By Barbara Silkstone
What are you afraid of? What scares you silly? Rats? Snakes? Politicians? Me … I’ve always been terrified of Dennis Hopper. He is a character actor who specialized in playing psychotic motorcycle gang members. I still vividly remember a scene where Hopper mashed over some dude with his bike. Dennis Hopper permanently freaked me out.
And now I begin my tale: It was day one of my interviewing adventure which would become my book: 527 NAKED MEN AND ONE WOMAN – The Adventures of a Love Investigator. My best friend, Sal had scribbled a list of eight men to start my interviewing caper. It was up to me to make them want to be interviewed. From this starter-set list I chose one name – Dr. Timothy Leary. I’ve always been the type that jumps into the deep end first. I figured it’s the best way to learn. Leary was a professor who lectured in psychology at Harvard and explored psychedelic experiences and experiments; he espoused free-love and was the spirit of the 60’s.
Leary was arrested and jailed by G. Gordon Liddy, escaped prison, was re-arrested and ultimately released. He then went on tour with Liddy, as by then they were both ex-cons with a story to tell. He campaigned for governor of California, against Ronald Regan. He hung out with an incredible array of names from the Beatles to Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver. I arrived at Leary’s house which was located up the road from the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Tim was in the final year of his life - death danced naked before him; and yet he was full of piss and vinegar. And this was to be my first ever interview with anyone. Leary complimented me on my courage for taking on this daunting task. “The dehumanizing by males of women and children is the key issue.” He lit a cigarette with shaky hands. “It’s the number one cause of suffering, illness and genocide. It is the pervasive, taken for granted, ever-present brutalization of women and children by men.” His mind darted like a mouse picking up crumbs of memory, nibbling on them and then moving on. I dared not interrupt for fear of his anger, it turned on a whisker. Someone took our photo as we sat together. I wished in my heart, I had known him when he was younger. He was a pistol. His memories are strings I must untangle.
Anger loops to pleasant memories, to passion and back to anger, and then tears. “In the 1920’s when I was born, it was a completely different age. I was an only child and my mother was totally my friend and supporter. And I caused her much pain. She wanted me to be a dentist and live next door. Instead I ended up escaping from prison.” He cried. I waited. “It caused her a great deal of pain because when she would meet with the women who were her friends they would talk about their children. She could never mention my name. And that hurt her a lot. We’re talking about women who were in their 70’s at the time I was in prison. You didn’t talk about things like that back then.
And it seems so tragic now that all those older women were fascinated by me and my life and my mother couldn’t mention it. It robbed her of a high hope of her life because she was proud of me in a way. Now it breaks my heart.” Hours later, I am ready to leave after an emotionally exhausting day. “Please come back,” he begs. I promise to return. It is now my third visit to Leary’s home. I carry bags of fresh fruit and juices for his health. “Put those things in the refrigerator and then get over here,” he barks. Leary’s refrigerator is covered with photos held in place by magnets.
They are all pictures of people he cared for - most of the photos are of twentieth century folk heroes. I am mesmerized. The photos, set so informally, bring these legends to life. And then I do a triple take. Yikes! There’s a recent photo of Leary and me, and under the same magnet is a photo of Dennis Hopper and Leary. My knees buckle. Is this a sign? If so what does it mean? This is not funny, God! I spent the rest of the day with one eye on the door. Timothy Leary died the following year and his ashes were sent into space aboard a Pegasus rocket. I have never heard from Dennis Hopper.
Barbara Silkstone is a freelance writer and self-appointed Love Investigator. For six long years she traveled the country interviewing men ages 18 to 80. The guys poured out their most intimate secrets to Silkstone. She is still recovering from the interviews.
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