Timothy Leary

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In 1993, three years before his death, a shaky Dr. Timothy Leary was hired by ABC to interview fellow drug user Billy Idol about the new album (remember those?) Cyberpunk. From his first act as an LSD salesman, Leary was intrigued by the intersection of pharmaceuticals and technology. After a stretch in prison, the guru reinvented himself as a full-time technologist, focusing specifically on software design and space exploration. One trip or another, I suppose.

Given the year this network special (which also featured the Ramones and Television) was broadcast, it’s no surprise the pair sneer at the marketing of the Generation X concept. Leary offers that cyberpunk means that “we have to be smarter than people who run the big machines.” Or maybe it means that we can purchase crap on eBay until the Uber we ordered arrives. Leary tells Idol that his music is “changing middle-class robot society.” Oh, Lord. Well, I’ll give the good doctor credit for saying that computers would rearrange traditional creative and economic roles.

This Q&A runs for roughly the first ten minutes, and while the footage may be of crappy quality, it’s a relic worth the effort.

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For all his many flaws, Timothy Leary did prove to be prescient in numerous ways. One was his abandonment of LSD for a new and more powerful drug: computer software. The good doctor believed psychedelics, while a useful first step out of conformity, would become a crutch. He wanted to “plug into” a better machine. Computers (and space travel), he believed, would offer far wider horizons and deeper questions about reality. It is funny that Leary wanted us to stop being “beloved robots” only to devote his attention to actual ones. But he was right: Even yesterday’s bleeding-edge drugs were blunt instruments. 

On a related topic, Steven Levy has written “Inside Deep Dreams: How Google Made Its Computers Go Crazy,” a beauty of a Backchannel piece about computer scientist Alexander Mordvintsev, who fell into a terrible dream and awoke to the possibilities of artificial neural networks. He educated himself in the way of NNs and then rerouted them in a novel way, from passive to active, from literal to metaphorical. Of his initial experimentations, Levy writes that the “image looked like the work of a mad person. Or someone on LSD.”

The opening:

In the very early hours of May 18, 2015, Alexander Mordvintsev was wrenched from sleep. A nightmare, he later described it to me, in the first interview he has granted on the experience. Or, at least, a dream, a deeply disturbing dream, where an intruder had crossed the threshold of the Zurich apartment that he, his pregnant wife, and his 3-year-old son had been occupying for the past few months. They had moved to Switzerland from St. Petersburg that last November, when the Russian computer scientist got a job at Google’s engineering center there.

Now it was darkest night and Mordvintsev, jarred awake by his savage slumber, leapt from the bed to check the door. It was closed; all was quiet. But his mind was afire. Okay, it’s 2 a.m., but I can’t sleep, he told himself. So time to write a few lines of code.

It would be a decision that would eventually unleash a torrent of fantastic images, torn from an alien perspective, that intrigued and twisted the minds of those who viewed them. A decision that would reveal the power of artificial neural nets, our potential future overlords in an increasingly one-sided relationship with machine intelligence. And a decision that would change Mordvintsev’s own life.•


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Timothy Leary had numerous odd experiences behind prison walls. There was the time he dropped acid with Massachusetts inmates, the one in which he shared a Folsom cellblock with Charles Manson and let us never forget the time he was lectured in the pen by friend Marshall McLuhan. Such was the life of the LSD salesman.

One of the few trips Leary never got to take, except posthumously, was a trek to outer space. In 1976, during his “comeback tour” after stays in 29 jails and a retirement of sorts, Leary dreamed of leaving it all behind–way behind. The opening of John Riley’s People article “Timothy Leary Is Free, Demonstrably in Love and Making Extraterrestrial Plans“:

High in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains, in a wood-heated A-frame beside a rushing stream, the retired guru speaks:

“After six years of silence, we have three new ideas which we think are fairly good. One is space migration. Another is intelligence increase. The third is life extension. We use the acronym SMI2LE to bring them together.”

The sage is Timothy Leary, high priest of the 1960s LSD movement, who is just four weeks out of the 29th jail he has inhabited since his first arrest in Laredo, Texas, 11 years ago. That charge was possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana that his then-wife, Rosemarie, had handed to his daughter. In recent months, when Leary was appearing before federal grand juries investigating the Weather Underground, he was moved from prison to prison for his own safety. Now paroled at age 56, he will soon start a term of probation whose length will be set by a federal judge.

