Will '60s acid guru Timothy Leary end it on the 'Net?

By Jon Roig (jonathar@gas.uug.arizona.edu)
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 29, 1996

Arizona Daily Wildcat

"Psychedelic scout master" Timothy Leary


By Jon Roig (jonathar@gas.uug.arizona.edu)

This ain't People magazine, but when an interesting rumor comes down the pipe, we have to see what's up. So here it goes: According to legend, psychedelic scout master Timothy Leary intends to commit suicide live on the Internet.

Media stars like Leary live life in the spotlight, and we have every right to speculate on the nature of their performances. He recently discussed his plans with The Associated Press and said, "It's called designer dying. It's a hip, chic, vogue thing to do. It's the most elegant thing you can do. Even if you've lived your life like a complete slob, you can die with terrific style."

Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse. OK, maybe the 1960s acid guru did live fast, but at the ripe old age of 75 and suffering from cancer, he's certainly not going to leave a nice-looking body behind as he goes off to explore other dimensions.

Leary's head will not be joining him on the great acid trip into the netherworld, as he intends to have it frozen and, maybe when future technology catches up, eventually be revived or cloned. It's almost as if he's trying to live on any way he can.

There's a legend about Walt Disney's body being frozen and stored somewhere in Disneyland. Is it true? Probably not - but there is a sense in which Disney is lurking somewhere out there, waiting for the right bolt of lightning to hit his storage facility and bring him back to life. Even if the frozen Disney story is just an urban legend, he lives on forever in the public consciousness. Leary is betting that his cranium will be stored next to Walt in the secret vault of public opinion, underneath the Pirates of Caribbean ride.

Sometime in the early 1990s, Leary gave up proselytizing LSD and turned instead to cyberspace. The ex-Harvard psychologist became obsessed with technology, and he seems ready to make the transition from physical space to the virtual world.

We're not talking "Shocker" or "Lawnmower Man" here, but the same concepts are at work. Leary intends to live on as one of the most sought-after digital transmissions of all time. Admit it, you want to see it - I know I do. Suicide, conducted at the right time and in the right manner, can make you a superstar.

In the same way that Kurt Cobain will forever live on as part of the grunge movement, Leary wants to be associated with the colonization of cyberspace.

Of course, this could all be a hoax. Ken Kesey, a longtime Leary pal, is quoted in several of the articles about Leary's cyber-suicide. Could this be a Merry Pranksters-organized event? Is it just an elaborate ruse to bring attention to the growing importance of the Internet?

It seems possible that we could be victims of an experiment to test how a news story spreads and how coverage evolves. The "Designer Death" concept started as part of the Tim Leary web site (http://leary.com/) and has spread as far The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, whatever papers picked up the AP wire story, and finally, here, to the Wildcat - albeit in a much different form. A thought virus spreads across the lattice of information providers ... but what does it say?

Maybe it's a project to raise Internet awareness. As soon as one hears about Leary's mission, one asks how the heck he intends to commit suicide live on the Internet. The technology is there; a program called CUSEEME allows for live black and white transmission of anything from anywhere. There are no gatekeepers on the net, and technically nobody can pull the plug if this designer death really goes down. In a way, Leary is organizing the ultimate Pay-Per-View event, only Don King won't be making money off it.

No regular TV station would even consider putting somebody's death over the air intentionally - sure, politician Bud Dwyer managed to pull it off in Philadelphia, but he had the element of surprise on his side. By exploiting the peculiarities of this new medium, Leary is able to call attention to the Internet's obvious advantages and, in the process, attach himself to it forever.

Of course, the self-proclaimed admirer of Jack Kevorkian could just be trying to call attention to the highly contested right to die. He reports on his homepage that the cancer has forced him to live on a diet consisting of 44 cigarettes, three cups of coffee, two glasses of wine, one beer, one marijuana joint, Tylenol PM, two morphine pills, 12 balloons of nitrous oxide and three "Leary biscuits" (a cheese-soaked marijuana bud on a Ritz cracker). When this no longer works to subdue his pain, he intends to end it all.

Leary just wants to die with dignity. He states this happily, with no remorse or regret. In fact, "Flatliners" seems to be the inspiration for this last adventure; he views brain death as the ultimate trip from which there can be no flashback.

It's hard to know what to make of all this. Chances are, the online death will never happen even if this is not a hoax. After all, not even punk legend G.G. Allen managed to fulfill his life-long ambition of a Halloween on-stage suicide. There really isn't much difference between the two - Leary, with his legion of fawning Hollywood stars at his Beverly Hills home, simply has more media savvy.