In the early 1970s, with a counter-cultural revolution in full swing, an unlikely figure became the No. 1 enemy of the state — Timothy Leary, the so called “High Priest of LSD.” Leary was a former Harvard psychologist who left the ivory tower behind to spread the gospel of psychedelics. After breaking out of a California prison, he went on the run, sparking a madcap manhunt for a bumbling fugitive.
Steven L. Davis and Bill Minutaglio’s new book asks if Leary really was “the most dangerous man in America,” as President Richard Nixon claimed. The story follows Leary as he hops from country to country, trying to stay one step ahead of the Nixon administration.
“He’s kind of, you know, a Mr. Magoo on acid, if you will,” Minutaglio says. “He’s just tripping his way through life, and circumstances happen. He opens one door and then plummets nine stories but somehow or other lands on a trampoline and goes to another floor.”
He’s a 50-year-old, middle-aged guy, not in the greatest shape in the world, and he manages to escape from a pretty strong security prison in California by dangling over a wire — a telephone wire — and pulling himself out of the prison that many others tried to escape from. He gets picked up by underground activists, he puts on a disguise that allows him to escape the country, including using fake passports, and then embeds himself in the most unlikely way with extremely scary, dangerous, tending toward violence, members of the Black Panther Party who are living in exile in Algeria, of all places. … He escapes to Europe and then suddenly turns into this other sort of wild, living above the cloud-line, European aristocrat experience, where he’s hanging out with Andy Warhol, royalty … Allen Ginsburg shows up for a split second. His life was — you know, in our acknowledgements in the book, the first line says, “We’d like to thank Timothy Leary for leading a very interesting life.”
On why Nixon viewed Leary as the ‘most dangerous man in America’
You know, a lot of people had called Nixon that, so maybe he was doing some diversionary politics there. Nixon needed a poster child — someone to vilify in his burgeoning war on drugs.