In the end it wasn't the inter-galactic blow-out live on the Internet, the first ever "visible, interactive suicide" he once said he wanted, complete with an encore centuries down the line if science could find a cure for death. Timothy Leary, the old prince of psychedelia, Messiah of a certain 1960s madness, yesterday departed from the world he had variously mocked, mesmerised, and scandalised in the manner most people would choose. In his bed, in his sleep, in the company of close friends.
The word came from his home in Beverly Hills, passed out by his friend, Carol Rosin. "He left naturally, he went of his own accord, he was very peaceful, smiling. Not long before he died, he woke up and said, 'Why not, why not, why not'."
Those who have followed the last act of Dr Leary's 75 year life on the his Internet home page (http;/www.leary.com/.) need not worry they will miss anything. His going was filmed for possible future broadcast. And plenty of time is available for devotees to pay their last respects before his mortal remains are blasted into space in either September or October.
Already tributes by the score have been gliding silently into cyberspace. Just after midnight," came the tidings on the Internet, "Timothy Leary peacefully passed on. His last words were, 'Why Not' and 'Yeah'. Our friend, teacher, guide and inspiration will continue to live within us."
And that is likely to be the extent of Leary's immortality. He had left instructions the instant he was clinically dead his head should be cut off and his brain cryogenically frozen and preserved until doctors found an antidote for death. He went off the idea. "Some guy came up to me at a party and said, 'Good luck on your death'. That was one of the most powerful things anyone ever told me. I'm gonna give death a better name, or die trying."
And the party went on, until almost the last. The former Harvard professor and high priest of hippie counterculture had lived an extraordinary life. Drugs made and unmade him. He was jailed, escaped and then re-jailed, and even ran for Governor of California before achieving sepia-tinted notoriety in the 1980s in a debating tour with his ideological arch enemy G Gordon Liddy, of Watergate fame. Always though, life was to be enjoyed.
Diagnosed with prostate cancer, Leary may have spent his last weeks as a ravaged figure. But that changed little. In the 1960s he hung out with the brainy and beautiful - an assortment of wives plus Jack Kerouac, Abbie Hoffman, William Burroughs and the like. And he will be sorely missed. These days Liddy spouts his hang 'em, flog 'em, shoot 'em brand of conservatism on a Washington radio talk-show.Yesterday, however, he briefly called off the anti-Clinton bile to pay tribute. And given the source, it was somehow more moving than any self-indulgent rambling from those who Leary invited to "Turn on, tune in and drop out".
"We were always 180 degrees out of phase, but we liked each other. He believed sincerely in what he did. Although he did a great deal of harm, he thought he was doing good. He had an elfin Irish wit that would light up a room, and a huge number of friends. I'll miss him." So will much of an entire generation.
Obituary, page 14
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies