On Leary and Drugs at the End

Autumn 1996 Vol. 06, No. 4 An Invitation for Dialogue

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Most of us are familiar with Timothy Leary’s drug reputation, good and bad. Many of us were educated by, or, at least, influenced by Timothy’s experiences and writings. Towards the end of his physical life, Timothy gave us the opportunity to learn about alternative ways to die.

Always, his aim was to challenge the status quo. Always, his method was to challenge cultural taboos. He was a cheerleader for change, an advocate of individual rights: to live as one chooses, to alter consciousness as one chooses and finally, to die as one chooses. And to do it with friends. “We are the light. We are the light bearers and our purpose here on Earth is to shine that light on others.”

Why did Timothy do drugs? Prior to the “activation of his deanimation circuits,” Timothy used drugs recreationally, to exercise his right to alter his consciousness, to experience and create reality shifts. As he began to deteriorate physically, he also began using drugs to self-medicate both his physical and emotional/psychological pain.

We were there to experience Timothy first hand. Both of us knew Timothy for many years. Vicki was his closest assistant and caring friend for twelve years. Carol was his friend for over twenty years, whom he invited to stay during the last six months because “Carol is the only friend I have who doesn’t listen to anything I say.” Neither was “romantic” with Timothy, though he proposed marriage to each on occasion, as he did to so many he loved.

How to die

Knowing his death would generate media attention, Timothy chose to use that attention to challenge society’s taboos regarding death. He felt that choosing the circumstances of one’s death is one of the most important choices a person can make. He felt there was no need to die in the factory mechanized atmosphere of an impersonal hospital surrounded by total strangers. If any. “Do it with friends, do it with friends, do it with friends.” There was a great sense of humor in much of his process. But, as he confronted the reality that he was actually dying, as he no longer recognized his own reflection in the mirror, as he realized he didn’t have the happy family he wanted, that he was sorry for the pain he caused others, and as his physical pain became unbearable, he began to experiment with his choices on how to die and what drugs to take. Timothy had narrowed down “how to die” to cryonics, however, an undercurrent of suspicion and distrust had developed between certain members of the Leary household and CryoCare, the organization which was to have facilitated Timothy’s cryonic preservation. The underlying reasons for their suspicion and distrust are speculative and may never truly be known. What is known is that they were communicated, either directly or indirectly, to Timothy.

Timothy Leary was a man very much “under the influence,” especially of those within his sphere. As he increasingly lost the ability to think and decide for himself, he grew more and more dependent upon the opinions of those around him. When reports began to circulate that Timothy planned to commit suicide on the Internet, CryoCare became very concerned and removed their stand-by equipment from Timothy’s house. Three days later, Timothy announced his desire to cancel his contract with them.

After the discussions that prompted Timothy’s decision to cancel his contract with CryoCare, he said, “Everyone in the family is happy I’m not going through with it” [“family” refers here to the people around him in the house]. As he grew closer to death, making them happy became more important to him than anything else.

In addition to the family influence, Timothy expressed concern that the CryoCare people had no sense of humor, that they hovered over him waiting for him to die so they could do their thing, and that he was afraid he’d awaken in 50 years to find them looking down on him with clipboards in their hands. He did, however, say that cryonics is a good choice for some people. Timothy consciously chose the day to die and chose cremation. Timothy Leary made a habit of trying on new ideas and popularizing those ideas as alternatives to “traditional” ideologies. Yet he always retained the right to change his mind “at the last minute.” It was probably no more difficult to talk him out of cryonics than it was to talk him into it. Personal note: Although we were “prepared” for the presence of the Cryo team at the moment of Timothy’s demise and the flurry of activity which would have immediately followed, we were relieved to not have had to deal with the reality of it.

The drug issue

Sometimes well-meaning friends would bring drugs to the house and administer them, unaware of the other medication he was taking. Sometimes Timothy really didn’t want to do these drugs but did them so as not to offend his guests. Sometimes he willingly did anything anyone gave him, in order to soar higher. Sometimes, what he was given made him gravely ill or seriously overdosed. We finally had to put a chart on the wall so that if anyone in the house gave him any drug, prescribed by a doctor or not, we’d all know who gave him what, so we could monitor him and make sure we didn’t accidentally kill him. Conscious suicide was quite another matter. The operative word being “conscious.” Fortunately, he found a natural, peaceful way to make his exit.

