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Timothy Leary

“Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”

From 1960 onwards, while teaching psychology at Harvard, Timothy Leary began experimenting with drugs on prison inmates and then on himself and his friends.

Leary was soon dismissed by Harvard and set up his own institute – the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF) for the administration of drug research projects.

While crossing the Mexican border in December 1965, his daughter was arrested for possession of three ounces of hash, and when Leary took the rap he was fined $30,000 and sentenced to a maximum 30 years in prison.

He appealed and remained free, until the US Supreme Court overturned the conviction and sentence in May 1969, voiding two federal anti-marijuana laws in the process.

The court said these laws – which required someone to notify authorities and pay a tax when purchasing or importing the drug – violated the Fifth Amendment.

Leary subsequently announced his intention to run for election as governor of California (against Ronald Reagan). The odds were somewhat stacked against him, especially since President Nixon labelled Leary  “the most dangerous man in America” because of his counter-cultural proclamations.


A marked man, Leary was soon arrested for the possession of two marijuana roaches. Leary alleged they were planted by the arresting officer but was convicted anyway and sentenced to 10 years in prison by a court in Nixon’s California homeland.

He was sent to an open prison, from which he escaped in 1970 fleeing, at first, to Switzerland. He was recaptured in Afghanistan in 1972 and returned to jail until he was released in 1976 by Governor Jerry Brown.

Leary’s private life was not the happiest: his first wife committed suicide in 1955, and 35 years later his daughter followed suit. While speaking on the lecture circuit in 1995 Leary discovered he had inoperable prostate cancer, but approached his coming death (as he had his life) as an adventure to be embraced, preferably in the public eye.

Having discovered the Internet, he planned to die online but passed away in his sleep on 31 May 1996. His ashes were sent into space in 1997 aboard the same Pegasus rocket that contained the ashes of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (and 23 others). The rocket remained in orbit for six years until it burned up in the atmosphere.