Because of my friendship with Mike Darwin, who knew most of the odd characters in California, I became Timothy Leary’s doctor in the mid-90s. Leary had developed prostate cancer and, in typical fashion, had ignored it. Then it because metastatic and the end of his life loomed. At this point, Leary opted for cryopreservation as a potential for a future life if and when the technology might be invented to restore him.
Leary needed a “doctor” to deal with him and he couldn’t get along with any of those that stepped up in California. So he agreed to meet me after Darwin described me to him. He sent me a plane fare and I flew out there. Darwin picked me up and drove me to Leary’s Hollywood home, on a hill overlooking LA.
Leary and I connected immediately and became friends. We talked for hours about the 60s and his (and my) life. I kept tabs on him, insured he got what he needed and ultimately arranged for home hospice at his place, and decorated with tons of 60s psychedelic memorabilia.
Timothy Leary died at 12:15 AM on 5/31/96
Mentioning Tim to younger people is usually greeted with blank looks. I wonder if that means I am getting old or they are remiss in their history lessons. As one of the most unique characters out of the pot boiling 60’s, he certainly was a tough act to follow. I am not sure celebrity is the right word to describe Tim; indeed, I’ m not sure words are appropriate. History usually measures intriguing people in terms of inimitability. Tim was one of a kind. He ran his life exactly as he wanted to, never paid the slightest attention to convention……..and got away with it. Possibly the last of the free spirit-hippy lifestyle, straight from 1968. The rest of them are either dead or mad.
There are those who vilify him, suggesting that he had consistently ordered his life in the short term, reaping quick benefits from facile slogans and bite-sized concepts, one of the world’s greatest opportunists, always looking for a new angle, never interested in the idea of making investments to reap future dividends. Worse, he may have been a progenitor of the perception that mind bending drugs unlock and define the person, a concept that killed off almost all who tried it in earnest during his era. Most of these criticisms are probably true. Yet, he always seemed to me to have a love and respect for people….he just never grew out of the 60’s.
His personal magnetism attracted a diverse crew of followers and hangers-on who gathered around him continuously. His home was cluttered 24 hours a day with all sorts of gypsies who pretty much came and went as they pleased. His walls adorned with psychedelic posters, Volkswagen doors painted with iridescent flowers; his library full of books signed for him by the likes of William Burroughs, Aldous Huxley, Ken Kesey and memos from the FBI wondering in print how to get rid of him. Life was one great, long stream of consciousness bash, he once called me at 3 am just to talk about the 60’s. Seemed like the thing to do at the time.
His prostate cancer was probably already inoperable when his entourage finally dragged him to a doctor. From that point on he never kept any appointments for any meaningful treatment……too busy having a field day with the media, his favorite sport. Pulling their strings over speculation of how his end could be as bizarre as his life. When the pain began, he called me with concern that the sport wasn’t fun anymore and could something be done to get him back in the game. He really had no physician following him and so I arranged hospice by phone from Pittsburgh…. easier than I thought and I remain impressed with the California Hospice System.
Once effective palliative measures were instituted, relieving his pain but sparing his intellect, the games continued in full swing. Having his brain frozen for possible data uploading by some future computer not yet invented, Hari-Kari on the Internet, his final moments televised on TV during a wild party celebrating the event. Dying was just about the best thing that ever happened to Timothy Leary. He called it his “de-animation celebration” and hyped it far and wide with a big grin.
Tim did not have a great big de-animation bash at the end. There were no media cameras, no fanfares…. just the usual crew hanging around waiting to see if he levitated or glowed in the dark. He didn’t. In the end, he simply quit breathing in his sleep just like the thousands of other nameless faces around the universe that chose to follow him at that exact instant. Even with the maximum media hype possible Tim was not able to turn death into any other than the inevitable drab stillness. I suppose there is a lesson there somewhere.
Even with warts, he was a really cool person and I liked him.
Timothy Leary’s dead