For most of our years with Timothy, drugs were not a major issue. Truth is, he expressed that after the sixties, he would rather not have been asked about drugs. He often said he had so much more he wanted to discuss. We found it amusing just how unimportant drugs seemed to be to “the psychedelic guru.” His drug use centered mainly around social alcohol and cigarettes.

But all that changed as he entered his deanimation phase. Radically. Drugs became a major topic of conversation and focus. We wondered if it was the pain and/or fear of dying or the presence of younger folks or both, which ushered in what appeared to be a “junkie mentality.”

The last weeks of his life took place around a nitrous oxide tank and nitrous-filled balloons, marijuana ice cream, marijuana cookies and cracker spread, and candy bars. There was sometimes a light breakfast including Biomega 2000, a vitamin/mineral/aloe vera drink, then often no food until around midnight when he’d eat a TV dinner or brie cheese and salami, avocado and bread, Chinese dumpling, and other snacks. Generally, while he was still under the care of various physicians, his drug schedule was something like this: Upon awakening or shortly thereafter: Caffeine, Nicotine, Cocaine.

Afternoon (mid-late): Caffeine, Nicotine, Cocaine. Late afternoon to early evening: Nicotine, Cocaine (for an afternoon “lift”), alcohol (wine). Early evening: alcohol (wine), nicotine. Late evening: alcohol (vodka), OTC sleep aid (occasionally). Supplemented by: Clipoxide (generic for Librax, for stomach pain), Sinequan (Doxepin, for anxiety and depression), Eulexin (Flutamide, for metastatic prostate cancer), Augmentin, Daypro 600 and Relafen 500 mg.

When his prostate cancer metastasized to the bones in his spine, and immediately prior to beginning and following radiation treatments, his doctors reluctantly prescribed pain medication: Tylenol-Codeine, Darvocet, Percocet, Percodan, Vicodan ES 750 (not all at once; progressing from one to the other).

In search of pain relief

Still in excruciating pain, Timothy was finally placed under Hospice Care, whose caregivers know that there’s much closure the dying need to do and who understand that they cannot effect that closure while in severe pain. Hospice doctors prescribed medication which began to ease his pain: MS Contin (long-acting morphine tablets), Roxane Hydromophone (liquid morphine) for breakthrough pain, Docusate 50 mg tablets (for the constipation caused by the MS Contin), and Choline Mag Salicy, 500 mg/5 ml (for bone pain). He supplemented the prescription medication with Nitrous Oxide, occasional use of street Heroin, Valium and Ketamine. When Timothy continued asking friends for pain medication, and they brought him something that actually seemed to work better, Vicki spoke with Hospice about having Timothy’s prescriptions changed. He was then placed on a Duragesic 25 (Fentanyl, morphine) patch to manage the constant pain and Dilaudid for breakthrough pain. This finally did the trick, allowing Timothy to spend the last three months of his life relatively pain-free. He continued to use Nitrous Oxide, Marijuana, Alcohol and, occasionally, DMT.

There were massages, though his frail body was badly bruised with open sores and scabs, and ear candles to remove wax build-up in his ears. His patches were changed approximately every three days, but during the last week, his prescription was increased to two patches, instead of one. He was also prescribed Ritalin (for depression), Vitamin-B12 injections (to counteract the negative effects of Nitrous Oxide) and a broncho-dilator for lung congestion.

Obviously, most of his drug use after he became symptomatic was in search of pain relief; physical, mental and emotional. Prior to his becoming ill, his projects, social life and activity levels provided him with sufficient distractions from what he was feeling. But as he became less physically mobile, including wheelchair bound, it seemed that drugs provided the distractions.

Prior to his becoming ill, the public perception was that Timothy did a whole lot more drugs than he did. Of course, when people gave them to him, for example, when he was on the road speaking, he took them willingly. But privately, he didn’t consume drugs all that much. His many projects called for his full intelligence and creativity, alertness and clarity. However, in his last days, he probably did as many drugs as the public imagined. Maybe more.

Just months before he died, his brain scan was reported “normal.” We saw more of a deterioration in his mental condition after he started drinking again than we saw from all his other prior drug use combined.