Leary fled a federal work camp in California in 1970, an escape planned by Rosemarie and the Weather Underground. The Learys went first to Africa, then to Switzerland, where their marriage collapsed. Leary met and was captivated by a then 26-year-old jet-setter, Joanna Harcourt-Smith, whom he married in 1972. Three weeks later they traveled to Afghanistan, where U.S. authorities captured them both and flew them back to Los Angeles.

“Joanna visited me regularly,” Leary says. “She published several of my books and lobbied and schemed to get me free.” He looks at her adoringly, and she turns from the breakfast dishes in the sink to kiss him. Joanna tells how she collared Betty Ford on a street in San Diego and pleaded with her for Tim’s freedom. “I’m doing for my husband what you’re doing for yours. You’re helping yours get elected President, and I’m helping mine get out of prison.”

“One of the plans that she was continually hatching to break me out,” says Leary, “was for her to descend onto the Vacaville prison grounds in a silver helicopter blaring Pink Floyd music, wearing nothing but a machine gun. We called it Plan No. 346.”

“You know,” he continues, after Joanna has left to drive to a village 10 miles away for groceries and cigarettes, “in 1970 the U.S. government directly and bluntly shut me up. It was the greatest thing that could have happened, because I had run out of ideas.” His face, its prison pallor turned to brown by the mountain sun, breaks into a grin. A woodpecker hammers at the chimney of their Franklin stove. “Does that every morning,” says Leary. “We’ve named him the tinpecker.

“Well, SMI2LE, as I said, is a good idea. The acronym is woven into Joanna’s belts and purses. The space migration part is what I’m working on right now. Los Alamos [the atomic laboratory] is not far away and I have lots of questions about laser fusion. And this valley is an ideal temporary planetary base of operations for getting away from earth.”

Leary not only wants to live on a space station between the earth and the moon, he wants to take some of the planet with him. “How far can we see from here?” he asks. “Half a mile? According to a professor at Princeton, such an area could be compressed to a degree that I figure could be fit within a NASA spacecraft.”•

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Before there was turnt, there was turned-on, the term for LSD experimentation taken from the Timothy Leary-Marshall McLuhan co-created mantra “Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out.” Thanks to some fakakta reasoning, Leary was allowed, during his Harvard professor days, to do acid tests on Massachusetts prison inmates, the belief being that the trip would help them arrive at rehabilitation. The subjects were wary of the good doctor, and for good reason, though by Leary’s telling everything went well overall. The guru recalled the experience in an article in the 1969 Psychedelic Review. An excerpt:

I’ll never forget that morning. After about half an hour, I could feel the effect coming up, the loosening of symbolic reality, the feeling of humming pressure and space voyage inside my head, the sharp, brilliant, brutal, intensification of all the senses. Every cell and every sense organ was humming with charged electricity. I felt terrible. What a place to be on a gray morning! In a dingy room, in a grim penitentiary, out of my mind. I looked over at the man next to me, a Polish embezzler from Worcester, Massachusetts. I could see him so clearly. I could see every pore in his face, every blemish, the hairs in his nose, the incredible green-yellow enamel of the decay in his teeth, the wet glistening of his frightened eyes. I could see every hair in his head, as though each was as big as an oak tree. What a confrontation! What am I doing here, out of my mind, with this strange mosaic-celled animal, prisoner, criminal?

I said to him, with a weak grin, How are you doing, John? He said, I feel fine. Then he paused for a minute, and asked, How are you doing, Doc? I was about to say in a reassuring psychological tone that I felt fine, but I couldn’t, so I said, I feel lousy. John drew back his purple pink lips, showed his green-yellow teeth in a sickly grin and said, What’s the matter, Doc? Why you feel lousy? I looked with my two microscopic retina lenses into his eyes. I could see every line, yellow spider webs, red network of veins gleaming out at me. I said, John, I’m afraid of you. His eyes got bigger, then he began to laugh. I could look inside his mouth, swollen red tissues, gums, tongue, throat. Well that’s funny Doc, ’cause I’m afraid of you. We were both smiling at this point, leaning forward. Doc, he said, why are you afraid of me? I said, I’m afraid of you, John, because you’re a criminal. I said, John, why are you afraid of me? He said, I’m afraid of you Doc because you’re a mad scientist. Then our retinas locked and I slid down into the tunnel of his eyes, and I could feel him walking around in my skull and we both began to laugh. And there it was, that dark moment of fear and distrust, which could have changed in a second to become hatred, terror. We’d made the love connection. The flicker in the dark. Suddenly, the sun came out in the room and I felt great and I knew he did too.

