Timothy Leary

Timothy Leary

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 Meyer’s 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.

Primary Sources

(1) Timothy Leary, Flashbacks (1983)

From 1960 to 1967 I was director of research projects at Harvard University and Millbrook, New York which studied the effects of brain-change drugs. During this period a talented group of psychologists and philosophers on our staff ran guided "trips" for over 3000 volunteers. These projects won worldwide recognition as centers for consciousness alteration and exploration of new dimensions of the mind.

Our headquarters at Harvard and Millbrook were regularly visited by people interested in expanding their intelligence - poets and writers like Allen Ginsberg, Charles Olsen, Jack Kerouac, Robert Lovell; musicians like "The Grateful Dead," Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, John Lennon, Jim Morrison; philosophers like Aldous Huxley, Arthur Koestler, Alan Watts; swamis, gurus, mystics, psychics by the troops. Scores of scientists from top universities. And occasionally steely-eyed experts, from government and military centers also participated.

It was not until the Freedom of Information Act of the Carter administration that we learned that the CIA had spent 25 million dollars on brain-change drugs, and that the U.S. Army at Edgewater Arsenal in Maryland had given LSD and stronger psychedelic drugs to over 7000 unwitting, uninformed enlisted men.

The most fascinating and important of these hundreds of visitors showed up in the Spring of 1962. I was sitting in my office at Harvard University one morning when I looked up to see a woman leaning against the door post, hip tilted provocatively, studying me with a bold stare. She appeared to be in her late thirties. Good looking. Flamboyant eye-brows, piercing green-blue eyes, fine-boned face. Amused, arrogant, aristocratic. "Dr. Leary," she said coolly,"I've got to talk to you."

She took a few steps forward and held out her hand. "I'm Mary Pinchot. I've come from Washington to discuss something very important. I want to learn how to run an LSD session."

"That's our specialty here. Would you like to tell me what you have in mind?"

"I have this friend who's a very important man. He's impressed by what I've told him about my own LSD experiences and what other people have told him. He wants to try it himself. So I'm here to learn how to do it. I mean. I don't want to goof up or something."

"Why don't you have your important friend come here with you to look over our project for a couple of days. Then if it makes sense to all concerned, we'll run a session for him."

"Out of the question. My friend is a public figure. It's just not possible."

"People involved in power usually don't make the best subjects."

"Don't you think that if a powerful person were to turn on with his wife or girlfriend it would be good for the world?"

"Nothing that involves brain-change is certain. But in general we believe that for anyone who's reasonably healthy and happy, the intelligent thing to do is to take advantage of the multiple realities available to the human brain."

"Do you think that the world would be a better place if men in power had LSD experiences?"

"Look at the world," I said,"Nuclear bombs proliferating. More and more countries run by military dictators. No political creativity. It's time to try something, anything new and promising." ....

The next contact with Mary Pinchot, my mysterious visitor from Washington, came about six months later. She phoned me from across the river in Boston. "Can you meet me right away in Room 717, Ritz Hotel?"

Enchanting as before, she motioned to a silver ice bucket with a bottle of Dom Perignon tilting out. "I'm here to celebrate." she said. I twisted the bottle to make the cork pop gently "Your hush hush love affair is going well?"

"Oh yes, everything is going beautifully. On all fronts in fact. I can't give details, of course. But top people in Washington are turning on. You'd be amazed at the sophistication of some of our leaders. And their wives. We've gotten a little group together, people who are interested in learning how to turn on. "Really, I thought politicians were to power-oriented."

"You must realize, implausible as it may seem, there are a lot of very smart people in Washington. Especially now with this administration. Power is important to them. And these drugs do give a certain power. That's what it's all about. Freeing the mind."

She held out her glass for more champagne."Until very recently control of American consciousness was a simple matter for the guys in charge. The schools instilled docility. The radio and TV networks poured out conformity."

"No doubt about it." I agreed.

"You may not know that dissident organizations in academia are also controlled. The CIA creates the radical journals and student organizations and runs them with deep-cover agents."

(2) Timothy Leary, Flashbacks (1983)

Late in November 1963 a phone call came from Mary Pinchot. Her voice was tight-roping the wire of hysteria. She had rented a car at La Guardia and was somewhere in Millbrook. She didn't want to come to the estate. Could I meet her in the village?

Driving out the gate I saw a green Ford parked down Route 44. It followed me. I slowed down. It pulled up behind me. Mary. She climbed in beside me motioning me to drive on.

I turned down a side road through an unforgettable Autumn scene - golden fields, herds of fat, jet-black cows, trees turning technicolor, sky glaring indigo - with the bluest girl in the world next to me.

"It was all going so well." She said. "We had eight intelligent women turning on the most powerful men in Washington. And then we got found out. I was such a fool. I made a mistake in recruitment. A wife snitched on us. I'm scared." She burst into tears.

"You must be very careful now." She said. "Don't make any waves. No publicity. I'm afraid for you. I'm afraid for all of us."

