Santa Cruz Sentinel: New Documentary ‘Dying To Know’ Explores Death Through Eyes of Timothy Leary and Ram Dass

Summary: The Santa Cruz Sentinel highlights Dying to Know: Film and Discussion with MAPS on December 14, 2014. Over 600 attendees filled the sold-out Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz, Calif., for a screening of Dying to Know, a biographical documentary about Timothy Leary and Ram Dass’ thoughts on death, followed by a lecture from MAPS Founder Rick Doblin, Ph.D., and Phil Wolfson, M.D., about MAPS’ new study into MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for life-threatening illness anxiety. “I created this film really to have a deeper conversation about how to approach the end of life, which is a conversation a lot of people really want,” explains Dying to Know director Gay Dillingham, who spoke at the screening.

Originally appearing here.

Death is like the sun — it illuminates everything around us, yet it’s painful and difficult to look directly at it.

To comprehend the mysteries of death, we need interpreters. And for the baby boomer generation, there may be no better interpreters than Timothy Leary and Ram Dass, the one-time Harvard colleagues who each became icons of the consciousness revolution of the 1960s.

The relationship of the two men and how they both approach death is the subject of a new film titled “Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary,” which will be screened Sunday at the Rio Theatre, as a benefit for the Santa Cruz-based organization Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

The film works both as a biographical portrait of Leary and Ram Dass, formerly known as Richard Alpert, and as an examination of how the psychedelic experimentation that the two men pioneered has led to a re-evaluation of the meaning of death. The film is narrated by Robert Redford.

Leary died in 1996 from prostate cancer and, the year before, filmmaker Gay Dillingham had arranged a meeting between Leary and Ram Dass, who is still alive at 83, though he did suffer a major stroke less than a year after Leary’s death.

That conversation between the two old friends is the basis for the film that also features interviews with such prominent counter-culture figures as Andrew Weil, John Perry Barlow, Huston Smith and Ralph Metzner.

“I was born in the mid 1960s,” said Dillingham, “so I had always felt that I had been handed down these caricatures of who these men were, and I knew (the images) that what we were all seeing (in popular culture) was not the real people.”

Leary was an enormously famous and controversial figure in the 1960s as pop culture’s pied piper for the psychedelic revolution, admired and reviled for his various stunts and culture hacks, all in the name of enlightened self-knowledge through psychedelic drugs. Ram Dass took a more spiritual path, but also became immensely popular largely for writing the iconic book of the era, “Be Here Now.”


By the time Dillingham had set up her camera to record the meeting between Leary and Ram Dass, Leary had been diagnosed with cancer and was talking openly about his eagerness to die on his own terms.

“I created this film really to have a deeper conversation about how to approach the end of life, which is a conversation a lot of people really want,” she said.

The film comes to town to benefit MAPS, the locally based organization that sponsors research and clinical trials on the potential beneficial use of psychedelic agents. Founded 28 years ago, MAPS helps provide a legal context for the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs for such conditions as post-traumatic stress, social anxiety and the anxieties associated with impending death for the terminally ill.

“It’s really about safe and beneficial use,” said Virginia Wright, the director of development at MAPS, which also administers “harm reduction” areas at music and arts festivals for people who need supervision. The organization is currently sponsoring a study on the effect of the psychoactive drug MDMA on PTSD and end-of-life anxiety.

The film screening will be followed by a Q-and-A featuring filmmaker Dillingham and the founder/executive director of MAPS Rick Doblin, as well as psychotherapist Phil Wolfson.