We had passed that moment of crisis, but as the minutes slowly ticked on, the grimness of our situation kept coming back in microscopic clarity. There were the four of us turned-on, every sense vibrating, pulsating with messages, two billion years of cellular wisdom, but what could we do trapped within the four walls of a gray hospital room, barred inside a maximum security prison? Then one of the great lessons in my psychedelic training took place. One of the four of us was a Negro from Texas, jazz saxophone player, heroin addict. He looked around with two huge balls of ocular white, shook his head, staggered over to the record player, put on a record. It was a Sonny Rollins record which he’d especially asked us to bring. Then he lay down on the cot and closed his eyes. The rest of us sat by the table while metal air from the yellow saxophone, spinning across copper electric wires, bounced off the wails of the room. There was a long silence. Then we heard Willy moaning softly, and moving restlessly on the couch. I turned and looked at him, and said, Willy, are you all right? There was apprehension in my voice. Everyone in the room swung their heads anxiously to look and listen for the answer. Willy lifted his head, gave a big grin, and said, Man, am I all right? I’m in heaven and I can’t believe it! Here I am in heaven man, and I’m stoned out of my mind, and I’m swinging like I’ve never before and it’s all happening in prison, and you ask me man, am I all right. What a laugh! And then he laughed, and we all laughed, and suddenly we were all high and happy and chuckling at what we had done, bringing music, and love, and beauty, and serenity, and fun, and the seed of life into that grim and dreary prison. …

As I rode along the highway, the tension and the drama of the day suddenly snapped off and I could look back and see what we had done. Nothing, you see, is secret in prison, and the eight of us who had assembled to take drugs together in a prison were under the gaze of every convict in the prison and every guard, and within hours the word would have fanned through the invisible network to every other prison in the state. Grim Walpole penitentiary. Grey, sullen-walled Norfolk.

Did you hear? Some Harvard professors gave a new drug to some guys at Concord. They had a ball. It was great. It’s a grand thing. It’s something new. Hope. Maybe. Hope. Perhaps. Something new. We sure need something new. Hope.•


I previously posted the audio of the “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” speech Timothy Leary delivered at UCLA in 1967, and here’s the video of the spirited LSD debate he participated in with Dr. Jerry Lettvin at MIT a few months later. In his remarks, Leary lambastes scientists and technologists devoted to manufacturing entertaining diversions.

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Because it was inevitable, Timothy Leary once met Charles Manson. In prison, of course—Folsom to be exact. The LSD guru had been apprehended by the FBI in Afghanistan and extradited. One of his cellmates was the Helter Skelter dipshit. Leary documented the meeting in a 1976 article in OUI, a middling vagina periodical of the Magazine Age. The article’s opening:

Commodore Leri, Agent from Central Intelligence assigned to earth, third planet of the G-type Star, sits on the bench of the holding cell of Soledad Prison, dressed in the white jump suit worn by transferees. On his left, John O’Neill, a slick good-looking big-city Irishman down for ten to life for murder two. To his right, a tall, slim, pretty cowboy named Ted with Indian cheekbones and a deep tan. Ted babbles evasively. He has been in and out of the joint for years and has the reputation of being a professional fuck-up. (‘He ain’t playing with a full deck,’ whispers O’Neill. ‘He’s one of the girls and a snitch, too.’) The three hold one-way tickets to the Dark Tower, and that has formed a bond among them. The Dark Tower is Folsom, a trans-Einsteinian Black Hole in the Earth Galaxy from which nothing ever escapes but feeble red radiation.

