Saturday, October 16, 2010

Timothy Leary, Dennis Hopper and Me

What are you afraid of? What scares you silly? Rats? Snakes? Politicians?
Me? I was always terrified of Dennis Hopper. He was so good at playing psychotic villains. I still remember a scene where Hopper mashed over some dude with his motorcycle. Dennis Hopper permanently freaked me out when I was a kid.  And now I begin my tale.

It was day one of my interviewing adventure which would become my book -  The Adventures of a Love Investigator, 527 Naked Men & One Woman My best friend, Sal had scribbled a list of eight men to start my interviewing caper. It was up to me to make them want to be interviewed. From this starter-set I chose one name - Dr. Timothy Leary. I've always been the type that jumps into the deep end first. It's the best way to learn.

Leary was a professor who lectured in psychology at Harvard and explored psychedelic experiences and experiments; he espoused free-love and was the spirit of the 60's. He was arrested and jailed by G. Gordon Liddy, escaped prison, was re-arrested and ultimately released. He then went on tour with Liddy as two ex cons with a story to tell. He campaigned for governor of California against Ronald Reagan. Leary hung out with and incredible array of people from the Beatles to Black Panther, Eldridge Cleaver. The Beatles even included his name in their songs.

I arrived at Leary's house, located up the road from the Beverly Hills hotel. Tim was in his final years of life - death danced naked before him, and yet he was full of piss and vinegar. THIS was my very first interview.

Leary complimented me on my courage for taking on this daunting task. "The dehumanizing by males of women and children is the key issue." He lit a cigarette with shaky hands. "It's the number one cause of suffering, illness and genocide. It is the pervasive, taken for granted, ever-present brutalization of women and children by men."  His mind darted like a mouse picking up crumbs of memory, nibbling on them and then moving on. I dared not interrupt for fear of his anger, it turned on a whisker.

Someone took our photo as we sat together. I wished I had known his when he was younger. He was hot looking and a pistol. Now his memories are strings that I must untangle. Anger loops to pleasant memories, to passion and back to anger, and then to tears.

He tells me, "In the 1920's when I was born, it was a completely different age. I was an only child and my mother was totally my friend and supporter. And I caused her much pain. She wanted me to be a dentist and live next door. Instead, I ended up escaping from prison."  Leary weeps. "It caused her a great deal of pain because when she would meet with the women who were her friends they would talk about their children. She could never mention my name. And that hurt her a lot. We're talking about women who were in their 70's at the time I was in prison. You didn't talk about things like that back then. And it seems so tragic now that all those older women were fascinated by me and my life and my mother couldn't mention it. It robbed her of a high hope of her life. Now it breaks my heart."

Timothy Leary talks on. Hours later I'm ready to leave... emotionally exhausted.

"Please come back," he begs. I promise to return.

It is now my third visit to Leary's home. I carry bags of fresh fruit and juices for his health. "Put those things in the refrigerator and then get over here," he barks.

Leary's refrig is covered with photos held in place by magnets. They're all pictures of people he cared for, most of the photos are of twentieth century folk heroes. I am captivated. The pictures, set so informally, bring legends to life. And then I do a triple take. Yikes! There is that recent photo of me sitting with Leary. The magnet that holds it in place also holds a picture of Leary and Dennis Hopper. My knees buckle. What are the odds?  Dennis Hopper might be nearby. I spent the rest of the visit looking at the front door, fearful Hopper would come in at any moment.

Leary died the following year and his ashes were sent into space aboard a Pegasus rocket. Dennis Hopper passed away recently. As I read a wonderful, detailed story on Hopper in Vanity Fair... I realized I had nothing to fear. He was a good and talented man. I should be happy to have shared a refrigerator magnet with him. Thanks Dennis.
The Adventures of a Love Investigator, 527 Naked Men & One Woman


  1. Really interesting! I'm looking forward to reading the book.

  2. Fascinating stuff Barbara


  3. LOVED this story! So much more exciting than my Rob-Lowe-bumped-into-me-and-didn't-say-sorry story! :-)

  4. What a cool story!!! Congratulations!

  5. I think Hopper was intimidating to both men and women. An equally intimidating guy.

  6. Hopper intimidated me, too, but I love his movies. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten to interview any famous men--yet.

  7. Most of the "famous" guys were very nice. So down to earth. That was the good part about the interviews...finding out how really considerate the big names were. It was the regular dudes, who thought they were soooo cool, who were the most irritating.