The pain he didn’t show

One day, Vicki was conferring with the soon-to-be executors, friends and select staff in the kitchen. She went to the round table where Timothy was sitting to get a pad of paper. As she did, she stopped and knelt down beside him, touched him, looked into his eyes and asked how he was doing. He told her he wasn’t doing very well, that he was depressed. She sat beside him and asked if there was anything she could do. He told her what he really needed was a nitrous oxide balloon. She told him the tanks were out being filled. He looked almost frightened. He looked so vulnerable and childlike as he toyed with the empty balloon in his hand. He repeated that he needed a balloon. Vicki told him she’d see what she could do. She went back to the group in the kitchen and told them how Tim was feeling. Everyone rallied to his side to lend emotional support. He told us all that he was feeling very depressed and wanted a balloon because he very much wanted to “separate himself from what he was feeling.” Finally, one of the staff produced some photographs of his granddaughter and great granddaughter, and the crisis passed.

Carol spent many of the last nights during the last weeks sleeping next to Timothy in his bed, as his friend and all-night caregiver. He was in extraordinary physical and mental/emotional pain, especially during the nights. This he never showed in public. He was experiencing fear of whatever was in his visions that occasionally caused him to throw his body and arms around almost uncontrollably. Carol felt his sadness when one night he fell asleep hugging a photo of his daughter, who had committed suicide. She felt his loneliness when he told her the saddest part of all this was that he didn’t have a wife. He told her when he was seeing “sneak previews” of the realm he was about to enter. He shared personal stories and thoughts, and read throughout the nights from articles, letters, and books to her, and showed her many videos of himself. He didn’t want to sleep, until the last few days. Finally, one week before he died, he told Carol the drugs were no longer working, and that he didn’t want to take enough to become unconscious. He wanted to be present, to know what everyone around him was doing and saying. He still had work to complete, and he said he wasn’t ready to leave. However, just one day before he decided to die, he handed her a pink balloon and said, “This is my last balloon. I won’t ever have another one.” He told her his body was giving out and he couldn’t stand the idea of diapers, that he was losing his ability to hear and to communicate, and that he felt embarassed by his inability to recognize close friends when they came to visit. Just before he was going to die, he wanted to call Rosemary, whom he described as his favorite wife to whom he owed so much, but he refused to call her because, he said, he couldn’t communicate. So, Carol didn’t listen, as usual, and dialed the phone and handed it to him. He told Rosemary to drop everything and come. (Which, of course, she did.)

Carol had arranged for his ashes to be sent into space on a rocket, to be organized by Celestis, Inc., in Houston. We saw in his eyes, at the moment he knew this plan would be implemented, that he was excited and was now ready to die. He was excited that he would finally be in the light (referring to the moment when the rocket to which his remains will be strapped goes into the re-entry phase and burns up), and that he would be launched with other space pioneers including Gene Roddenberry, creator of “Star Trek,” Dr. Gerard O’Neill, physicist, author of “The High Frontier,” and designer of space stations and other technologies, and Todd Hauley, a founder of the International Space University. This space trip was his final request.

Ready to die

Taking no drugs that morning of May 30th, Timothy wheeled around his garden in his electric wheelchair, then got into bed and began his slow breathing process. His bladder was no longer functioning, he had stopped eating, and he was resting comfortably.

Just a few hours before he died, he suddenly sat up and said, “Why?” then to each person in the room asked over and over again, “Why not? Why not? Why not?!”

Whatever visions he experienced as he gazed beyond the beyond, he appeared to us to be “tripping.” He neither took, nor did he apparently “require” LSD to facilitate his journey.

Wearing a t-shirt which read, “If you only have one wish, make it BIG,” Timothy left his body at 12:44 A.M. on May 31st with his eyes wide open, with his intentionally expanded consciousness in the light. In his own bed. Surrounded by loving friends and family.

Look for Timothy in the light as the rocket with his cremated remains vaporizes upon re-entry. Timothy’s final trip is currently scheduled for December 3, 1996 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, pending launch circumstances. Stay tuned-in for for his launch and re-entry dates.


Carol Rosin: rosin@west.net

Carol Rosin is the Founder and President of the Institute for Security and Cooperation in Outer Space and Coordinator of the World Space Commission.

Vicki Marshall: knoware@knowbuddy.com

Vicki Marshall has served as editor, collaborator, assistant and friend to Timothy Leary for 12 years. She owns and operates a small Macintosh computer consulting and desktop publishing company called Knoware. KnoWare also published “Timothy Leary’s Greatest Hits, Vol 1” in 1990 and makes Leary publications available by mail order.