· · ·

Leri had done some primatology research in Hollywood after the Tate-LaBianca murders and was fascinated by the wave of fright that swept through the film colony. The chic reaction was to install gate locks, which were opened by remote control after visitors identified themselves over an intercom. Whatever solace this arrangement provided, it certainly would not have thwarted the creepy-crawly Mansonites, who avoided the gate at the Tate house because they suspected that it was electrified. So Leri wrote a memoir for OUI magazine to show that none of the human fears that Manson systematically exploited can be neutralized by external defenses. These terrors, he wrote, are internal neurological reactions and, in order to understand Manson, one must understand the neurology of human fear.

Manson, it was said, stimulated fear in others in order to gain power.

‘One aspect of Manson’s philosophy especially puzzled me: his strange attitude toward fear,’ Vincent Bugliosi says in Helter Skelter. ‘He not only preached that fear as beautiful, he often told the family that they should live in a constant state of fear. What did he mean by that? I asked Paul [Watkins, Manson’s second-in-command].

‘To Charlie, fear was the same thing as awareness, Watkins said. The more fear you have, the more awareness, hence the more love. When you’re really afraid, you come to ‘Now.’ And when you are at Now, you are totally conscious.’

Let us give credit where credit is due: Manson’s manipulation of fear has its roots in the paranoia behind the Cold War military posture, the antidrug scare campaigns, the addictive success of the most-popular movies and crime shows, the actions of all bureaucracy and law-enforcement agencies, and the operation of our penal institutions.

Before we can understand Manson, we must realize that a prison system is a microcosm of a culture and that the American prison system is run on raw fear and violence.”•


Leary (sans Manson) interviewed at Folsom.

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Posting the audio of Timothy Leary’s UCLA talk reminded me of D.A. Pennebaker’s 1964 short doc about the guru’s wedding to fashion model Nena von Schlebrügge at the Hitchcock House, which was attended by Diane Arbus, Charles Mingus, Monti Rock III and other luminaries. The marriage lasted slightly longer than the 12-minute film. The bride is a fascinating person in her own right, although she’s probably best known today as Uma Thurman’s mom.

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Audio only of Timothy Leary giving his “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” speech and doing a Q&A at UCLA on January 18, 1967. Addressed, among other subjects, by the guru and future software mogul: William James’ nitrous oxide parties at Harvard, DNA code and the importance of bare feet.


Here’s an odd pairing: Timothy Leary, famous salesman, just two years before his death, interviewed in 1994 by Greg Kinnear on Later. The LSD guru and software developer discusses once sharing a cell block with Charles Manson, whom he describes as a “right-wing, Bible-spouting militarist.” He also gives partial credit to Marshall McLuhan for the famous phrase: “Tune in, turn on, drop out.” Begins at 11:45.

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In 1987, two software moguls, Bill Gates and Dr. Timothy Leary, were asked by Omni to make predictions about life 20 years in the future. Gates was more accurate in his prognostications, though Leary provided some gems like this one: “What will you be? A performer. Everyone will be performing.”


Bill Gates, Chairman of the Board, Microsoft Corporation:

The processing of digital information is improving very quickly. In ten years you’ll have 30 to 40 times as much computational power, and you’ll be able to manipulate the images and sounds that you now receive just passively from TV — you’ll insert yourself into a game or even change the outcome according to your wishes. So in 20 years your ability to get information will be expanded exponentially.

Take one example; You’re sitting at home. You’ll have a variety of image libraries that will contain, say, all the world’s best art. You’ll also have very cheap, flat panel-display devices throughout your house that will provide resolution so good that viewing a projection will be like looking at the original oil. painting. It will be that realistic.

In 20 years the Information Age will be here, absolutely. The dream of having the world database at your fingertips will have become a reality. You’ll even be able to call up a video show and place yourself in it. Today, if you want to create an image on a screen — a beach with the sun and waves— you’ve got to take a picture of it. But in 20 years you’ll literally construct your own images and scenes. You will have stored very high-level representations of what the sun looks like or how the wind blows. If you want a certain movie star to be sitting on a beach, kind of being lazy, believe me, you’ll be able to do that. People are already doing these things.

Also, we will have serious voice recognition. I expect to wake up and say, “Show me some nice Da Vinci stuff,” and my ceiling, a high-resolution display, will show me what I want to see — or call up any sort of music or video. The world will be online, and we’ll be able to simulate just about anything. Let’s say you want to go out to a racetrack. When you wake up you’ll say, “Hey, rent me one of those formula cars in Daytona,” and with some local controls, a little steering wheel you pull out of your drawer, you’ll be able to get the image and feel like you’re driving the car.

