), Design for Dying (with R. U. Sirius, 1997), and Politics of Ecstasy (with R. U. Sirius, 1998); biographies by R. Greenfield (2006) and J. Higgs (2006); R. Forte, ed., Timothy Leary: Outside Looking In: Appreciations, Castigations, and Reminiscences (1999); B. H. Friedman, Tripping: A Memoir of Timothy Leary & Co. (2006); D. Lattin, The Harvard Psychedelic Club (2010).

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