A US psychedelic pioneer who experimented with LSD has died aged 88.

Ram Dass was known for his book Be Here Now died peacefully at his home in Hawaii on Sunday, his foundation said.

 Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert, has died aged 88
Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert, has died aged 88Credit: Alamy
 Ram Dass travelled to India in the 1960s to study spiritualism
Ram Dass travelled to India in the 1960s to study spiritualismCredit: Getty – Contributor

Born Richard Alpert, he researched LSD at Harvard with professor Timothy Leary in the 1960s before going to India to study spiritualism.

He endured bouts of illnesses throughout his life including a stroke in 1997 that left him paralysed on the right side of his body and hindered his ability to speak.

In 2004, he had to cut back on travelling after he got a life-threatening infection.

His foundation said in a statement yesterday that Ram Dass was a “guide for thousands seeking to discover or reclaim their spiritual identity beyond or within institutional religion”.

Details about his memorial service have yet to be released.

Thousands have paid tribute to Ram Dass.

2020 US presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson said Be Here Now had “shifted my world”.

American producer Judd Apatow added he “had an enormous impact on my life”.


Ram Dass was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Boston.

In 1952, he earned a degree in psychology at Tuft’s College in Massachusetts and a doctorate from Stanford University in 1957.

The next year he began teaching and researching psychology at Harvard.

During that time, he was living a comfortable life driving a Mercedes-Benz, owning a Cessna plane and going on holiday in the Caribbean.

Ram Dass wrote: “I was living the way a successful bachelor professor is support to live in the American world of ‘he who makes it’.”

During his time at Harvard, he met Leary, who popularised 1960s counter-culture with the phrase “turn on, tune in, drop out”.

Leary was researching the effects of psilocybin, which is the hallucinogenic properties of some psychedelic mushrooms.

Ram Dass first tried psilocybin at party and wrote: “The rug crawled and the pictures smiled, all of which delighted me.”


The pair began experimenting with the therapeutic uses of the compound.

In 1963 they were both sacked from Harvard because Ram Dass gave LSD to an undergraduate student and Leary had neglected his teaching duties.

Recreational LSD became illegal in the US in 1968 after other studies emerged suggesting the chemical could cause dangerous psychotic reactions.

Ram Dass went to India to reach enlightenment and studied under guru Neem Karoli Baba.

He gave the guru a high dose of LSD, but when he showed no reaction, it led Ram Dass to believe that his higher state of consciousness could be changed by the drugs.

The guru gave Ram Dass his name and taught him meditation, yoga and Hindu principles.

When he returned from India in 1968, bearded and barefoot Ram Dass began lecturing on spirituality using a combination of Hinduism, Buddhism and Sufism into his teachings.

Be Here Now was published in 1971 and became a popular guide to New Age spirituality and sold more than two million copies.

In the 1980s he started to shed his guru image but couldn’t shake his name.

He was openly bisexual and learned in 2009 he had a son after an affair with a classmate while he was Stanford.

Ram Dass was a co-founder of Steva Foundation, which is a nonprofit that provides eye care in more than a dozen countries.

He was the subject of the documentary Becoming Nobody, which was released this year.