Someday soon, if all goes according to plan, Dr. Timothy Leary intends to tune in, turn on, and drop dead. And if he has his way, anyone with an Internet hookup will be able to watch.
”Hi-tech designer dying is occupying most of my time,” Leary recently posted on leary.com, his virtual crash pad on the World Wide Web. The man who served as head cheerleader for the ’60s counterculture (Psychedelics Division), whom Richard Nixon called ”the most dangerous man in America,” and who has since morphed into a booster for the multimedia generation, was diagnosed last year with inoperable prostate cancer. In inimitable Leary style — energetic, fuzzy-headed — he has turned what most would see as a bummer into a party. His ”designer dying” involves a regimen of painkillers and other drugs — including homemade, THC-enhanced ”Leary Biscuits,” the recipe for which is available on the site — a constant stream of visitors to his Beverly Hills home, and a full-blown cyberpresence that may very well climax with the first online suicide.
”Living in 1996, communication is all electrons-electricity,” Leary, 75, told EW recently, between a trip to his physician and fine-tuning his will. ”A website is as necessary as a telephone used to be. You can’t leave home without it!” If that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, well, Leary’s enthusiasm has always taken precedence over coherence. But it’s also true that disease has debilitated the man. While he is no longer in chemotherapy, he is unable to walk (”My zippy hot-rod wheelchair rules the road,” he writes on leary.com); last December, Britain’s Guardian painted a brutal picture of a decayed wreck of a man jabbering on about a wired utopia while stoned hangers-on lay passed out on his lawn.
Leary’s four-month-old website is a similar mix of the hopeful and the hapless. Structured as a cyberspace version of his house, it offers a ”tour” through rooms devoted to his bio and writings. But while there’s an undeniable thrill in calling up a photo labeled ”Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and Tim, 1963,” the folks who put this site together should consider laying off the bong hits. Many of the hyperlinks are broken, the chat function doesn’t work, and too much of the announced content — videos, software, artwork — isn’t up yet. ”We’re planning eventually to have live interviews with friends who come by,” says 24-year-old webmaster Christopher Graves. When asked about Leary’s grand finale, however, he hedges. ”We haven’t talked about it in much detail,” he says. ”Videotaping it and putting it online is one way to do it.”
This being Timothy Leary, there’s always room for one more flashback. At home, in the ”reanimation room” next to his bedroom, is cryogenic equipment that will put the doctor on ice after he dies, in the event a cure for prostate cancer is ever developed. Clearly, Leary is serious — as serious as he ever gets — when he says, ”I will not cease my self-directed brain change but will continue it with curiosity and optimism.” Here’s hoping he takes enough Leary Biscuits along for the ride. (With reporting by A.J.S. Rayl)