Socialite Joanna Harcourt-Smith, writer and long-term partner of Timothy Leary, the high priest of LSD, has died from cancer aged 74.
Born in 1946 at the Palace Hotel in St Moritz, Switzerland, Joanna’s childhood was abusive, privileged and dysfunctional – her grandfather was also her stepfather – and shaped her into what she described as a ‘spoiled and damaged socialite’.
By the time she met Harvard-psychologist-turned-psychedelic-leader Leary in the early 1970s, Joanna had two children, two ex-husbands, and had been swept up in the drug-fuelled excesses of the Sixties, living with the Rolling Stones and cavorting with playboy Gunther Sachs, Salvador Dali and the Aga Khan.
She was introduced to Leary by her lover, self-titled ‘weapons croupier’ Michel Hauchard, in Switzerland. At the time Leary, the king of counter-culture, was on the run from the FBI and CIA after escaping a US prison where he was serving a 10-year sentence for drug offences.
Leary’s academic career had ended in 1963 after he discovered the joys of LSD, then a little-known chemical. His catchprase was ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’. If everyone took LSD, he said, there would be no more wars.
On the run: Socialite Joanna Harcourt-Smith, writer and long-term partner of Timothy Leary, the high priest of LSD, has died aged 74. Pictured, the couple at Heathrow airport on their way back to the US from Kabul, where they were arrested. Leary was on the run for 28 months
New chapter: Joanna in a photo shared on her Future Primitive website shortly before losing her battle to cancer last month. Joanna lived as a Buddhist and had been clean since 1983
From Harvard psychologist to the king of counter-culture: Dr Timothy Leary, the high priest of LSD
Dr Timothy Leary was the godfather of the psychedelic 1960s. Turn on, tune in, drop out: that was his catchphrase. Pictured, with his third wife Rosemary in the 1960s
Dr Timothy Leary was the godfather of the psychedelic 1960s. Turn on, tune in, drop out: that was his catchphrase.
If everyone took LSD, he said, there would be no more wars. As if that weren’t reason enough, it was ‘the most powerful aphrodisiac ever discovered’.
Between September 1970 and January 1973, he was also an international fugitive.
The chase began with his escape from the Californian jail where he was serving a ten-year sentence for possession of cannabis – two burnt-out joints found in his car ashtray.
The imbalance between punishment and crime shows how desperate the authorities were for any excuse, however piffling, to put the high priest of LSD out of circulation.
The jailbreak was possible only because he had wangled a transfer to a low-security prison by scoring perfect marks on personality tests. Leary knew how to make himself appear as docile as possible: he had designed many of the questions himself, in his previous incarnation as a Harvard psychologist.
His academic career had ended in 1963 after he discovered the joys of LSD, then a little-known chemical. Sacked by Harvard for urging students to join him on acid trips, he spread the hallucinatory gospel more widely.
It made him an enemy of the state, specifically President Nixon who dubbed him the ‘most dangerous man in America’ and claimed has advocacy of hallucinogenic drugs had ‘killed more people than the Vietnam War’.
Spreading the word: Sacked by Harvard for urging students to join him on acid trips, he spread the hallucinatory gospel. Pictured, holding a press conference in 1968
Leary, who was married four times, went on the run with his third wife, Rosemary, who left him when they reached Switzerland. Shortly afterwards he fell in love with Joanna Harcourt-Smith.
The pair were sensationally arrested in Kabul and sent back to the US, where Leary spent a further three and a half years in jail. At one point he was in Folsom Prison in the cell next to Charles Manson.
In January 1995, Leary was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer and he died the following year. Pictured, in 1995
After turning to an FBI informant to shorten his sentence, Leary was released from prison. He and Joanna split a short time afterwards.
He continued to write books and appear as a lecturer and ‘stand-up philosopher”‘. In 1978, he married filmmaker Barbara Blum, and adopted her son Zachary. He also took on several godchildren, including actress Winona Ryder.
Leary’s extensive touring on the lecture circuit ensured him a comfortable lifestyle by the mid-1980s. Leary continued to take drugs frequently in private, but stayed away from proselytizing psychedelics. Instead, he preached about space colonization and extension of the human lifespan.
Leary and Barbara divorced in 1992, and he ensconced himself in a circle of artists and cultural figures as diverse as Johnny Depp, Susan Sarandon and Dan Aykroyd.
In January 1995, Leary was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer and he died the following year.
At Leary’s own deathbed, his final words were: ‘Why? Why not? Beautiful.’ A year later seven grams of his ashes were blasted into space aboard a Pegasus rocket.
His psychedelic gospel made him an enemy of the state, specifically President Nixon who dubbed him the ‘most dangerous man in America’ and claimed has advocacy of hallucinogenic drugs had ‘killed more people than the Vietnam War’.
Joanna quickly fell under Leary’s spell. Two weeks after meeting the pair ‘married’ in an unofficial hotel room ceremony while tripping on LSD. Leary had only recently separated from his third wife, Rosemary.
Joanna and Leary left Switzerland for Afghanistan, one of the few countries without an extradition treaty with the US, travelling via Vienna and Beirut.
But on arrival in Kabul, they were greeted by the FBI, who detained them before flying them to the US.
‘Nixon needed a law and order front page a few days before his second inauguration,’ Joanna wrote more than 40 years later.
‘After four days of detaining us in the filthiest conditions, they returned us to the US from a country with which they had no extradition treaty. I had committed no crime and still have never been arrested to this day. The shock of having been escorted halfway around the world by heavily armed men, 40 hours without sleep, and seeing my lover dragged away to prison still lingers till this day.’
