Woody Harrelson is teaming up with the writer behind Lion and Beautiful Boy to produce a miniseries about LSD pioneer Timothy Leary.
The series will be based on Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis’ book The Most Dangerous Man in America, about psychologist and writer Timothy Leary, a controversial figure who advocated the exploration and therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs.
The series will take the same name as the book, and is set to feature Harrelson as Leary, as well as being executive producer. While Davies – who has just been working on the new adaptation of Catch-22 – will adapt the script and also act as executive producer.
Leary was a clinical psychologist at Harvard University in the early 1960s, where he conducted a number of notorious experiments involving psychedelic drugs.
For example, a series of experiments known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project – which lasted from 1960 to March 1962, when psilocybin and LSD were still legal in the US – involved taking the drugs under various conditions, to find out whether the method of administration affected the user’s experience.
In another study, called the Concord Prison Experiment, Leary aimed to determine whether taking psychoactive drugs could help prisoners reform once they had been released. While in the Marsh Chapel Experiment, Leary investigated the effect of psychedelic drugs on religious students, to see if their reaction to the drug intensified their spiritual experience.
Leary’s experiments didn’t sit well with others at Harvard however, who questioned their scientific nature and the ethics involved – especially as Leary reportedly took the drugs together with his students. Leary was later fired from Harvard in 1963.
Leary continued to explore the effects of psychedelic drugs after Harvard, believing it had great potential for use in therapy and psychiatry. He became a recognisable and well-known champion of the 1960s counterculture, developing his own philosophies of ‘mind expansion’ through LSD.
Throughout the 1960s, Leary was arrested a number of times for drug possession. In January 1970, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for marijuana possession. However, upon arrival in prison, he was given psychological assessment – tests that Leary had helped design, one of which was even called the ‘Leary Interpersonal Behaviour Inventory’. He was therefore able to answer the questions in such a way that he was placed in a low security prison and given a job in the garden. In September 1970 he escaped.
Leary’s escape and evasion of authorities only made his notoriety grow, and he became a figurehead of the anti-establishment, leading president Richard Nixon to call him ‘the most dangerous man in America’.
Leary’s life – from his Harvard days to his prison escape, hiding out with the Black Panthers in Algeria, evading the FBI by fleeing to Europe, eventually being caught in Afghanistan – is prime material for a biopic. Though no network or release schedule has been announced yet, according to Deadline, with Harrelson and Davies on board, and such an interesting story to tell, there’s no doubt a studio will pick it up soon.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.