There’s a scary question to all this: How necessary will it be to go to real places or do real things? I mean, in 20 years we will synthesize reality. We’ll do it super-realistically and in real time. The machine will check its database and think of some stories you might tell, songs you might sing, jokes you might not have heard before. Today we simply synthesize flight simulation.

A lot of things are going to vanish from our lives. There will be a machine that keys off of physiological traits, whether it’s voiceprint or fingerprint; so in 2007 Mick Jagger will be onstage, and when Mick feels heat, you’ll feel heat. If a spray of water hits Tina on the back, you’ll feel that, too. I hope passive entertainment will disappear. People want to get involved. It will really start to change the quality of entertainment because it will be so individualized. If you like Bill Cosby, then there will be a digital description of Cosby, his mannerisms and appearance, and you will build your own show from that.

People will like the idea that the machine really knows them and that the machine can create experiences formed around the events in their lives to fulfill their particular needs and interests. But there’s a danger, too. It will be easy to feel worthless or overwhelmed by the amount of data. So what we’ll have to do is make sure the machine can tailor the data to the individual.

Probably all this progress will be pretty disruptive stuff. We’ll really find out what the human brain can do, but we’ll have serious problems about the purpose of it all. We’re going to find out how curious we are and how-much stimulation we can take. There have been experiments in which a monkey can choose to ingest cocaine and the monkey keeps on pushing that button until he dies. Well, we are going to create some pretty intense experiences through synthesized video-audio. Do you think you’ll reach a point of satisfaction when you no longer have to try something new or make something better? Life is really going to change; your ability to access satisfying experiences will be so large.

Take the change in movies in the last few years. Just a few years ago you had to find out where the movie was playing, then go to a certain neighborhood and stand in line to see the movie. Now you can go two blocks and find 10,000 titles. You feel inadequate. It’s going to be intimidating.

Twenty years ago I was ten years old. We already had color TV. I didn’t have theories about what the world might be like. But in the next 20 years you won’t be able to extrapolate the rate of progress from any previous pattern or curve because the new chips, these local intelligences that can process information, will cause a warp in what it’s possible to do. The leap will be unique. I can’t think of any equivalent phenomenon in history.•


Timothy Leary, President, Futique Software Company:

By 2007 the problem of scarcity will be solved. Because most work will be done by robots and computers, you won’t have to work. Material possessions won’t mean as much to us as they do now, If there are nine Porsches in your garage. you’re going to say, “Take them away.” We’ve done that with wheat and grain, and we can do it with other things if we put our minds to it.

The way we define human beings will change. You won’t be a serf, a slave, or a worker. What will you be? A performer. Everyone will be performing. Passive listening, passive observing, passive watching will disappear. Of course, Big Brother, both of the Reagan and Ihe Gorbachev type, want us to be passive. They don’t want us to think for ourselves.

In 2007 you’ll be living in an information society in which information will be what money and machinery were in the Industrial Age. Everyone is going to be a psychologist, computer whiz, philosopher. Mind play, mind performance, psychological skill are going to be the equivalent of land, money, and power in the earlier ages.

Now to the nuts and bolts of this stuff: Every kid will learn how to communicate at a very young age; every kid will have his own computer — like a pair of sneakers, a pair of Nikes. No one will steal a computer, because you’ll throw them away. And everyone will learn how to chart his thoughts and his mental performance — like a baseball player’s stats. Even kids will plot their thoughts like they plot their batting average. The name of our species is Homo sapiens. That means we’re the organism that thinks, and our species finally will be proficient in thinking.

The biggest effect will be on blacks and members of other minority groups in this country. In the Information Age, to keep any poor kid from having a computer would be like keeping him from having food, medicine, shelter, or clothing now.

Within 20 years we’ll have scrapped the current system of partisan politics. Partisan politics belongs back in an age of feudalism, or at most the Industrial Age. It is insane to run a highly complicated, technological, pluralistic society like America when you have in the cabin of the spaceship a Democratic and a Republican candidate kneeing and gouging and beating up each other to see who’s going to be president for four years. In an electronic society an intelligent person would no more send Tip O’Neil to Washington to make his laws than you’d send Tip O’Neill to the wine shop to pick out a good wine for you.

