Timothy Francis Leary, the son of a dentist, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on 22nd October, 1920. He attended West Point Military Academy but was forced to leave after being accused of smuggling alcohol onto the campus.
Leary eventually obtained a degree in psychology at the University of Alabama in 1943. He then moved to the University of California where he received a Ph.D. in 1950. Leary worked as an assistant professor at Berkeley (1950-55), director of research at the Kaiser Foundation (1955-58) before becoming a lecturer in psychology at Harvard University in 1959.
During a visit to Mexico Leary tried psilocybin mushrooms. As a result of this experience Leary and a colleague, Richard Alpert, began research into the effects of psilocybin and LSD on individuals. Leary argued that LSD, if used correctly, could alter personality in beneficial ways. Leary's research participants reported that while under the influence of LSD they had profound mystical and spiritual experiences. Leary and Alpert argued that LSD could be used to reform convicted criminals.
Leary's ideas received considerable publicity and in 1962 he was contacted by Mary Pinchot Meyer. Leary supplied her with LSD who used it with her lover, President John F. Kennedy. Leary later claimed that Meyer helped influence Kennedy's views on nuclear disarmament and rapprochement with Cuba. Kennedy aide, Meyer Feldman, claimed in an interview with Nina Burleigh that the president might have discussed substantial issues with Meyer: "I think he might have thought more of her than some of the other women and discussed things that were on his mind, not just social gossip."
In 1963 Leary and Alpert were dismissed from Harvard University after complaints from the parents of students involved in experimenting with LSD. The two men moved to New York and continued their research at a large mansion called Millbrook. On several occasions Millbrook was raided by FBI agents. This included one raid led by G. Gordon Liddy.
According to his biography, Flashbacks, Timothy Leary claims that Mary Pinchot Meyer phoned him the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated: "They couldn't control him any more. He was changing too fast. He was learning too much... They'll cover everything up. I gotta come see you. I'm scared. I'm afraid."
In the summer of 1964 Meyer told friends that she believed someone had been inside her house while she was away. On another occasion she told Elizabeth Eisenstein that "she thought she had seen somebody leaving as she walked in". Meyer reported these incidents to the police. Eisenstein said Meyer was clearly frightened by these incidents.
On 12th October, 1964, Mary Pinchot Meyer was shot dead as she walked along the Chesapeake and Ohio towpath in Georgetown. Meyer appeared to have been killed by a professional hitman. The first bullet was fired at the back of the head. She did not die straight away. A second shot was fired into the heart. The evidence suggests that in both cases, the gun was virtually touching Meyers body when it was fired.
Soon afterwards Raymond Crump, a black man, was charged with Meyer's murder. Police tests were unable to show that Crump had fired the .38 caliber Smith and Wesson gun. There were no trace of nitrates on his hands or clothes. Despite an extensive search of the area no gun could be found. This included a two day search of the tow path by 40 police officers. On 29th July, 1965, Crump was acquitted of murdering Meyer. The case remains unsolved.
In 1965 Leary's daughter was arrested carrying marijuana while crossing the Mexican border. Leary took responsibility for his daughter having the drug and he was later convicted of possession under the Marijuana Tax Act and was sentenced to 30 years in jail. In 1969 the Marijuana Tax was declared unconstitutional and Leary's conviction was quashed.
The following year Leary was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana. Found guilty, he was sentenced to prison. However, with the help of the Weathermen, he escaped from prison. Leary and his wife to move to Algeria where he spent time with Black Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver. Later the couple went to live in Switzerland.
Richard Nixon described Leary as the "most dangerous man in America" and ordered G. Gordon Liddy to destroy him. In 1974 he was illegally kidnapped by Interpol agents in Kabul and transported to the United States. (At the time Afghanistan had no extradition treaty with the United States.) Leary was eventually released from prison in April, 1976.
Books by Leary include The Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality (1957), The Psychedelic Experience (1964), The Politics of Ecstasy (1965), Start Your Own Religion (1967), High Priest (1968), Confessions of a Hope Fiend (1973), Flashbacks (1983), Info-Psychology (1987), Change Your Brain (1988), Game of Life (1989), Intelligence Agents (1996) and Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out (1999).
Timothy Francis Leary died of prostate cancer on 31st May, 1996. His death was videotaped and appeared in the movie, Timothy Leary's Dead.