We're taught from an early age to avoid the dangers of mind-altering substances and success and drug use are typically portrayed as being at odds with each other. But the life choices of some of the most successful people in history don't align with this expectation at all. Sometimes, they actually suggest the opposite.
We know the money and attendant lifestyle of fame can fuel preexisting predilections for certain drugs like alcohol and, for the uber-wealthy Hollywood and businessmen types, the powerful, expensive and ultimately brain-rotting stimulus of cocaine. But one drug that almost never comes up in celebrity drug scandals or high-profile criminal convictions is lysergic acid diethylamide — known colloquially as acid or LSD. Probably the most powerful commonly used psychedelic substance, the LSD experience is said to bring about profound changes to the psyche ranging from spiritual awakenings and epiphanies, to an increased susceptibility to schizophrenia and psychological damage.
We know the Beatles got pretty into it, along with countless other musicians whose work the drug arguably changed for better or worse. But the boundary-shattering experience of LSD, mostly thought conducive to purely aesthetic art and creativity, has also been exploited by some of the most influential personalities and revolutionary thinkers that ever lived—scientists, actors, writers, businessmen and musicians alike. Its effects still largely remain a mystery, but if we know anything for certain about acid, it’s that the world would be a very different place without it.
The following are 10 of the most influential people in history with a proven history of LSD use, some of whom experimented with it heavily and claim to owe their success to the drug.
10 Jack Nicholson
In recent years, the legendary actor opened up about his “life-changing” experiences with LSD in the 1960s. Nicholson claims to believe his first acid trip was “the first time he saw the face of God” and he says that he used it frequently when writing scripts like, surprise, The Trip (1967), and Head (1968). The actor told reporters: “I don’t advocate anything for anybody. But I choose always to be candid because I don’t like the closet atmosphere of drugging… In other words, it ain’t no big thing. You can wreck yourself with it, but Christ, you can wreck yourself with anything.”
9 Angelina Jolie
While she’s shied away from details, the Oscar-winning actress and newly named Dame Angelina Jolie has been open about the fact that she once experimented with psychedelics. Oddly, the one experience she did indulge reporters with is the time she dropped acid before going to Disneyland. She recalled: “I started thinking about Mickey Mouse being a short, middle-aged man in a costume who hates life.” Doesn't sound like much of a creative epiphany, but hey, Disney’s magically euphoric childhood veneer probably does conceal a lot of darkness and despair.
8 Richard Feynman
One of the most likable personalities among genius scientists, the late Nobel Prize-winning physicist and participant in the Manhattan Project supplied the world with numerous breakthroughs in quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, superfluity and particle physics. His autobiography explained battling his curiosity about hallucinations with his reluctance towards mind-alteration, but when Feynman eventually met influential neuroscientist John C. Lilly — an avid LSD user — he overcame his fears and had himself a great time (or several).
7 Cary Grant
The legendary leading actor of classic Hollywood, and the American Film Institute’s second greatest male star of all time, Cary Grant was introduced to LSD by his third wife around the 1950s before it was outlawed. The dashing film icon would later recall undergoing treatment with LSD at a high-end California clinic, which he claims brought him “inner peace” after failing to achieve it through yoga, hypnotism and mysticism. He remained a strong advocate for LSD and psychedelic substances until his death.
6 Trey Parker & Matt Stone
If you remember the 2000 Oscars, you might recall seeing the South Park creators donning green and pink dresses, drawing serious attention on the red carpet. That’s because they were completely strung out on LSD. No one really knew at the time, but they later revealed their heroically comedic decision to attend the world’s biggest acting event on the world's most notorious psychedelic.
5 Francis Crick
That picture of DNA we all have in our brains — that colourful spiralled ladder known as the double helix — was co-designed by LSD. Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick became the pioneer of modern genetics for his deduction of the double helix structure, a deduction which came from inspiration while in the throes of one of many acid trips. In a 2004 interview, the brainiac recounted plenty of Cambridge researchers taking LSD in small amounts to aid their thinking, and Crick's frequent experimentation with it underlined most of his work determining the fundamental geometry of all life’s programming. And believe it or not, he wasn't the only one…
4 Kary Mullis
Kary Mullis revolutionized biomedical research by refining the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique which can make millions of identical copies of a single segment of DNA. His biochemical breakthroughs ultimately netted him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993. The baffling thing is, a year after winning, the scientist admitted his LSD binges in the 60s and 70s were far more important to his accomplishments than any courses he ever took in school. Not only that, BUT his entire legacy probably depended on them. He told the BBC: “What if I had not taken LSD ever; would I have still invented PCR? I don’t know. I doubt it. I seriously doubt it.”
3 Shia LaBeouf
In 2012, the Transformers actor took method acting to a whole new high. To prepare for a drug scene in The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, LaBeouf tripped on LSD for 24 hours in front of the camera. “What I know of acting, Sean Penn actually strapped up to that [electric] chair in Dead Man Walking,” he explained. “These are the guys that I look up to.” But if co-star Rupert Grint is to be believed, the attempt was anything but methodical. Earlier this year, Grint described watching LaBeouf’s performance: “He smashed the place up, got naked and kept seeing this owl.”
2 Steve Jobs
The man who put that phone in your hand loved LSD. Seriously loved it. Steve Jobs dropped acid up to 15 times from 1972 to 1974 according to his officials admissions, and had “no words” to explain how positive and life-changing it was for him. Evidence even suggests Jobs may have been something of an acid connoisseur, preferring a specific rare and uber-powerful brand which few have ever got their hands on.
Yes, the most influential tech titan of this generation was pretty unabashed about his history with acid, and even rather snobbish about it. He once said of business rival Bill Gates: “He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger. Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.” Little did Jobs know…
1 Bill Gates
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the fact that Bill Gates is the richest, most successful, most philanthropic and one of the most revolutionary tech moguls in history. Now read this excerpt from a 1994 interview with Playboy:
Playboy: Ever take LSD?
Gates: My errant youth ended a long time ago.
Playboy: What does that mean?
Gates: That means there were things I did under the age of 25 that I ended up not doing subsequently.
Playboy: One LSD story involved you staring at a table and thinking the corner was going to plunge into your eye.
Playboy: Ah, a glimmer of recognition.
Gates: That was on the other side of that boundary. The young mind can deal with certain kinds of gooping around that I don’t think at this age I could.
Take that, Jobs.