Everyone is going to be responsible for government. It will be done by televoting, perhaps every Sunday between, say, twelve and one. But we’ll be voting on major issues — not parties, people, or a glamorous candidate who will play on our superstitions and emotions. You’ll educate yourself on the issues by using your own thought-processing appliances, the new computers. So you’ll be continually teaching yourself, continuously learning.

Right now there is a great deal of concern about the drug problem. In 20 years there will be hundreds of neurotransmitters that will allow you to boot up and activate your brain and change mental performance. There are going to be what I call brain radios — hearing aids you put in your ear— that will pick up and communicate with the electricity in your brain. You will be able to tune in any brain aspect, like sex, that you want. You will speed up or slow down your thinking. Anything you can do with chemicals you can do with brain waves, and they are so much healthier.

Drugs will be old-fashioned. No one will be addicted because you can just turn on the ultimate orgasm and keep it going for an hour. But how long are you going to do that? You’ll get bored. You’re going to want to turn it down or off. The criminality of drugs is what is causing the so-called drug crisis, but if you legalize a brain radio — and you’re going to have to — everyone will have the ability to dial into any emotional, mental, or sensual experience. We will use these radios to think more clearly and, above all, to communicate more clearly. The key to the twenty-first century will be five words: “think for yourself,” and “question authority.”

People will become more intelligent. I am really bored with the level of intelligence on this planet. There’s no one to talk to, and there is so much superstition. I am just waiting for people to smarten up. In 20 years I’ll have more fun, and I’ll have more people to talk to. People will be teaching me, and life is going to be more exciting. Twenty years ago — 1967 — the summer of love was just beginning, and I was busy performing the rituals that had to be performed then. The computers were IBM business machines that were used to de- personalize and control us. I frankly was too dumb to look ahead.•

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From “Inside the Immortality Business,” Josh Dean’s excellent Buzzfeed report about cryonics, a passage about the first-ever “cryonaut”:

“At one end of Alcor’s conference room is a picture window of the kind you see in police interrogation rooms. It’s typically covered with a metal screen, but Mike Perry, the company’s Patient Care Director, pushed a cartoonishly large red button and it raised to reveal the cold storage room, which if you’ve been on a brewery tour, basically looks like that. On the far wall is a row of towering silver canisters containing four patients each (claustrophobia is not a concern of the cryopreserved) — plus another eight or 10 frozen heads, which are stored in crock-pot-sized cans and stacked in the canister’s center channel. Each capsule, Perry explained, is cooled to 320 degrees below zero Fahrenheit using liquid nitrogen and requires no electricity. Canisters operate on the same basic principle as a thermos bottle; they are double-walled with a vacuum-sealed space between the two walls and are known as dewars, for the concept’s Scottish inventor, James Dewar. The chamber itself is filled with liquid nitrogen and is replenished weekly from a huge storage container, though in truth, Perry noted, that’s overkill. A test canister once went eight months before all of the nitrogen finally boiled off, so there’s little reason to worry about your frozen loved ones thawing should the nightwatchman fall asleep on the job.

Perry, who is gaunt, wispy-haired, and hunchbacked (a condition he hopes will be fixed when he’s revived down the road), drew my attention to another unit, horizontal and obviously much older, on the floor just on the far side of the glass. This container once held Dr. James Bedford who, in 1967, became the world’s first-ever cryonaut, as the fervent press at the time dubbed him. Perry said that security reasons prevented him from identifying precisely which of the new capsules now contained Bedford, or for that matter the baseball legend Ted Williams, who is the most famous ex-person publicly known to be in Alcor’s care. (Walt Disney, contrary to urban legend, was never frozen. Neither was Timothy Leary, who was once an Alcor member, but later canceled.)

