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

Rebellious to the last, Timothy Leary, the pyschedelic Socrates of the Sixties, has made plans to heap scorn on the final taboo by celebrating his death live, on screen, on the World Wide Web.

"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.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own