Timothy Leary: Turn on, Tune in, and Drop out

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Timothy Leary, along with his incredibly long list of accomplishments (and failures), is regarded as the man responsible for introducing LSD to the public. Leary is also responsible for coining the famous phrase “turn on, tune in, and drop out,” promoting LSD use and dismissing the idea of pursuing an education.

Although his life appeared happy from the outside, Leary had a depressing childhood.  His father was an alcoholic who left when Leary was just 13. His mother stayed, but frequently reminded him that he was not the son she wanted. Some believe that psychedelics represented an escape from such memories.

Leary grew up to attend college at the University of California at Berkeley, and later went on to be a professor at Harvard. It was at Harvard that he first had any experience with psychedelics. He believed that psychedelics such as LSD were the next great leap in psychology. Leary frequently experimented with LSD, both on himself, and his more than willing graduate students. Eventually, Harvard started to get the idea that Leary and his students were doing more than just experimentation for research purposes. In 1963, Leary was discharged from Harvard.  This dismissal from Harvard was hardly a disappointment to Timothy. Instead of trying to find another teaching or research job like most Americans would have done, he started a new life as a “psychedelic spokesman”

Leary began using LSD as much more than just a tool in his research. To him, there was no longer a line between research and recreation. At the time he was staying at a friends mansion in Upstate New York that sat on more than 1,000 acres. At this house, Timothy had a constant parade of people to entertain and experience LSD with. During this time, LSD was also becoming popular on the West Coast in a much more extreme way. When Leary learned about the hippy movement that was happening out west, he was eager to get involved. He urged younger people (he was in his 40s at the time, too old to be doing acid in my opinion) to “turn on, tune in, and drop out”. This became one of the many catch phrases for the hippy movement as it encouraged getting high and being happy.

Leary was regarded as a hero to many, and a crazy man to even more. Richard Nixon once declared him the “most dangerous man in America” because of how much of an influence he had on the younger generation. Leary had also been arrested multiple times for drug charges, and escaped from prison once.

Timothy Leary died on May 31st 1996. In his lifetime, he made great accomplishments in both the world of psychology and in the counterculture movement.

Click here for a full timeline of Timothy Leary’s life with some super awesome videos!

By Maddie Marchionna

Published Fed. 25

Revised Mar. 23


“Timothy Leary.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

Timothy Leary: The Man Who Turned On America. Prod. Edward Mirzoeff. Dir. Dinah Lord. BBC, n.d. Documentary.

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