Cryonics as a concept has existed in science-fiction for more than a century, but it traces its real-world origins to the 1964 publication of The Prospect of Immortality. That book, written by a physics and math professor from Atlantic City named Robert Ettinger, opened with a bold proclamation: ‘Most of us now living have a chance for personal, physical immortality.’ Ettinger went on to lay out, in a very specific and carefully constructed scientific argument, why humans should immediately begin to consider this plausible alternative. He wrote: ‘The fact: At very low temperatures it is possible, right now, to preserve dead people with essentially no deterioration, indefinitely.’ Ettinger called this ‘suspended death’ and the overall movement he hoped would grow up to support it ‘the freezer program,’ an ominous phrase that didn’t stick for obvious reasons. (In a later book, he called it being ‘preserved indefinitely in not-very-dead condition,’ which is so hilariously stiff as to sound bureaucratic.)”

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William F. Buckley interrogates Dr. Timothy Leary about, of course, LSD.

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From a recent Atlantic article by Ross Andersen about video artist Jason Silva, a passage recalling a meeting between Marshall McLuhan and Timothy Leary, when the latter was imprisoned:

When Timothy Leary was in prison he was visited by Marshall McLuhan, who told Leary “you can’t stay way out on the fringes if you want to compete in the marketplace of ideas—if your ideas are going to resonate, you need to refine your packaging.” And so they taught Leary to smile, and they taught him about charisma and aesthetic packaging, and ultimately Leary came to appreciate the power of media packaging for his work. According to the article, this is where Timothy Leary the performance philosopher was born, and when he came out of jail all of the sudden he was on all these talk shows, and he was waxing philosophical about virtual reality, and downloading our minds, and moving into cyberspace. All of these ideas became associated with this extremely charismatic guy who was considered equal parts rock star, poet and guru scientist—and that to me suggests the true power of media communications, because these guys were able to take these intergalactic sized ideas and spread them with the tools of media.•

· · ·

Leary in Folsom prison, 1978:

A sample of Silva’s work:

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Timothy Leary, who often gave drug addicts a bad name, at the beginning of his long run as a controversial public figure, visiting with Merv Griffin in 1966.

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In 1967, William F. Buckley welcomed beaded LSD guru Timothy Leary, who later became mortal enemies with Art Linkletter.

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In the same 1966 Playboy Interview in which he opined that homosexuality could be “cured” by LSD, Timothy Leary predicts what college kids dropping acid would eventually do with their lives:

LEARY: Remember, it’s the college kids who are turning on — the smartest and most promising of the youngsters. What an exciting prospect: a generation of creative youngsters refusing to march in step, refusing to go to offices, refusing to sign up on the installment plan, refusing to climb aboard the treadmill.

PLAYBOY: What will they do?

LEARY: Don’t worry. Each one will work out his individual solution. Some will return to the establishment and inject their new ideas. Some will live under ground as self-employed artists, artisans and writers. Some are already forming small communities out of the country. Many are starting schools for children and adults who wish to learn the use of their sense organs. Psychedelic businesses are springing up: bookstores, art galleries. Psychedelic industries may involve more manpower in the future than the automobile industry has produced in the last 20 years. In our technological society of the future, the problem will be not to get people to work, but to develop graceful, fulfilling ways of living a more serene, beautiful and creative life. Psychedelics will help to point the way.”


“At Millbrook, children as young as nine were given LSD”:


From “Larry Flynt at Home,” Jean Stein’s Los Angeles Review of Books recollection of the puke-inducing pornographer/Constitutional rights champion at the height of his powers in 1983, as he was planning a Presidential run. In this segment, screenwriter and novelist Terry Southern has been summoned to Flynt’s Los Angeles lair, by a wired Dennis Hopper, to work on a dubious film project about Jim Morrison:

“The next guy to arrive was Marjoe — you know, that guy who used to be a child evangelist. And the other person who was a permanent guest for the moment was Madalyn Murray. Madalyn Murray has devoted her entire life to trying to get the Bible outlawed in school. She’s a professional atheist, very courageous. For some reason Larry Flynt was interested in her cause. I think he wanted to fuck her … mind-fuck her I mean.

About 4:00 P.M. Larry Flynt comes in and says, ‘Sundowner time. Time for a sundowner.’ He’s in a wh
eelchair. His wheelchair is motorized and gold-plated, and it has little American flags like on an ambassador’s car. He’s wearing this big diaper he had made up from an American flag.
‘They treat me like a baby,’ he said, ‘so I’m going to behave like one. And if I poo-poo in my diaper, I’ll be poo-pooing on the American flag.’ He’s trying to explain this to this huge Indian — what the hell is his name? He’s a great Indian guy who’s about seven feet tall … Means, Russell Means. He’s there, and meanwhile I hear this shouting, and it sounds like a big argument, but it’s just Liddy and Tim Leary rehearsing their act, I mean their ‘debate.’ About time for dinner, Frank Zappa arrives, you know him. Quite a grand zany. So there’s this very long table of odd people.