"Mary." I said soothingly. "Let's go back to the Big House and relax and have some wine and maybe a hot bath and figure out what you should do."

"I know what you're thinking. But this is not paranoia. I've gotten mixed up in some dangerous matters. It's real. You've got to believe me." She glared at me. "Do you?"

"Yes I do." Her alarm was convincing me.

"Look. If I ever showed up here suddenly, could you hide me out for a while?"

"Good." Now drive me back to my car. I'll stay in touch. If I can."

As I watched her drive away, I wondered. She wasn't breaking any laws. What trouble could she be in?

The next call from Mary came the day after the assassination of Jack Kennedy. I had really been expecting it.

I could hardly understand her. She was either drugged or stunned with grief. "They couldn't control him any more. He was changing too fast. He was learning too much."

"Who? You mean Kennedy?" Long pause. Hysterical crying. I spoke reassuringly. She kept sobbing. "They'll cover everything up. I gotta come see you. I'm scared. I'm afraid. Be careful."

The line went dead. Her words kept repeating in my mind.

(3) Timothy Leary, Flashbacks (1983)

In the months that followed I kept waiting for Mary to call back. I tried the Washington phone book for her number but she wasn't listed: not in Virginia or Maryland either.

My life was humming along. I got married and went on a round-the-world honeymoon. A few months later the marriage broke up. In my yearning for an ally, a friend, a woman, I found myself thinking a lot about Mary Pinchot.

Directory assistance in Washington, DC had numbers for several Pinchots but none for Mary. Then I remembered that she was a Vassar graduate and phoned the alumni office in Poughkeepsie. The cheery voice of the secretary became guarded when I asked for the address of Mary Pinchot.

"Mary Pinchot?" A long pause. "The person about whom you were asking... ah, her married name is Meyer. But I'm sorry to say that she is, ah, deceased. Sometime last fall, I believe."

"I've been out of the country. I didn't know."

"Thank you for calling," said the alumni secretary.

In shock I climbed out a third-floor window and up the steep copper roof of the Big House. There I leaned back against a chimney and tried to think things over. Michael Hollingshead, who sensed my malaise, scrambled up to join me, carrying two beers. When I told him about Mary, he brushed away a tear.

"I wonder what happened." I said.

"Next time we go to New York, let's see what we could find out," said Michael.

So off we went, Michael and I, down the Hudson to New York to meet the light-artists and sound wizards who were popping up on the Lower East Side. And to find out what happened to Mary Pinchot Meyer.

I cabbed over to Van Wolfe's apartment, drank a beer, and asked him if he could get any material on Mary Pinchot Meyer. He made a phone call to a friend who worked on the Times. An hour later a messenger was at the door with a manila envelope full of clippings, and WHAM - there was Mary's picture, the pert chin and nose, the deep intense eyes. Above, the headline read:


Mary had been shot twice in the left temple and once in the chest at 12:45 in the afternoon of October 13, 1964 as she walked along the Old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath in Georgetown. A friend told reporters that Mary sometimes walked there with her close friend Jacqueline Kennedy.

Mary's brother-in-law, Benjamin C. Bradlee, Newsweek's Washington bureau chief, identified her body. Ben Bradlee was described as having been an intimate of the late President Kennedy. The article also mentioned Mary's ex-husband, Cord Meyer,Jr., former leader of the American Veterans Committee and the World Federalists, now a government employee, position and agency not specified. Police said that the motive was apparently robbery or assault. Her purse was found by Ben Bradlee in her home. The suspect, a black male, was being held without bail.

My head was spinning with ominous thoughts. A close friend of the Kennedy family had been murdered in broad daylight with no apparent motive. And there had been so little publicity. No outcry. No call for further investigation. I felt that same vague fear that came when we heard about JFK's assassination.

(4) Timothy Leary, Flashbacks (1983)

One evening while lying in my cell in the Federal Prison in San Diego reading the paper a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle caught my eye:


James Truitt, the source for this sensational story, was identified as a former assistant to Philip Graham, publisher of The Washington Post. In interviews with "The National Enquirer, Associated Press and The Washington Post Truitt revealed that a woman named Mary Pinchot Meyer had conducted a two-year love affair with President John Kennedy and had smoked marijuana with him in a White House bedroom. A confident of Mary Meyer, Truitt told a Post correspondent that she and Kennedy met about 30 times between January 1962 and November 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated. Mary Meyer told Truitt that JFK had remarked, "This isn't like cocaine, I'll get you some of that." Truitt claimed that Mary Meyer kept a diary of her affair with the president, which was found after her death by her sister Toni Bradlee and turned over to James Angleton, chief of CIA counter-intelligence who took the diary to CIA headquarters and destroyed it. According to the Post another source confirmed that Mary Meyer's diary was destroyed. This source said the diary contained a few hundred words of vague reference to an un-named friend.

Mary Meyer's sister was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "I knew nothing about it when Mary was alive."

