Timothy Leary is to the 1960s what Ronald Reagan was to the '80s -- a face and spirit you could pin a decade on. A noted psychologist turned groovy peace activist, Mr. Leary is most famous for his experiments with the mind-altering drug LSD, adventures that led to the much-maligned slogan "turn on, tune in, drop out." He has written several books (including the classic "Confessions of a Hope Fiend") and along with being terminally groovy, somehow managed to write a film (the 1981 drug homage "Cheech and Chong's Nice Dreams").
Now 70, Mr. Leary lives in L.A., contributes to several magazines and retains the image of an unrepentant flake. But that doesn't keep him from being a hit on the party circuit. I spoke to Mr. Leary the day the U.S. bombed Iraq, and he could barely pull himself away from CNN. He wasn't exactly thrilled with the line of questioning. "I'm spent!" he said several times. "Are you done yet?" Thirty minutes later, I was.
Q: You have very definite opinions, I understand, about the current Gulf crisis.
A: Yes. The No. 1 danger to world peace and human civilization is the ambition of the superpowers. No doubt about it. The American military has got to be stopped. Bush is a war criminal. What is the difference between him going into Panama and Saddam going into Kuwait?
Q: You're famous for your adventures with LSD. What was your best and worst trip?
A: Good trips are psychedelic and spiritual. Every bad trip comes from being separated, from feeling isolated and paranoid. During bad trips, I felt frozen, and you think everything else around you is alive.
Q: Were you worried when the study that said LSD dramatically lowers one's sperm count came out a few years back?
A: There's no evidence to that. It's a big rumor. But I got my count studied. I went to Harvard and did a count and it was double the average! (Perplexed.) Who counts these sperms anyway?
Q: You got me.
A: Can you imagine sitting around and counting sperm for a living? What kind of maniac would do that?
Q: Have you ever tried crack?
A: Being an intelligent person interested in the mind, it is my duty to sample any brain-change neurotransmitter. I've had crack several times. And I don't see how anyone can talk about crack without having tried it . . . it's received so much bad press by people who haven't tried it. It's like smoking cocaine . . . it's a quick jolt of amphetamine energy.
Q: A lot of people, you know, will be horrified to know that you've used crack.
A: It's my job to horrify uptight, narrow-minded people. It's my job to speak the facts. I'm not endorsing it. Any intelligent person with even a little knowledge knows how much to take, or how much not to take. People shouldn't be afraid of a little powder.
Q: In what decade do you think Cher was at her best?
A: Well, I never liked her in the '60s -- Sonny and all that crap. In the '70s, I don't remember her . . .
Q: In the '70s, she was a roller-skating hot momma.
A: Oh yes. Roller-skating. And she was bad at that. In the '80s, she was just great -- she was terrific in "Moonstruck." But I like her the best in the '90s. She's with my goddaughter Winona in "Mermaids" and boy, is she great in that.
Q: A lot of people are speculating that the 1990s will be like the '60s.
A: Oh, no. The '60s were very sweet and positive. The '80s were negative, and the '90s will be a shootout. Peaceful people will have a tough time. More will happen in this next 10 years than in the 990 years before it. Just think about it -- I mean, a year ago, who would have believed we'd have a full-scale war on our hands? It's millennium madness.