Timothy Leary was born in 1920, in Springfield, Massachusetts, into an Irish-Catholic family. Leary graduated from the University of Alabama in 1943, and by 1950 had earned a psychology doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley.
Leary worked at Berkeley as an assistant professor until 1955. His fascination with interpersonal relationships led him to develop a groundbreaking monograph discussing such. While it is unclear where his obsession with the internal mind came from, it is possible that it could be somewhat correlated to the suicide of his first wife.
Leary worked as the director of the Kaiser Foundation before accepting a lecturing position at Harvard in 1959. During a trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico, Leary participated in taking mushrooms. Following his personal experience with hallucinogenics, Leary wished to and did conduct behavioral experiments with psilocybin, the active ingredient of mushrooms that was permitted for use in relation to research. Leary worked with colleagues Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner to test the drug effects on seminary students, inmates and colleagues.
Leary moved on to use LSD in the early 1960s. In 1963 Leary was given the boot from Harvard once it was discovered that students were also using Leary's supply of LSD. Leary went on to become a huge advocate for the use of psychedelic drugs - co-establishing the International Foundation for Internal Freedom.
Being a ground-breaker in the frowned-upon world of drugs did not come without criticism. Although Leary lectured at many colleges, he was seen as an outcast for his unconventional research methods and his interest in preferring to be associated with those public figures who were seen as the counterculture. Many believed that Leary was taking advantage of reckless youth by inducing them to participate in research methods whereby they were encouraged to take free LSD and ride the wave of their trip. At one point in time Richard Nixon named him as "the most dangerous man in America," while the media and the medical field also made it known that his messages regarding drug use and effects were nothing short of damaging.
Leary wished to run for governor of California in 1970, but was ultimately busted for marijuana possession earning him a 10 year prison sentence. Somehow Leary managed to break out of prison through the help of others outside of the prison gates. He was ultimately captured in Afghanistan in 1973 and sent back to prison. Leary only spent an additional 3 years in prison before he was released by a governmental decree.
After taking some time, Leary began lecturing again in the 1980s. He also began working in entertainment jobs, which spanned TV, film, and even stand-up comedy. He could never fully rid himself of his interest with those things which challenged the human mind, which led him to turn to the ever-developing technology industry where he supported programs such as virtual-reality.
In 1995 Leary learned that he had terminal cancer and decided to document the time leading up to his death through his website, www.leary.com. He died approximately one year after finding out he had cancer in Beverly Hills, California.