The article also revealed that the former husband of Mary Pinchot Meyer was Cord Meyer Jr. one of the most influential officials in the CIA- the only agent who had been awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal three times.

I lit a Camel cigarette and walked across my cell to the window and looked through the bars out to San Diego Bay. My mind was reeling with questions. Why was the fact that Cord Meyer Jr. was a top CIA agent covered up in the first stories about Mary's assassination? How come Ben Bradlee, publisher of the Post, brother-in-law of Mary gave her diary to the CIA? Why did James Truitt, top official of the Post break his silence after all these years? What did Mary mean when she said, after Jack Kennedy's assassination, that he knew too much, that he was changing too fast?

(5) James DiEugenio, The Posthumous Assassination of John F. Kennedy (2003)

As noted earlier, Jim Truitt gave this curious tale its first public airing in 1976, on the heels of the Church Committee. From there, the Washington Post (under Bradlee) picked it up. There had been an apparent falling out between Truitt and Bradlee, and Truitt said that he wanted to show that Bradlee was not the crusader for truth that Watergate or his book on Kennedy had made him out to be. In the National Enquirer, Truitt stated that Mary had revealed her affair with Kennedy while she was alive to he and his wife. He then went further. In one of their romps in the White House, Mary had offered Kennedy a couple of marijuana joints, but coke-sniffer Kennedy said, "This isn't like cocaine. I'll get you some of that."

The chemical addition to the story was later picked up by drug guru Tim Leary in his book, Flashbacks. Exner-like, the angle grew appendages. Leary went beyond grass and cocaine. According to Leary, Mary Meyer was consulting with him about how to conduct acid sessions and how to get psychedelic drugs in 1962. Leary met her on several occasions and she said that she and a small circle of friends had turned on several times. She also had one other friend who was "a very important man" whom she also wanted to turn on. After Kennedy's assassination, Mary called Leary and met with him. She was cryptic but she did say, "They couldn't control him any more. He was changing too fast. He was learning too much." The implication being that a "turned on" JFK was behind the moves toward peace in 1963. Leary learned about Meyer's murder in 1965, but did not pull it all together until the 1976 Jim Truitt disclosure. With Leary, the end (for now) of the Meyer story paints JFK as the total '60s swinger: pot, coke, acid, women, and unbeknownst to Kennedy, Leary has fulfilled his own fantasy by being Kennedy's guide on his magical mystery tour toward peace.

But there is a big problem with Leary, his story, and those who use it (like biographers David Horowitz and Peter Collier). Leary did not mention Mary in any of his books until Flashbacks in 1983, more than two decades after he met Mary. It's not like he did not have the opportunity to do so. Leary was a prolific author who got almost anything he wanted published. He appears to have published over 40 books. Of those, at least 25 were published between 1962, when he says he met Mary, and 1983, when he first mentions her. Some of these books are month-to-month chronicles, e.g., High Priest. I could not find Mary mentioned, even vaguely, in any of the books. This is improbable considering the vivid, unforgettable portrait that Leary drew in 1983. This striking-looking woman walks in unannounced, mentions her powerful friends in Washington, and later starts dumping out the CIA's secret operations to control American elections to him. Leary, who mentioned many of those he turned on throughout his books, and thanks those who believed in him, deemed this unimportant. That is, until the 20th anniversary of JFK's death. (Which is when Rosenbaum wrote his ugly satire on the Kennedy research community for Texas Monthly, which in turn got him a guest spot on Nightline.) This is also when Leary began hooking up with Gordon Liddy, doing carnival-type debates across college campuses, an act which managed to rehabilitate both of them and put them back in the public eye.

(6) C. David Heymann, The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club (2003)

Cord Meyer gave expression to his support of Angleton in, "Facing Reality," an autobiography subtitled, "From World Federalism to the CIA." In the same volume, he comments briefly on the murder of his wife: "I was satisfied by the conclusions of the police investigation that Mary had been the victim of a sexually motivated assault by a single individual and that she had been killed in her struggle to escape." Carol Delaney, a family friend and longtime personal assistant to Cord Meyer, observed that, "Mr. Meyer didn't for a minute think that Ray Crump had murdered his wife or that it had been an attempted rape. But, being an Agency man, he couldn't very well accuse the CIA of the crime, although the murder had all the markings of an in-house rubout."

Asked to comment on the case, by the current author (C. David Heymann), Cord Meyer held court at the beginning of February 2001 - six weeks before his death - in the barren dining room of a Washington nursing home. Propped up in a chair, his glass eye bulging, he struggled to hold his head aloft. Although he was no longer able to read, the nurses supplied him with a daily copy of The Washington Post, which he carried with him wherever he went. "My father died of a heart attack the same year Mary was killed , " he whispered. "It was a bad time." And what could he say about Mary Meyer? Who had committed such a heinous crime? "The same sons of bitches," he hissed, "that killed John F. Kennedy."