Timothy Leary and LSD
President Richard Nixon once famously dubbed Tim Leary "the most dangerous man in America ." So what was it about a suit wearing Harvard professor that made him both revered and vilified at the same time and raised such passion from the American premier?
The answer is LSD. Tim Leary believed that the hallucinogenic drug could be used to balance a society long divorced from its original needs. People didn't need commodities and capitalism to make them happy, argued Leary, but rather the spiritual togetherness that an acid trip would bring.
For many this was too Utopian and ultimately ruinous as the middle class world in which he taught and lived refused to accept his theorising.
So how did Tim Leary come to this?
Born in 1920 in New England , Leary was uncomfortable with being part of the "norm" from an early age. He hated his time at a strict Jesuit college in Massachusetts , reacting badly to the training, and a spell at West Point Military Academy saw him drop out after 18 months.
After gaining several psychology degrees he became an assistant professor at Berkeley and a research director at the Kaiser Foundation. But in Leary's view he became " an anonymous institutional employee who drove to work each morning in a long line of commuter cars and drove home each night and drank martinis... like several million middle class, liberal, intellectual robots."
It was when he became a psychology lecturer at Harvard in1959 that his infamy and notoriety took off.
While he was holidaying in Mexico , he tried magic mushrooms as part of a native American religious ceremony. It had a profound effect on his life. At Harvard he began conducting research with his students into the effects of psilocybin - a drug contained in magic mushrooms - and later LSD.
He believed that LSD, taken in controlled circumstances, could be beneficial. According to his research the majority of his students who took part in the experiment found the whole experience spiritual and mystical - many claiming that it altered their lives for the better.
Ultimately Leary wanted his research to find better ways of treating alcoholism or to reform convicted criminals. But his mission failed to win the support of his colleagues who began to worry about his research and the effects it was having on the students. The Harvard parents, part of a powerful and rich institution, were outraged that the university was doling out LSD to their youngsters and Leary was dismissed in 1963.
He wasn't going to let this hold him back and relocated his research to Millbrook, a mansion in New York . By this time his work had brought him to the attention of the authorities and his research at Millbrook was brought to an end after numerous FBI raids. His theories were quickly gaining support among certain sections of the American public, the use of LSD was rising and his work became immortalised in song. In their Legend of a Mind the Moody Blues sang :"Timothy Leary is dead. No, no, he's outside looking in."
Despite a spell in prison, Leary's ideas continued to find favour among the hippie generation worldwide. But as the psychedelic 60s came and went Leary's high profile began to diminish and LSD became less fashionable.
Leary died of prostate cancer at the age of 76. His death was videotaped and his last word was allegedly "beautiful."