|Timothy Leary's Dead
MPAA rating (or equivalent): Rlanguage, nudity
The producers of this documentary on the life, death, and decapitation [alleged; see letter below] of Timothy Leary (1920-96) started shooting new footage in 1995 after Leary announced that he was dying of cancer, and looking forward to taking his last trip. He is shown throughout the 76-minute movie reminiscing about his life as the guru of the 1960's drug culture. After a brief pass over his childhood in the '20's, youth in the '30's, schooling at Harvard and admission to the Harvard faculty as a psychology professor, it jumps right into all that's already widely known about Dr. Leary: his hundreds (perhaps thousands) of experimental LSD trips; his advocacy of a future culture in which we would be shaped not by what we read so much as by what drug cocktail we take; his marshalling of America's youth to turn on, tune in, and drop out of the culture and especially its support of the Johnson Administration's war in Vietnam.
It also passes through his arrest for possession of a small amount of marijuana in what was most likely a police plant, and his sentencing to 30 years in jail under direction of the hated Nixon Administration, his escape from prison and flight to Libya where he was in cahoots with Eldridge Cleaver (who was a demagogue, he recalls, who tried to virtually enslave Leary), his recapture and return to prison. He was released shortly after the Democrats came to power (despite the fact that the Vietnam war was waged by Democrats he is unwavering in his hatred of Republicans)whether in California's statehouse or Washington is not specified.
He invokes his Irish Catholic mother several times as though he has failed her, but we learn nothing about his father. His first marriage, which ended with his wife's suicide, produced two children, a son and daughter who are shown in a still picture as youngsters, but the son is never mentioned again. A young woman named Leary is interviewed very briefly; we are apparently to believe that this is the daughter, and she well may be, but we never know for sure.
In his dying reflections he seems proud of the fact that he's remained friends with all his subsequent wives; I believe there were three more. Though he is quoted as saying in younger days that cryonics is one of the most stupid things human beings have ever come up with (burial being another), he decides at the end to have his head cryonically preserved, in the hope that someday his brain can be transplanted in the skull of someone else who is brain dead. The highlight of the movie is the gruesome decapitation at the end. Though it's as "tastefully done" as such an event could be, the severing of the spinal cord is shown, along with the lifting of the head from the pillow and its placement in a glass icebox.
Apart from this addition to his ouvre, there's little here that wasn't already widely available in the Leary documentation, but this pulls it together nicely. If you're a real fan of the psychedelic '60's and early '70's, you might want to catch it as an evening's outing. Otherwise, it will probably be coming to a PBS station near you in a year or so.
Letter to Silicon Valley Today
Writer claims Leary's body was never decapitated
Your svtoday site, in two separate reviews of Timothy Leary's Dead, unwittingly perpetuates a total fabrication. A bunch of opportunitists were living in Leary's house during his final weeks, making a movie of his gradual deathwhich was mainly caused by malnutrition, since he refused to eat, and none of the "don't worry, be happy" types in the house tried very hard to feed him. A cryonics team had installed an ice bath and other equipment. I have personal knowledge of this, since at that time I was the president of the organization with which Leary had made cryonics arrangements. I visited his house several times with the team leader, Mike Darwin. However, after several weeks, we felt compelled to remove the equipment, fearing for its safety and our own, largely because Leary was talking about assisted suicide, which could have been classified as homicide in view of his diminished ability to make decisions. At the very least it would have precipitated a homicide investigation, during which Leary would have been autopsied (thus ruining his chances for good cryopreservation of the brain), our equipment would have been impounded as evidence, and we might have been regarded as possible accessories.
In several phone calls to Leary I reiterated our desire to fulfill our contractual and ethical obligation to preserve him, if he so wished, and I emphasized that we could have our equipment back at his house within a matter of hours if there was an emergency, or if the situation in the house stabilized, or if Leary would absolutely agree to make no attempt at assisted suicide. Finally, however, I received a call from Leary stating that he had decided, largely on the basis of a conversation with John Perry Barlow, that he did not want to be cryopreserved under any circumstances. I swapped email with Barlow in which he verified this.
Therefore, I feel certain that Timothy Leary was not decapitated for cryopreservation. According to reliable news reports, he was cremated, and a small portion of his ashes was sent into space with samples of ashes from some other famous people.
To the best of my knowledge, the scenes at the end of Timothy Leary's Dead are totally fraudulent. If the makers of the film claim otherwise, I invite them to state where the decapitation took place. Feel free to quote this message if you wish. Charles Platt
Photo © by the film's distributor
© 1997, Jon Kennedy-