Timothy Leary's Dead

USA - 1997

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

If you missed the Sixties, the playful documentary, "Timothy Leary's Dead," is like a crash course in that turbulent era. Its most startling revelation is that the ex-Harvard professor's tune in, turn on, drop out philosophy began as a fluke when, while visiting Mexico, and on the spur of the moment, he tried some magic mushrooms. Imagine if he'd ordered the combination plate, instead.

One of Leary's tenets became, trust your nervous system, which, considering what he put it through over the years, could just as easily have been test your nervous system. Whatever the side-effects of his regular use of psychedelics, his mind seems to have remained alert. As for its well-being, I can't say. There was that tour with G. Gordon Liddy, the wacko of Watergate, but the film reveals a man preternaturally happy, right till the end.

Producer Paul Davids lets Leary and his crowd, then and now, tell the story. Clips begin conversations in 1965 and continue them thirty years later. Through them, we see Leary's evolution from button-down misfit, to guru of expanded consciousness. Leary's the one to watch, though. Because his life was so improbable, only Leary, telling it himself, can do it justice. He hung out with John and Yoko. He busted prison and went into exile in Algeria with Eldridge Cleaver. He was recaptured and put in the cell next to Charles Manson, who talked non-stop. Richard Nixon called him the most dangerous man alive. And there are tantalizing clues about what made Leary tick. His father turned him on to nitrous oxide. His first wife, the love of his life, committed suicide on his thirty-fifth birthday.

When Leary learned he was dying, he decided to make it an adventure, with a worldwide audience, thanks to the internet. And death didn't end the adventure, either. The last scenes of "Timothy Leary's Dead" show his head being removed and frozen. But can we believe our eyes? Considering his relationship with reality, it's the perfect Leary-esque parting shot.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 6/25/97

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