An examination of the notorious high priest of LSD Timothy Leary through the eyes of his famed lover Joanna Harcourt-Smith. Academy Award® winning director Errol Morris recounts the wild adventures of two seemingly innocent people on the run in this international saga of mystery and lust. But was Leary’s “perfect love” a CIA plant who helped take him down? Or was she simply a rich, beautiful young woman out for the adventure of a lifetime with the man Richard Nixon called “Public Enemy #1”?
The new Errol Morris film, “My Psychedelic Love Story” (it premieres tonight on Showtime), tells a ragtag outlaw romantic saga that centers on Leary in the ’70s, when his heyday as a youth-culture celebrity was mostly behind him but his infamy was still front and center. President Nixon had targeted the drug culture (it was all tied up with his war on crime), and Leary remained the aging poster boy for infusing the drug experience with a high-flown credibility. As a result, he was targeted as a criminal. He was in and out of prison, and early in 1973, seeking refuge abroad, he wound up skipping from Lausanne to Vienna to Beirut to Kabul, all in an attempt to evade the American authorities.
Joining him for this lurching journey of freedom was the much younger girlfriend he’d met only weeks before, Joanna Harcourt-Smith (he was 52, she was 27), a Swiss-born British socialite whose relationship with Leary — she loved, idolized, and devoted herself to him — loosely recalls, in a shotgun renegades-on-the-lam way, the one between Joyce Maynard and J.D. Salinger. Harcourt-Smith, who died just a month ago, at 74, is the central figure — indeed, the only figure interviewed — in Morris’s documentary; the film is her psychedelic love story. She and Leary traveled, in her words, “like shooting stars across Europe, taking acid every day,” and the movie tells the story of that journey, which it presents as a scraggly ’70s version of a stranger-than-fiction, down-the-rabbit-hole odyssey.