Timothy Leary's Last Trip
Frequently Asked Questions about Leary's very public death
There have been a lot of rumors, speculation, and half-truths surrounding the myth of Leary's death. Here is a place you can get some insight into the events that actually occured, by people who were actually there. Hopefully this will help set the record straight and answer some questions with facts and truths.
What were Timothy's Last Words?
At one point in his final delerium, he spoke the words "Why not." He uttered the phrase repeatedly, in different intonations: as a question, as a statement, softly, loudly, thoughtfully, ruefully, and confidently. He died soon after, and that was the last thing he said out loud.
Did Leary get his head cut off like I saw in that movie?
No. Absolutely not. That was a simulation created by profiteering filmmakers. At one point in his life, Leary was planning to have himself cryonically preserved, which would have resulted in a variety of gruesome procedures, but it did not happen. The filmmakers capitalised on this and secretly recreated the sequence without permission from Leary or his family, who were shocked and dismayed to see it on screen in graphic detail. After the movie's release, the filmmakers displayed poor taste and fueled rumours by not admitting it's falsehood, apparently to generate hype and sell tickets.
Was Leary cryonically preserved?
No. For a number of years, Leary was excited by the possibility of freezing his body in cryonic suspension. As a scientist himself, he didn't believe that he would be resurrected in the future, but he recognized the importance of cryonic possibilities and was generally an advocate of future sciences. He called it his "duty as a futurist", and helped publicize the process. Leary had relationships with two cryonic organizations, the original ALCOR and then the offshoot CRYOCARE. A few months before he died, Leary discovered some internal company memos that seriously slandered him and exposed a plan to defame Leary and exploit the situation to the benefit of Cryocare and the detriment of Leary and his family. Outraged, Leary kicked them out of his house and cancelled all his contracts.
Were Leary's ashes shot into space?
Yes. With the absence of cryonics, one of Leary's friends at Celestis quickly arranged a sci-fi blast off. Here is an excerpt from an Associated Press newswire:
Stored in the 9-by-12-inch canister with Leary are ashes of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, space physicist Gerard O'Neill, rocket scientist Krafft Ehricke and others. Each family paid $4,800 (they also get a commemorative video of the launch) to get 7 grams of their loved ones' ashes onto the rocket. The average weight of a cremated human is 5 pounds. Pegasus takes the capsule 300 miles above Earth. "The capsule orbits for a little while, 18 months to 10 years, then it will burn up in the atmosphere. It will be like a shooting star," said Celestis partner Charles Chafer.
Was Leary going to broadcast his death on the InterNet?
Leary wanted to share his experience of dying with the world, and one day he spontaneously came up with the idea of broadcasting his last moments on the world wide web. He talked about it to his friends and mentioned it in a few press interviews, which ignited a flurry of rumors that spread like wildfire through the internet community, eventually exaggerated by fans who sought attention and pretended to have inside information. Although he seriously considered and even played with the idea, when Leary's health grew worse the idea was innocently abandoned. In the end Leary requested his last hours be videotaped, but the footage was never publicly shown.
So how did he die after all?
Leary died peacefully of natural causes in his own bed on the night of May 31, 1996. He was surrounded by friends and family. After a festive wake, his body was cremated and the ashes were divided amongst loved ones. As his longtime friend John Perry Barlow writes:
Timothy Leary died unashamed and having, as usual, a great time. He made good on his promise to "give death a better name or die trying." Willingly, peacefully, and unafraid, he headed off on his last trip.