Timothy Leary's dead -- really

Three decades later, Moody Blues vindicated

By Ian Shoales

Published May 31, 1996 7:54PM (EDT)

Timothy Leary has passed on, as they say. He was 75.

In his life, he went through many transformations -- from Harvard Professor to Acid Guru to Learning Annex Self-Help Instructor to Cybercult Cheerleader to Chipper Dying Guy on the Internet, and finally to Dead Man, both virtually and literally.

Personally, I always considered him a bit of a fool -- and I don't mean the holy kind either. His famous exhortation to "Tune in, turn on, drop out" was catchy enough, I guess, but matched against other famous catchphrases, "Veni, vidi, vici," "Go west, young man," or even "Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters," it seemed fatuous somehow.

Besides, if you want to attach cultural influence to yourself, it's probably self-defeating to urge your listeners to lapse into unconsciousness.

That's probably why he was always reinventing himself. Every ten years or so, he had to appeal to a whole new generation of stoners, each of which have different values. Back in the '60s, for example, it was all son et lumiere lava lamps, and trips that lasted for days. Today it's multimedia, e-mail, and hallucinations that have to be over by the end of lunch break.

He spent the last few months sharing his dying days on the Internet. Some may have considered this fearless; others might have thought it as a bizarre attempt to turn mortality into a public relations stunt. His semi-final notion that he would commit suicide online proved to be half-baked. Instead he died in his sleep, in the wee hours of May 31, 1996.

And yet, even in death, I know that he will continue to be the poster boy for mind-altering substance abuse. When people click on the '60s in their CD-ROMS, they will continue to see his picture. He left this mortal coil, grinning, unrepentant, and blissed to the max. Best of all, I know that he will continue to annoy Republicans for many years to come. For that, I salute his memory.

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales is a regular contributor to Salon.

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