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My Psychedelic Love Story Chronicles a '70s Love Affair

Marion Charatan

Posted on November 29, 2020 13:21

7 users

The '60s and '70s embraced free love and rock and roll. That's when 26-year-old socialite Joanna Harcourt-Smith had an affair with LSD guru Dr. Timothy Leary. She talked about it in her book which is now a documentary film.

Richard Nixon, the first U.S. President to resign from office in 1974 following the Watergate debacle, called Dr. Timothy Leary "the most dangerous man in America." Why? Because the UC Berkley-educated psychologist and expelled Harvard professor advocated LSD as a way to get in touch with your higher self. 

The '60s and early '70s were free-wheeling times of experimentation with drugs and sex. From 1960-1962, Leary worked on the Harvard Psilocybin Project with his colleague, psychologist and spiritual leader Richard Alpert. Aldous Huxley, the prolific writer ("Brave New World"), was on the Board of the study, which aimed to prove that psychedelic drugs could help those with psychiatric problems. Dr. Leary got into trouble because he recruited students to take LSD and also unapologetically indulged in his own drug trips. 

As a result of his personal and professional choices, Leary went from hobnobbing with Ivy leaguers to spending time in lockup with men who had a penchant for crime. He was sentenced to 10 years for marijuana smuggling.

It was the stuff legends are made of when the 45-year-old Leary escaped from the Men's Colony West, a minimum-security prison in California. His prison clothes were found in a service station restroom south of the prison. The Weatherman, a revolutionary group, is believed to have helped Leary break out. The convicted psychologist fled to Algeria with his wife and intensified his reputation as a cult figure for the counterculture. 

Timothy Leary was an attractive man with a rakish smile. He had a presence that some described as magnetic. To elude the authorities, the fugitive found himself living in various overseas cities, from Lausanne to Vienna and Beirut. 

In his travels, the then 52-year-old Leary met Joanna Harcourt-Smith, a British socialite born in Switzerland just about half his age. At 26, Harcourt-Smith became fascinated with the LSD king and took off with him after knowing him just a few weeks, traveling carelessly around Europe with him for 5 years, piling up on drugs. In her words, Harcourt-Smith proclaimed they were "like shooting stars across Europe, taking acid every day." She was his partner between his fourth and fifth wives.

Harcourt-Smith wrote a book, "My Psychedelic Love Story,"  about her time with Leary. Perhaps she was caught up in the freedom of being young and naive -- having excess money to gallivant around with.  

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris captured the story on Showtime. Although I did not always find Harcourt-Smith to be engaging, the tale of a different era is still interesting. What I gleaned is that it is best to understand that actions have consequences and putting aside instant gratification often is a smart choice. In the end, Leary and his muse wore wires and turned state's evidence to escape prosecution.

Harcourt-Smith died on October 11 at the age of 74. She married, had 3 children and reinvented herself as a podcast producer. Leary passed at 75 in 1996.

Marion Charatan

Posted on November 29, 2020 13:21

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Source: Deadline

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