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Timothy Leary was many things to many people, and in fact he resisted most attempts to categorise himself. He was fond of saying at these times, "you get the Timothy Leary that you deserve." Overall it is accurate to call him a philosopher and a scientist, whose underlying motivations were human communication and understanding the mind.
He lived from 1920 to 1996, and spent most of his adult life working hard to enliven the human spirit and raise the level of social consciousness. Through the 1940s and 1950s he worked as a psychologist, emphasising human interaction. He tried to revolutionise the science, and proposed radical ideas (including the concept of Group Therapy). It took almost 50 years for the APA to recognise his achievements.
When Leary was introduced to psychedelics in1960, he saw the potential for it as a new therepeutic psychiatric, a chemical brain-changer, and set out to explore its effects on the human nervous system. After experimentng on himself and with friends, he took it to the Harvard psychology department where he was employed. Trained as a scientist, he carefully designed and meticulously observed laboratory experiments studying the emotional, physical, and social effects on volunteer grad students. With a healthy stack of positive results and some experience guiding "sessions", he took it to the next level: "curing" criminals in prison.
Before any meaningful results were attained, LSD made the headlines as a dangerous new drug. Amid the frenzy, LSD was made as illegal as heroin and Leary's experiments were qiuckly shut down. He made appeals, but the establishment considered his research too controversial. Feeling he was on to something big, he sacrificed his professional career and continued the LSD research with private funding, in Millbrook, NY.
Leary continued to publicly advertise the beneficial aspects of LSD, and as the 60s began to take shape he was cast by the mainstream media into the role of an "LSD-guru". As the drug gained popularity with the counterculture, he was happy to provide instruction manuals for safe usage. He encouraged respect for the drug, and urged the practise of "set & setting" as a safeguard against "bad trips". During this time he coined the phrase "turn on, tune in, drop out", and published books with titles like "The Psychedelic Experience".
He was arrested in 1966 on drug charges, and escaped from prison in 1970. He sought asyum in Switzerland, but was recaptured by DEA agents in 1973, extradited back to America, and sent back to prison. He was finally released in 1976, when a new judge replaced his predecessor.
Moving to California, he discovered a new brain-change technology and enthusiastically promoted the upcoming computer revolution. Through the 80s he wrote computer software, continued writing books and holding lecture performances, but even though his topics moved from drugs to technology, he was still percieved as the 1960s LSD guru.
When a routine check-up revealed prostate cancer in the early 90s, Leary faced his own mortality. Appalled at the secrecy and taboos surrounding death, he resolved to illuminate the process and leave a map of what he called "Designer Dying". At 75 years old, he died of natural causes, in his own bed, surrounded by friends.