Cary Grant biography details screen legend’s psychedelic-therapy journey

Off-screen, the iconic star was often in turmoil. In the late 1950s he turned to psychedelic therapy in search of relief

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In the new biography Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise (Simon & Schuster), Scott Eyman recounts one particularly memorable therapy session in which the star experienced a “psychic explosion”.

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It isn’t news that Cary Grant made extensive use of LSD. A recently published biography, however, sheds new light on the English-born film star’s psychedelic journey—and it isn’t always pretty.

Grant, born Archibald Leach in 1904, is one of the most iconic figures of Hollywood’s golden age. His transatlantic accent, good looks, and natural charm ensured his mass appeal. In a career that spanned the 1930s to the 1960s, Grant starred in such classic films as Bringing Up Baby, North By Northwest, and To Catch a Thief.

Off-screen, however, Grant was often in turmoil. The fact was, he had tried to leave Archie Leach behind, but Cary Grant was never his real self either. He fabricated his entire public persona to compensate for a lower-class upbringing and an unhappy childhood with an alcoholic father and clinically depressed mother.

Psychedelic therapy

In the late 1950s—when LSD was still legal in the United States—Grant turned to psychedelic therapy in search of relief.

Under the supervision of a doctor named Mortimer Hartman, Grant reportedly took LSD an estimated 100 times over the course of several years. Hartman, who was in fact a radiologist, founded the Psychiatric Institute of Beverly Hills.

“After weeks of treatment came a day when I saw the light,” said the actor, as quoted in the 2017 documentary Becoming Cary Grant. “When I broke through, I felt an immeasurably beneficial cleansing of so many needless fears and guilts. I lost all the tension that I’d been crippling myself with. First I thought of all those wasted years. Second, I said, ‘Oh my God, the humanity. Please come in.’”

Further revelations

Further revelations came, including the nature of Grant’s failed relationships with women and how his early trauma shaped them.

“LSD made me realize I was killing my mother through my relationships with other women,” he says in the film. “I was punishing them for what she had done to me … I was making the mistake of thinking each of my wives was my mother.”

In the newly published biography Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise (Simon & Schuster), Scott Eyman recounts one particularly memorable therapy session in which the star stopped blaming his parents for the duality that he had created. According to Eyman, Grant viewed this session as a “psychic explosion”.

It was certainly an explosion of one kind, at least.

The author quotes Grant:

I learned that no one else was keeping me unhappy but me. I gained something else – myself.

And on that day I shat all over the rug in the doctor’s office and I shat all over the floor.

I imagined myself as a giant penis launching off from earth like a spaceship.

I had lots of problems over the years but they were Archie Leach’s problems, not Cary Grant’s.

I have spent the greater part of my life fluctuating between Archie Leach and Cary Grant, unsure of either, suspecting each and only recently have I begun to unify them into one person.

“Apostle of LSD”

In later years, Grant would downplay his attempts to heal his trauma with psychedelics. “Taking LSD was an utterly foolish thing to do but I was a self-opinionated boor, hiding all kinds of layers and defenses, hypocrisy and vanity,” he once said. “I had to get rid of them and wipe the slate clean.”

Even so, his fourth wife, Dyan Cannon, claimed during a court hearing that he was an “apostle of LSD”, and that he was still taking the drug in 1967 as part of a remedy to save their relationship.

It does seem as if Grant was a believer until the end; when he died in 1986, he reportedly left $10,000 to his erstwhile LSD guru Hartman.

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