Acid evangelist fights to give death a good name
Dr Leary plans to die as he lived: outrageously and on LSD. And, writes John Carlin in Washington, he wants us to watch
Sunday 05 May 1996
"Visible, interactive suicide", he calls it. A wizened victim, at 75, of seemingly incurable prostate cancer, he has declared his intention to ingest, in the presence of his friends and disciples, not a potion of hemlock but a cocktail of LSD. He has not yet announced the date of the event but will do so once the doctors inform him that further medication is useless.
The dying thoughts of Dr Leary (he was a professor of psychology at Harvard until his expulsion for drug abuse in 1963) will then be available to all those wishing to access his Internet home page at http:/www.leary. com. Owners of computers with CD-ROM will be afforded the opportunity to watch him join his old soulmates Aldous Huxley, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon on the trip to the place whence no man has returned. Or not yet, at any rate...
Dr Leary entertains hopes that life's rest will not be eternal. Immediately after he is declared dead his head is to be removed, and his brain frozen. He has signed a contract with a California cryogenics laboratory for his brain to be preserved at a temperature of minus 320 degrees fahrenheit until the day mankind discovers a cure for death. Or, as a friend put it, "he is going to wait and see if a time comes when he can remanifest the software in a new form of hardware".
Meanwhile, the man who challenged the world to "turn on, tune in, drop out" - who Huxley described as having "a frightful penchant for cocking his snoot at authority" - means to continue defying the social orthodoxies by facing death with a grin on his face. He declared himself "thrilled" when he learned in January last year that he had received a visit from "Mademoiselle Cancer". Since then he has occupied most of his time devising what he describes as the means to achieve "a hi-tech designer death". "I am developing methods and technologies," he says, "to delay the ultimate onset of pain, coma, helplessness and indignity."
To keep up his spirits, for he is undergoing radiation and is in frequent pain, he has been sticking to a daily diet which includes, he says, 44 cigarettes; three cups of coffee; one beer; two glasses of wine; one cookie; one marijuana joint; one Tylenol PM; two prescription pain pills; 12 balloons of nitrous oxide (laughing gas); and three "Leary biscuits" - Ritz crackers topped with cheese and marijuana.
He has not been partaking of these pleasures alone. During the last week his home in Beverly Hills has been the site of what one visitor described as "a permanent party". Though Leary himself is reported to be looking like a dying Aids patient - purple-blotched, skeletal, hunched in a wheel- chair - the house has been teeming 24 hours a day with beautiful young women in mini-skirts and beautiful young men with long hair and rings through their noses, devotees all of the dying guru's ethic of benignly rampant self-indulgence.
Yoko Ono, Susan Sarandon, Ken Kesey and Dan Ackroyd have been among the guests, feeding Dr Leary purple Nitrous Oxide balloons supplied from a tank he keeps in his bedroom, together with a collection of 15 wheel- chairs and the incubator where his dead head will be stored.
John Perry Barlow, who dropped acid with Dr Leary 30 years ago, visited him on Thursday night. At one time an occasional lyricist for the Grateful Dead, Mr Barlow, is today the head of the Electronics Frontier Foundation, a celebrated web philosopher viewed with almost as much veneration by the cyber generation as Dr Leary was in his day by the hippies.
"Tim's home, I'd say, is as holy a place as I've been in a long time," said Mr Barlow. "He's surrounded himself with angelic young people and some of the great people of this century. And you know what he said to me? 'I'm gonna give death a better name or die trying'. It's inspiring, man, it's a life-inspiring energy he's created.
"He's violating one of the sickest things in this culture, that death is something to be ashamed of. He's doing what he's always tried to do, rearrange people's mental furniture. We deny death in the US, we're ashamed of it. He is affirming death, embracing it, and he's gonna do it live on TV."
Just how coherent he will be, how triumphant a spectacle he will present to the world with his kiss of death, remains to be seen.
A phone call to his home on Friday evening was taken by an efficient young person by the name of Trudy Truelove. She said an interview was virtually impossible as Dr Leary was finding it hard both to hear and to speak. She suggested, however, that a list of questions should be faxed through to his home. If he was up to it, she would fax the replies back.
It would have been unconventionally rude to say it, but the thought did occur that Dr Leary, clinging to life with perhaps a little more urgency than he might be willing to admit, had left his death-day party a little late.
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