Timothy Leary, by Robert Greenfield. Harcourt, 689 pages, $28. Tripping: A Memoir, by B.H. Friedman. Provincetown Arts Press, 169 pages, $20.
BY ANN MARLOWE
In 1959, in Torremolinos, on a break from a failing academic career and a year after the end of his second marriage, Timothy Leary had a sudden attack of a mysterious illness which gave him enormous blisters. On one night of suffering, as he described it in his 1968 autobiography High Priest under the title “Trip 1,” “I died. I let go. Surrendered …. My career, my ambitions, my home …. With a sudden snap, all the ropes of my social self were gone.”
This incident occurred a year before Leary took his first psychedelic drugs in August of 1960, when he was nearly 40. But the pattern that would characterize Leary’s next 35 years as the self-proclaimed “high priest” of LSD—unusual receptivity to extreme experiences combined with reckless ambition—was already well established.
LSD was only the excuse Leary found to turn his peculiar blend of charisma, creativity and self-indulgence into a career that changed American culture. Robert Greenfield’s compulsively readable if sometimes choppy book—the first major biography of Leary and the result of 10 years of research—details the amazing variety of famous people Leary met, the drugs he ingested and the women he bedded over the course of an unlikely 75-year lifespan. (more…)