The Love Song of Timothy Leary

By Krassner, Paul | Tikkun, November/December 1999 | Go to article overview

The Love Song of Timothy Leary


Krassner, Paul, Tikkun


Prologue During an interview with Timothy Leary several months before his death from prostate cancer in 1996, I brought up the subject of G. Gordon Liddy's 1966 raid on Leary's home.

LEARY: He was a government agent entering our bedroom at midnight. We had every right to shoot him. But I've never owned a weapon in my life. I have never had and never will have a gun around.

KRASSNER: But when you escaped from prison [in 1970], you said, "Arm yourselves and shoot to live. To shoot a genocidal robot policeman in the defense of life is a sacred act."

LEARY: Yeah! I also said "I'm armed and dangerous." I got that directly from [black revolutionary] Angela Davis. I thought it was just funny to say that.

Late in June 1999, "The Smoking Gun," a celebrity true-crime website dedicated to digging up old government documents, made public an old file on Timothy Leary that had just been released by the FBI. In that file, Leary was named as an FBI informant. The story of Leary's cooperation was picked up from cyberspace by the Associated Press and quickly spread across the United States and Europe, in print, on radio, and on TV.

In fact, the "new revelation" about snitching is neither new nor revelatory. Leary devoted an entire chapter of his 1983 autobiography, Flashbacks, to a detailed, behind-thescenes account of what transpired between him and the FBI while he was in prison. And yet, the newsweeklies treated it like news, with snide cuteness to boot. Time: "The late counterculture icon of the '60s was an FBI informer. Put that in your pipe and smoke it." U.S. News & World Report: "The good doctor's famous injunction was to turn on, tune in, drop out.' He never talked about dropping a dime." Newsweek: "The '60s LSD guru was an FBI snitch. Revised motto: Tune in, turn on, turn in."

Why did the "news" about Leary@three years after his death-generate such a flurry? Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and leader of the Merry Pranksters, believes that "Tim's power still exists, and that power goes against a very established and stiff-necked grain."

While the "revelation" that Tim Leary had once been a rat made a splash, G. Gordon Liddy once actually ate a rat. Literally. He acknowledged in his autobiography, Will, that he did this because he had wanted to get over his fear of eating rats. It worked, too. But the essential difference between Leary and Liddy was that Leary wanted people to use LSD as a vehicle for turning themselves on to a higher consciousness, whereas Liddy wanted to put LSD on the steering wheel of columnist Jack Anderson's car, thereby making a political assassination look like an automobile accident. Leary and Liddy first shared the spotlight in 1966 when the fearless Liddy was an assistant district attorney of Dutchess County in upstate New York. There, he led the raid on Leary's borrowed mansion in Millbrook.

Liddy, justifying his action, reported, "The word was that the panties were dropping as fast as the acid."

Leary said that Liddy represented "forces opposed to human evolution."

During the arrest, Leary told Liddy, "The time will come when there will be a statue of me erected in Millbrook. " "The closest you'll get to that," Liddy replied, "is to be burned in effigy."

Liddy had made a shrewd career move, though. Arresting Leary opened the door for the next steps up his professional ladder to the FBI, the CIA, and then on to Richard Nixon's infamous Plumbers (whose job it was to plug "leaks" in the White House). After serving time in prison for his role in Watergate, he started his own counter-terrorist company, played a role on Miami Vice, held hands with Betty White on Password, and starred in Nowhere Man (as a man who fakes his own death to throw cops off the trail so he can make a huge drug score). Finally, Liddy got his own talk show. Yet another typical American success story.

Liddy's case against Leary didn't stick, but it helped increase Leary's notoriety, which eventually resulted in his going to prison. …

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