Timothy Leary was born on October 22, 1920 in Springfield Massachusetts. His mother was from a very conservative background, while his father was from a far more liberal environment. His father was contemptuous of authority figures that worked for the political "system" and often read stories while intoxicated to his wife and son. He first attended college classes at the Jesuit College of the Holy Cross, but was not satisfied. He took a test to become a student at West Point and was accepted based on his high score.
In the 1940s, Timothy attended classes at the US Military Academy at West Point. He was not exactly a model cadet and began to suffer reprimands. On one morning after an alcohol party, he was awakened early by a superior and said that he was dying and would never be able to make reveille again. He was subsequently charged with violation of honor and silenced for nine months, making other cadets unable to converse with him. The African-American cadets showed sympathy for Timothy and started hanging out with him. They too had been silenced, although it was for reason of racism. Timothy began writing his first book and studied philosophy during this time.
Several of his classmates that were on the honor committee came to him and asked him to quit from the school since his punishment of silence was decreasing the morale. He agreed to leave on the condition that they read a statement in the cafeteria proclaiming him innocent of the charges previously placed against him, which they did to the cheers of his classmates. Timothy resigned from West Point with a bitterness towards the racist authority figures that controlled society and government at the time.
Timothy next traveled to the University of Alabama, where he studied psychology. Although he was a 4.0 student, he was expelled after spending the night at a girlfriend's room in the female dormitory. He lost his deferment and was forced to join the military for the World War 2 effort, although he was allowed to finish his degree during that time. At one point, he was in danger of being placed on the battlefront in the South Pacific offensive, but the chief psychologist at an army hospital in Pennsylvania managed to have him transferred there for a residency.
In 1944, he met a woman named Marianne and married her soon after. They moved to Berkeley, California and he earned his doctorate there, conducting research in psychotherapy. In the 1950s, he became a university professor at UC-Berkeley, but his wife, suffering from post-partum depression after her second child, committed suicide on October 22, 1955 by running the car in the garage.
Timothy was horribly depressed by his wife's death and moved to Europe, where he was given a research grant. His friend Frank Barron from Berkeley visited him and told him about a trip he made to Mexico, where he had a religious experience after eating mushrooms. At first, he ignored the importance of Frank's words, warning him about his scientific credibility.
Timothy was able to interview for a teaching position at Harvard University when the director of the Harvard Center for Personality Research, David McClelland, came to Europe. McClelland was very impressed by Timothy's ideas on psychotherapy and offered him a position in 1960.
Timothy's first experience with hallucinogens occurred during a research expedition to study the traditional healing methods used by Latin Americans. He consumed psilocybin mushrooms while he was in Mexico in 1960 and returned to Harvard in order to initiate the Harvard Psilocybin Project with his old friend Frank Barron. This established him as one of the founders of the Psychedelic Movement that occurred during the 1960s.
The group was allowed to administer psilocybin to prisoners at the Concord state prison. After the prisoners were released, they were placed in support groups, resulting in only 10% of the released returning to prison. They also conducted placebo tests by giving divinity students placebos and actual psilocybin. The results were obvious, with the students who took the psilocybin describing a true spiritual experience.
In 1962, Timothy tried LSD and described it as the most shattering experience of his entire life. A man named Michael Hollingshead from the UK came with a mayonnaise jar filled with LSD-laced powdered sugar. However, Harvard became very suspicious of Timothy's activities and required extensive supervision of his research, particularly the administration of drugs to students. Parents became angry when their children had a spiritual experience that completely changed their lives, causing some to move to India or drop out of school. This put immense pressure on the university and in 1963, Timothy was fired from his position.
Timothy continued researching LSD with his friend Richard Alpert (also fired from Harvard) in a mansion near New York City. It became a popular hangout for the incredibly hip, who came on the weekend to have their spiritual experience. However, Timothy began to become distanced from Alpert, who he thought was allowing the research to get out of hand. Alpert eventually changed his name to Baba Ram Dass and departed to teach Eastern Culture.
In 1964, Timothy remarried to a woman named Nena Von Schlebrugge, but their relationship quickly dissolved. He began dating a woman named Rosemary Woodruff and left on a vacation to Mexico with his two children, but was not allowed to enter the country. On the way back through customs, an amount of marijuana was discovered in his daughter's handbag. Timothy took the blame for it and was sentenced to thirty years in prison, while his daughter received five years. His imprisonment made him a martyr to the LSD movement and became even more popular throughout the country. Richard Nixon declared him the most dangerous man in America and began undertaking a more militant strategy against drug usage.
He began widely promoting the powers of LSD with a philosophy of "Tune in, Turn on, and Drop Out" in order to fight the conservative anti-drug values endorsed by the government. Timothy moved to California after his marijuana possession case was overturned by the Supreme Court and became a big member of the anti-war movement. He recorded music albums with artists like Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon.
However, one day Timothy and his wife Rosemary were pulled over by a police officer known for planting drugs. They were charged with possession of marijuana, LSD, and hashish, resulting in a sentence of ten years in prison, although the charge usually only merited six months of probation. He was immediately placed in jail, despite initiating a lengthy appeals process. He was sent to a low security prison in San Luis Obispo and managed to escape by dodging search lights and pulling himself along on a cable that went over the barbed wire fences.
He moved to Algiers after being offered asylum, but was placed under house arrest. He moved to Switzerland, where he was able to meet Dr. Albert Hoffman, the man who discovered LSD. The United States government was able to get him extradited, but he escaped to Afghanistan, only to be handed over to the DEA. During the 70s, he spent about four years in prison and, after his release, found himself without a house, job, or credit. He moved to Los Angeles, where he socialized with celebrities and married Barbara Chase in 1978.
During the 80s, Timothy traveled throughout the nation, giving lectures at universities about the coming computer age and how it would change the world. He also started his own software design firm called Futique, which digitized thought-images. Throughout the 90s, he continued giving lectures and working on his website, leary.com.
Timothy Leary died from prostate cancer on May 31, 1996 in Beverly Hills, California. He was cremated and part of his remains were launched into outer space.