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Living at NYPL Archives & Manuscripts
Timothy Leary

Timothy Francis Leary, Jr. (1920-1996), a psychologist and writer, became known as an advocate for the use of psychedelic drugs and a counterculture icon.

Timothy Leary was born in Springfield, Massachusetts to Timothy and Abigail (neé Ferris). He attended Springfield Classical High School and graduated in 1938. His college education and military career overlapped. Leary had enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1940 only to resign that same year. He subsequently enrolled at the University of Alabama and soon after enlisted in the United States Army. During his time in the army, Leary was suspended while continuing to receive training through the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) at Ohio State University. He was reinstated in fall 1944 and married his first wife Marianne Busch. Several months later, he graduated from the University of Alabama with a B.A. in Psychology. Leary went on to receive a M.S. in Psychology from Washington State University and a Ph.D. in that same subject from the University of California at Berkeley in 1950. While finishing his doctorate, he and Marianne had two children, Susan (b. 1947) and Jack (b.1949).

For most of the 1950s, Timothy Leary worked as a psychologist in several capacities. He was part of the Department of Psychology at the Kaiser Hospital in Oakland; Director of Psychiatric Research at the Kaiser Foundation; assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco; and a consultant for Edward Glaser & Associates. His research from this time period resulted in his first published book, Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality (1957). During this period Leary's personal life was turbulent. His first wife, Marianne, committed suicide in 1955. One year later, Leary married Mary Della Cioppa. Leary finished out the decade by living in Italy and Spain with his children.

In 1960, Leary was named a lecturer at Harvard University at its Center for Personality Research. In this capacity, Leary brought a newly realized interest in researching and analyzing the effects of psilocybin mushrooms on human subjects. At Harvard, Leary and his associates, notably Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass), began a research program known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. Their subjects included students, prisoners, and, through connections formed via Allen Ginsberg, intellectuals and artists. After receiving the appropriate doses, participants in these various studies were given psychological tests and wrote essays detailing their experiences. Notable participants included Richard Alpert, Jack Kerouac, Ralph Metzner, Aldous Huxley, and Allen Ginsberg. Leary, Alpert, and their colleagues reported their findings via academic papers and lectures.

Leary was dismissed from Harvard in 1963. The same year, Leary founded the Internal Foundation for Internal Freedom or IFIF. The purpose of the organization was to establish a series of research centers in which studies involving psychedelic drugs would be conducted. Information about the research was published in its official newsletter, The Psychedelic Review. Originally based at the Hotel Catalina in Mexico, they soon wore out their welcome in Mexico. In 1964, the organization returned to the United States and moved into an estate owned by the Mellon heirs, Peggy, Billy and Tommy Hitchcock, in Millbrook, New York. Here, the IFIF was replaced by a new organization known as the Castalia Foundation. This organization's purpose, among other things, was "to disseminate scientific information resulting from research into states of consciousness…and the results obtaining [sic] from an alteration of the state of consciousness." To achieve this, the foundation offered lectures, psychedelic drug sessions, and other mind-expanding events. During this time, Leary co-authored The Psychedelic Experience: A Manuel Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert. Leary also met and married his third wife, Nena Von Schlebrügge.

Between 1965 and 1968, Timothy Leary was arrested twice for possession of marijuana. Within that time, he established two new organizations. The League for Spiritual Discovery or LSD was formed as a replacement for the Castalia Foundation and professed itself to be an "orthodox psychedelic religion." In addition to establishing a reading room and meditation center in the West Village, Leary and his associates in the group toured the country promoting the organization and presenting "Psychedelic Celebrations" which mimicked the effects of hallucinogens for the audience. The second organization was a response to the initial arrest and was called the Timothy Leary Defense Fund: Committee for the Reform of Marijuana Legislation (TLDF). The purpose of TLDF was to raise awareness about drug laws and to bring attention to Leary's legal troubles. Initially, LSD had some administrative control of the organization. Leary married Rosemary Woodruff in 1967.

Despite a court case which successfully proved the unconstitutionality of The Marijuana Tax Act (Leary v. United States), Leary was incarcerated at the California State Prison in February 1970. He wrote and published Jail Notes at this time. By September, he had escaped and fled to Algeria where he stayed with Eldridge Cleaver. Traveling in Switzerland, Leary met Joanna Harcourt-Smith and separated from Rosemary. He was apprehended in Kabul and sent to Folsom Prison to serve the rest of his sentence. While incarcerated, Leary wrote Neurologic Written in Prison, Starseed Written in Prison, Confessions of a Hope Fiend, and Terra II. As Leary served his prison term, Harcourt-Smith operated the Starseed Information Center which served to publish Leary's writings as well as raise support for Leary's cause. He had many friends and colleagues who were sympathetic to his situation like Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and other members of the San Francisco Bay Area Prose Poets' Phalanx.

In 1976, Timothy Leary was released from prison and he married Barbara Chase two years later. Over the next two decades, he continued to be a prolific author publishing essays, articles, and books such as The Intelligence Agents, Changing My Mind among Others, and The Game of Life which was co-authored with Robert Anton Wilson. He was also an active speaker, delivering lectures throughout the United States and internationally. His status as a symbol of countercultural life made him a popular choice for roles in television and film.

Leary founded Futique, Inc. in 1982 in order to give him a platform from which he could advance his interest in computer and technology-focused projects. In this capacity, he collaborated with software companies such as Interplay, Electronic Arts, and The XOR Corporation to create games, educational courseware, and programs. The most prominent was a video game based on the William Gibson novel Neuromancer. His writings at this time reflect this interest in cyberculture. Chaos & Cyber Culture and Surfing the Conscious Nets were published in 1994 and 1995, respectively.

Leary was diagnosed with cancer in 1995 and used this as an opportunity to explore post-death possibilities, such as cryogenics. He also established the Futique Trust whose purpose was to administer his estate, manage his archives, and collect and distribute his royalties to the appropriate parties. Timothy Leary died on May 31, 1996.



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