Unorthodox upbringing: Born in 1946 at the Palace Hotel in St Moritz, Switzerland, Joanna’s childhood was abusive, privileged and dysfunctional – her grandfather was also her stepfather – and shaped her into what she described as a ‘spoiled and damaged socialite’. Above, in 1968
Devoted: Joanna was introduced to Leary by her lover, self-titled ‘weapons croupier’ Michel Hauchard, in Switzerland. Pictured, the couple in a photo shared in Errol Morris’ new documentary, My Psychedelic Love Story, which tells the story of Joanna and Leary
Joanna remained devoted to Leary and visited him in 26 different prisons. He was moved around frequently, it was said, because he was so charismatic he quickly held a sway over other prisoners. For some time he was in the cell next to Charles Manson in California’s Folsom prison.
Writing in her 2013 memoir, Tripping the Bardo with Timothy Leary, a psychedelic love story, Joanna claimed to have smuggled LSD into the prison by placing a transparent tab on her belly button.
‘I felt exhilarated. I was smuggling dangerous drugs into their maximum-security prison,’ she wrote. ‘I heard the clunk of heavy metal doors and Timothy appeared dressed in an orange jumpsuit. We were allowed a hug and a kiss at the beginning of the visit. I had moved the acid from my navel to my mouth and gently passed it from my tongue to his.’
While he was in prison, Joanna helped him publish six books. In addition, Joanna traveled to England, Italy and across the US, lecturing about the imprisonment.
Under arrest: Leary is escorted by narcotics agents while under arrest in Los Angeles in 1973, following his capture in Kabul
Joanna persuaded Leary to become an FBI informant in order to shorten his prison sentence. The move sparked rumours that the socialite had been a CIA plant from the outset and had lured Leary to Kabul so he could be arrested.
Shortly after Leary was released in 1976, Joanna gave birth to their son, Marlon Gobel, named after Marlon Brando, but their relationship did not last. In 1978, Leary married his fourth wife, Barbara. Leary died in May 1996.
Joanna is survived by Marlon and her two older children. Eldest daughter Lara, born in 1966, is the product of Joanna’s first marriage to Nico Tambacopoulou. Their wedding was a society event, attended by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, as well as Hollywood actor William Holden. Her son Alexis was born to her second husband, John d’Amécourt in 1971.
Joanna’s own family set-up was deeply unorthodox. Her grandfather was Hungarian financier Arpad Plesch, whom Joanna described as ‘one of the most malefic creatures to roam the earth’.
He was married to Leonina Caro Ulam, after meeting her while working for her husband, architect Michael Ulam, as a secretary. Leonina was immensely wealthy thanks to having been the mistress of Bela Kun, the Hungarian dictator.
Joanna claims he killed Leonina for her money, then married her daughter, Marysia, in order to control her portion of the fortune, too.
Plesch and Marysia had a daughter, Florence, known as Flockie. Flockie would later give birth to the French financier Arki Busson, now 57, whose lovers have included two of the world’s most beautiful women, Elle Macpherson and Uma Thurman.
By his side: Joanna remained devoted to Leary and visited him in 26 different prisons. Pictured, the couple gaze lovingly at each other in a black-and-white photo shared in Errol Morris’ new documentary, My Psychedelic Love Story, which tells the story of Joanna and Leary
Family: Following Leary’s release from prison, he and Joanna welcomed a son, Marlon. Pictured, the couple share a tender moment in a photo shared in Errol Morris’ new documentary, My Psychedelic Love Story, which tells the story of Joanna and Leary
Plesch employed a man named Cecil Harcourt-Smith to stand in as the named father for Florence. Harcourt-Smith and Marysia later had a child of their own, Joanna.
According to Joanna, Marysia did not want to have another baby and tried to prompt a miscarriage. Joanna was born 10 weeks early while Marysia was playing a game of bridge.
Joanna, whose godfather was newspaper publisher Lord Beaverbrook, was educated at Catholic boarding schools in Gstaad and Paris.
During her adolescence she was torn between ‘a desire to die and an intense love of life’, she wrote, in a recent online profile. She spent part of the Sixties in Spain, where she wrote The Little Green Book, an answer to Mao Tse Tong’s Little Ted Book that was published in four languages. Joanna spoke five herself.
In 1968 ‘moved by the music of the times and the spirit of revolution sweeping through her generation’, she emigrated to the US.
She also travelled to France and spent time with the Rolling Stones while they were living in exile.
Settled: In 1983 Joanna returned to the US, surrendered herself into the path of life long sobriety and became a ‘celebrated chef’, she claimed. She he settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1984. Pictured, Joanna speaking in the documentary, released last month
Following her split from Leary, Joanna lived for a time on an old sailboat in the Caribbean, became a recovering alcoholic and ‘trying to mend her broken heart’, according to her online profile.
According to her daughter Lara, in 1978 was deprived of her share of her family’s £100million fortune when she was persuaded to sign away her rights to her inheritance for a mere five-figure sum.
In 1983 she returned to the US, surrendered herself into the path of life long sobriety and became a ‘celebrated chef’, she claimed. She he settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1984.
Joanna became a Buddhist and found love with Jose Luis Gomez Soler, a self-styled ‘mystic explorer’. Together they established the Future Primitive website, which hosts podcasts and encourages a ‘revolution of the heart, the mind, a subtle transformation of consciousness.’
Joanna released her memoir in 2013, which inspired the documentary A Psychedelic Love Story, released last month by A Thin Blue Line filmmaker Errol Morris.
Announcing her death on the Future Primitive website, Jose Luis wrote: ‘It is with deep sadness that I share with you the passing of our beloved host, Joanna.
‘After a brave journey with cancer, Joanna transitioned peacefully on October 11, surrounded by her family and loved ones.’