I realized a few days ago I had a couple of pretty good stories that I had never written up. One, involving Richard Simmons, I will not recount until he passes away (dead people can’t sue). The other, involving the time I saved Timothy Leary from grievous bodily harm… that one I can recount here.
It was many many years ago, at Atlanta’s DragonCon convention. Way back in the early 1990s I was a volunteer providing video production services to the convention (If you have ever attended the convention, you may have noticed they have dedicated TV channels in the four main convention hotels that rebroadcasts panels – that was my idea, way back in 1991). I helped setup equipment, run cables, and basically do lots of grunt work video recording panels. I only did it for a couple of years, because A. I was young and B. I enjoyed it. Once I realized DragonCon was exploiting volunteers/slave labor so they could make a pretty profit, I stopped doing it.
One year (I think it was 92) a big guest was Doctor Timothy Leary. I had read a lot of Leary’s work and by that point he had become a living legend of the 60s and 70s counterculture movement. I was excited to see him, and was thrilled to have one of the best “seats” in the house.
I was on an elevated platform manning a video camera during his panel – it was in one of the big rooms, and for Dr. Leary it that was standing room only. He spoke eloquently about how humanity should evolve, should be open to all possibilities… and how LSD was just one of may ways that we could reach higher forms of consciousness. Though I had never done drugs before (or since), his inspiring words made me consider taking that step. He was a great salesman.
And that lead to what happened when his panel ended.
Leary, who was by that point in his late sixties/early seventies, walked down the stairs to the left of the stage and talked to several people who lingered around. One of those people was a long-haired man from England whose intentions were not honorable. From my position I read the body language instantly – this guy was angry, and was charging towards Leary.
By this point, Timothy Leary and the crowd had moved, and he was standing right next to my platform, and his back was to me as the young man shoved past the person Leary was talking too and started screaming at him.
“YOU KILLED MY BROTHER WITH DRUGS YOU SON OF A BITCH YOU DESERVE TO DIE”
And with that I lifted Timothy Leary up and pulled him up to my platform. I’m 6 foot four, and lifting him up was an easy effort. He didn’t know it was coming, obviously, and as I set him down turned to me, shocked, he smiled. I got a sense that this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened.
I grabbed for my walkie-talkie to call for security as the man continued screaming from below, but before I could get a message out two other volunteers bolted over and pulled the young man away. Found out later they guy had a knife on him.
Timothy muttered “Well, that was interesting. Thank you.” Then he walked down the steps off the camera platform and apologized to people for the interruption. Amazing. HE apologized.
I exhaled, thinking that what happened was interesting in the worse possible way. I went about my business, thinking that was the end of it. A couple of hours later a man came up to me and quickly said “Mr. Leary really appreciated what you did early. There’s a get-together in his room after 8 tonight, and he’d like to invite you to attend.” He handed me an index card with a room number and walked away before I could respond, “You bet.”
When you volunteer at a convention like this, getting to engage with a celebrity guest is one of the big (usually unfulfilled) opportunities. And here I was, getting invited to a private party because I had man-handled a 60s icon.
I was there at 8, right on time.
I was let in, and as I entered I saw that the party had started early. In the very large suite were many of the other convention guests – some big names in TV and film. I also smelled a distinct odor – they were enjoying a little weed along with their cigarettes.
I quickly sat down at a couch in the living room, and there – sitting across from me, on the couch opposite mine – was Timothy Leary. He recognized me, and smiled. He looked like… well, I hate to say it, but… Yoda. He looked like Yoda. Smiling, wise… peaceful.
And then he looked down. At the coffee table between us. I did, too.
There, on a dish, were four sugar cubes.
I looked at him, and he looked me. A moment of decision had arrived. And then…
There was a loud knock on the hotel room door.
I looked over, and saw someone had opened the door to one of Atlanta’s finest, who did not look interested in joining the party. After he introduced himself, he quickly declared “There’s been numerous complaints about noise in your room, and if you people are going to have a party you need to keep it down.”
I turned back to the table and… the sugar cubes were gone. Leary had snagged them off the table in a moment, like a flash. He’d done this before.
I laughed, quietly – the moment had passed.
For a while, I wondered… would I have done it? Would have gone on a trip with Timothy Leary? For many years I shook my head at the possibility, thinking “absolutely not.” That was my conservative upbringing talking. Now… Now, I smile ruefully at the lost opportunity.
Ah, well. Such is life.