Monday, January 15, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson, author of 'The Illuminatus! Trilogy,' dies at 74

January 14, 2007

CAPITOLA — Robert Anton Wilson, a 1960s counterculture icon and co-author of the cult classic "The Illuminatus! Trilogy," a science-fiction series about a secret global society, has died. He was 74.

Wilson died peacefully of natural causes at his home Thursday in Capitola, his daughter Christina Pearson said Saturday.

Post-polio syndrome had severely weakened Wilson's legs, leading to a fall seven months ago that left him bedridden until his death, Pearson said.

Wilson was a celebrated author of 35 novels, screenplays and philosophical tomes, all of which question the basic premises of reality. They covered subjects such as extrasensory perception, mental telepathy, metaphysics, paranormal experiences, conspiracy theory, sex, drugs and what he called quantum psychology.

A protégé of Timothy Leary and a leading connoisseur of conspiracy theories, Wilson RAW to his fans was a genuine American freethinker. If the counterculture issued membership cards, Wilson would have carried one.

He wrote the "Illuminatus" trilogy with his friend Robert Shea in the late 1960s, when they were both editors at Playboy.The books "The Eye in the Pyramid," "The Golden Apple" and "Leviathan" were all published in 1975. They never hit the best-seller lists, but have never gone out of print. Shea died in 1994.

"There are lots of drug references in the book," said Mark Frauenfelder, a co-editor of, a pop culture Web site that started as a print magazine in the 1980s and for which Mr. Wilson wrote many articles.

"In part because it dealt with conspiracies in a science-fiction way, the trilogy achieved a cult following among science fiction readers, hippies, the psychedelic crowd," Frauenfelder said.

Inspired by a thick file of letters that the authors received from conspiracy buffs, the trilogy traces the conflict between the Illuminati and the Discordians.

The Illuminati are elite authoritarians who pull the puppet strings of the world's political establishment while seeking to become super-beings by sucking the souls from the masses. The Discordians resist through convoluted tactics that include a network of double agents.

After completing the trilogy, Mr. Wilson began writing nonfiction books. Perhaps his most famous is "Cosmic Trigger" Pocket Books, 1977, a bizarre autobiography in which, among many other tales, he describes episodes when he believed he had communicated with extraterrestrials while admitting that he was experimenting with peyote and mescaline.

Mr. Wilson contended that people should never rule out any possibility, including that lasagna might fly.

On Jan. 6, in his last post on his personal blog, he wrote: "I don't see how to take death seriously. I look forward without dogmatic optimism, but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying"

Born in Brooklyn 1932, Wilson attended Brooklyn Polytechnical College and New York University. He worked as an engineering aide, a salesman and a copywriter, and was an associate editor at Playboy from 1965 to 1971.

Sentinel staff writer Roger Sideman contributed to this report.

Robert Anton Wilson

BORN: Jan. 18, 1932, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

DIED: Jan. 11, 2007, in Capitola.

HOME: Capitola.

OCCUPATION: Novelist and New Age philosopher.

EDUCATION: Brooklyn Polytechnical College and New York University, studied engineering and mathematics; Ph.D. in psychology from (now closed) Paidea University.

SURVIVORS: Daughters Christina Pearson of Santa Cruz and Alexandra Gardner of Eugene, Ore.; and son Graham of Watsonville. His wife of 39 years, Arlen Riley, died in 1999.

SERVICES: Yet to be scheduled.

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