Cary Grant on Acid: When the Hollywood Great Experimented with LSD in the 1950s

Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s "Nortth By Northwest" (posterized)

Cary Grant is the subject of the new four-episode series Archie on BritBox premiering December 7. Jason Isaacs plays the classic British-born Hollywood movie star, originally named Archibald Leach. It's based on his ex-wife Dyan Cannon's 2011 memoir, Dear Cary.

In its article hyping the series, Parade offers "8 Things You Didn't Know About Cary Grant." No. 6 ("His marraige to Cannon was tumultuous") notes:

He abused LSD as a cure for his troubles.

Grant and Cannon were married from 1965-1967. So, what gives with Grant on acid?

WikiGrant began experimenting with the drug LSD in the late 1950s, before it became more widely popular. His wife at the time, Betsy Drake, displayed a keen interest in psychotherapy, and through her Grant developed a considerable knowledge of the field of psychoanalysis. Radiologist Mortimer Hartman began treating him with LSD in the late 1950s, with Grant optimistic that the treatment could make him feel better about himself, and rid him of the inner turmoil stemming from his childhood and his failed relationships. He had an estimated 100 sessions over several years. For a long time, Grant viewed the drug positively, and stated that it was the solution after many years of "searching for his peace of mind," and that for the first time in his life he was "truly, deeply and honestly happy." 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. Grant later remarked that "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. I had to get rid of them and wipe the slate clean."

It should be noted LSD was federally legal until 1968.



Becoming Cary Grant

Mark Kidel's 2017 film Becoming Cary Grant digs deep into Grant's therapeutic use of LSD. It's a trippy 51-minute documentary. The narration begins:

"In the late 1950s, at the height of his career and hitting midlife he faced an existential crisis. Deeply insecure about his identity and troubled by his inability to sustain longterm relationships with women, he turned to a soluition that had become fashionable in Hollywood in the late '50s. A number of California doctors had started using the drug LSD as a therapeutic tool. For Cary Grant, the treatment opened up the possiblity of greater self-knowledge and a more fulfilled life."

Narrator Jonathan Pryce then reads from Grant's unpublished memoir:

"I'd explored yoga, hypnotism and mysticism. Nothing really seemed to give me what I wanted until this LSD treatment. I was so confused when I first started seeing Dr. Hartman. The action of the chemcial released the subconscious so you can see what transpires in the depth of your mind. During therapy, I passed through seas of horrifying and happy sights, through a montage of intense love and hates, a mosaic of past impressions assembling and reassembling.

"I was born in Bristol in a suburban house. My mother [Elsie] was a delicate black-haired beauty with olive skin, frail and feminine. My parents had another boy, born before I was. My moher accidentally closed the door on his thumb. He developed gangrene and died, and she blamed herself for the rest of her life. She wasn't a happy woman. I wasn't a happy child because my mother tried to smother me with care."

"That moment when your conscious reaches your subconscious is a hell of a wrench. You feel the whole top of your head lifting off."

Pryce returns to the script, explaining Grant's mother "beat him if his table manners were not up to scratch." His father Elias worked for a clothing company and passed "on his taste for smart clothes to his son."

Back to Grant's memoir:

"The relationship between my mother and father seemed to grow unhappier. I came home from school one day and mother was gone. My cousins told me that she'd gone to a local seaside resort. It seemed rather unusual but I accepted it as one of those unaccountable things that grownups do. However, the weeks went by and there was no further explanation of mother's absence. It gradually dawned on me that perhaps she wasn't coming back at all. There was a void in my life, a sadness of spirit that affected everything I did. I always felt my mother rejected me."

Grant's father took up with another woman and left left Archie with his grandmother. In his adult life, Grant didn't trust women. His married five times. 

RELATED: When Elvis and Priscilla Presley Took LSD

In England, Grant fell in love with the world of theater and actors. He arrived in New York in 1920 at the tender age of 16 with an acrobatics troupe. Archie didn't go back home and by 1932 he moved to Los Angeles and changed his stage name. Grant's Malibu parties would soon become the place to be.


"Surrounded by all sorts of attractive girls, I was never able to fully communicate with them. Most of the women with whom I formed attachments eventually made it evident from their point of view that I was impossible. If I'd paid more attention I might have found contentment in marriage."

His father died in 1935 from alcoholism. Grant wrote:

"My own life was following a similar pattern. My first wife Virginia Cherrill was divorcing me. LSD made me realize I was killing my mother through my relationships with other women. I was punishing them for what she had done to me. I was making the mistake thinking that each of my wives was my mother... That moment when your conscious reaches your subconscious is a hell of a wrench. You feel the whole top of your head lifting off."

"I'd explored yoga, hypnotism and mysticism. Nothing really seemed to give me what I wanted until this LSD treatment."

When Grant's mother Elsie was released after 21 years in the Bristol Lunatic Asylum (yes, that's what it was called), the two reunited. 


"Grant had a string of girlfriends after his divorce from Virginia Cherrill in 1935, never managing to settle down. His marriage to the millionaress Betty Hutton in 1942 ended badly as well. It was as if he was unable to open his heart fully. The insecurity he developed as a child wouldn't go away."


"The first breakthrough came when I realized I was the one responsible for repeating the same mistakes and patterns. One day when I was twisting myself all over the sofa in the doctor's office it was if a light finally went on in my brain. I had to take command. I finally realized all the pain I thought my mother had caused me, I had caused her pain, too."

Cary Grant with his third wife Betsy Drake who introduced him to psychedelic drugs


Marrying Betsy Drake


"He met the actress Betsy Drake on a ship in 1949. He fell madly in love with her and pursued her relentlessly. She was very different than his previous wives, passionate about reading, yoga, mysticism and self-improvement. The two of them went out into the desert near Palm Springs and apparently took peyote with a Kaula shaman. It was Betsy who first tried LSD therapy and recommended it to Grant."


"Betsy was good for me. Her cautious, but steadily penetrative seeking in the labyrinths of the unconscious mind gradually provoked my interest just as she no doubt intended.

"The shock with each revelation brought with it an anguish and sadness because of what wasn't known before, the wasted years of ignorance. And at the same time, the ecstasy of joy, being free of the shackles of ignorance. Now I know that I hurt every women I loved. After weeks of treatment came a day when I saw the light. First I though of all those wasted years. Second I said: 'Oh my God, humanity please come in.'

"Now everything's changed. My attitude towards women is completely different. I could be a good husband now. I learned that my dear parents couldn't know better than they knew and I shall think of them always with love now. At last I am close to happiness.

"During my LSD therapy I learned a great deal and the result of it all was rebirth. I got to where I wanted to go. Not completely because you cut back the barnacles and you find more barnacles and you have to get these off. In life there is no end to getting well."

"During my LSD therapy, I got to where I wanted to go. In life there is no end to getting well."

Elsie Grant died in 1973 at the age of 96. Despite all the revelations he had under the influence, that didn't prevent Grant and Drake from divorcing in 1963. Two years later, Cannon, also an actress, became his fourth wife. They had one child, Jennifer. Grant and Cannon split up in 1967. His last wife Barbara Harris was nearly 50 years his junior. Grant died in 1986 as the result of a stroke at the age of 82.


Cary Grant's Top 10 Movies, From A-Z

• Arsenic and Old Lace

• Bringing Up Baby

• Charade

• His Girl Friday

• North by Northwest

• Notorious

• Suspicion

• The Philadelphia Story

• To Catch a Thief

• Topper

Grant never won an Academy Award.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.