After dinner Larry said, ‘Come into my study, Terry, you’re going to need some money for the weekend.’ We went into his office and he said, ‘There’s a briefcase by the couch where you’re sitting. Put it on your lap and open it.’ So I did. It was full of packs of hundred-dollar bills. Larry said, ‘It’s a million dollars. I have this on hand to give validity to the offer.’ And he showed me this circular: A standing offer from Larry Flynt to the following women who are prepared to show gyno-pink. One million cash to Barbara Bach, Cathy Bach, Barbi Benton, Cheryl Tiegs … They were mostly kind of obscure, but there were one or two that were totally out of place, like Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda. He was offering them a million dollars if they’d pose and do a gyno spread, what he called ‘flashing pink.’ And so he said, ‘Take whatever you think you’ll need for the weekend,” and he made a point of turning around to use the phone so I could take what I wanted. When he finished his call, he asked, ‘How much did you take?’

‘Two hundred dollars.’

‘You must be a fool — you could have taken more.’

I said, “I don’t think I need any more than that.’

‘Well, I like an honest man,’ he said.”•


Larry Flynt, the First Amendment champion:

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Art Linkletter’s daughter plunged to her death from a six-story window in 1969, perhaps influenced to suicide by LSD. Timothy Leary was the most famous proponent of LSD. Talk show host Stanley Siegel thought it would be a good idea in 1977 to have Linkletter and Leary talk by phone on live TV.

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Esther Williams: "I reached up with my boy's large, clumsy hand to touch my right breast and felt my penis stirring."

As universities begin studying the effects and uses of LSD again, Vanity Fair takes a look back at the drug’s origins and its popularity as part of psychotherapy in Hollywood in the late 50s, before Timothy Leary had taken even a single trip. “Cary in the Sky with Diamonds” is an article by Cari Beauchamp and Judy Balaban. The latter is the daughter of Paramount Pictures president Barney Balaban; she not only experimented with the drug herself but has first-hand knowledge of all of the principals involved.

In one passage, swimming great and movie star Esther Williams, who experimented with LSD when she was in her late thirties, recalls the profound and strange effect the drug had on her. Williams believes the experience helped her confront the deep pain and unhappiness she carried with her since her beloved older brother died when she was eight years old. An excerpt:

Under LSD, Esther saw ‘my father’s face as a ceramic plate. Almost instantly, it splintered into a million tiny pieces, like a windshield when a rock goes through it.’ Then she saw her mother’s face on that terrible day, and ‘all the emotion had drained out of her, and her soft, kindly features had hardened.’

During the session Esther realized—’observing it from a distance as if I were acting in or watching a movie’—that ever since the day her brother had died her life had been consumed by the necessity to replace him in every sense of the word, and “suddenly this little girl was in a race against time to be an adult.”

Does Esther Williams think she has a penis or am I just really high? (Image by Philip H. Bailey.)

Exhausted but calm, Esther left the doctor’s office and returned to her Mandeville Canyon home, where her parents, still emotionally broken by Stanton’s death, were waiting to have dinner with her. She “understood them that night in a profound way, and while I sympathized, I was also sickened by their weakness and their resignation. I saw that they both simply had given up, which, no matter what life had in store for me, was something I could never and would never do.”

But the evening wasn’t over for Esther. After she had said good night to her parents, she went to her bedroom, undressed, and washed. When she looked in the mirror, ‘I was startled by a split image: One half of my face, the right half, was me; the other half was the face of a sixteen-year-old boy. The left side of my upper body was flat and muscular.… I reached up with my boy’s large, clumsy hand to touch my right breast and felt my penis stirring. It was a hermaphroditic phantasm.’ Esther has no recollection of how long she stood there, but there was no question that now ‘I understood perfectly: when Stanton had died, I had taken him into my life so completely that he became a part of me.’”

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