By Gregory Crofton
Timothy Leary sat before Congress and answered questions about the psychedelic drugs he had rigorously tested as a psychologist at Harvard University.
How does LSD really affect someone? Should these drugs be allowed in America?
Leary, thinking the government was genuinely interested in exploring the relevant issues, took the opportunity to give context to his infamous message of “Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.” He explained it was not an excuse for people to get loaded and isolate themselves, but rather an instruction to be independent and think for themselves.
And Leary didn’t sit before the senators and pronounce that the drugs should be made widely available to the public. Instead, he said, use of psychedelics was “out of control” and suggested that a licensing program be set up to help ensure that these powerful drugs were prudently taken.
The true story of Timothy Leary’s life then is much different than the one that washed ashore after decades adrift in the columns, images and screens of the mass media.
“DYING TO KNOW: RAM DASS & TIMOTHY LEARY” (2014) reveals what really happened to Leary and his “soul mate” Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) after they met as teachers at Harvard.
Leary convinced Alpert to join him in experimenting with psychedelic drugs, and this transformed both of their lives and eventually lead them to their own distinct lifestyles and philosophies.
But the changes took years and included some animosity between the men. It also meant both would leave their jobs at the university; Alpert was fired for giving an undergraduate a psychedelic drug, Leary resigned in protest.
An environmentalist, activist and filmmaker, Gay Dillingham worked on this documentary off and on for nearly 20 years. It was she who brought Leary and Dass together in 1996 to have a conversation on camera about a month before Leary’s death from prostate cancer. The meeting is the foundation of the film, which is thematically well-organized, packed with biographical facts, and contains a broad spectrum of footage and interviews with Leary and Dass.
All of Dillingham’s hard work shows up on screen in this rewarding film. If you’re interested in consciousness, death, psychedelic drugs and how lives are lived, “DYING TO KNOW” is streaming on Netflix.
An interview with the director Gay Dillingham.
A debate between Ram Dass and Timothy Leary.