The death of veteran actor Richard Lynch at age 76 has shined a spotlight on one of the distinct features that made him a favorite of horror and science fiction film connoisseurs the world over. The facial scars that became his signature were the result of a horrific—and self-inflicted—act of LSD-induced violence. On 28 June 1967, while under the influence of LSD, Lynch doused himself with a half-gallon of gasoline and set himself ablaze in Central Park, leaving his face severely scarred and impairing his ability to speak.
Handsome and strapping before the incident, Lynch’s physical appearance was permanently altered afterwards, limiting his ability to land acting roles for several years. Eventually, he would settle comfortably into the niche of playing villains in numerous films, including the 2007 remake of “Halloween,” “Scarecrow,” “Little Nikita,” and “The Lords of Salem,” set for release in fall 2012. He also appeared in guest-starring roles in such television series as the original “Battlestar Galactica,” `’The A-Team,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and “Six Feet Under.”
Whether LSD played a role in his behavior in June 1967 would seem to be a moot point, as no other cause is known and similar incidents following LSD use have well documented. What effects LSD has on the brain and how common negative reactions—often referred to as “bad trips”—to the drug are remains the subject of much debate. Two negative effects resulting from the use of LSD have been widely reported in medical literature and other media over the years are flashbacks and psychosis. Where the former is concerned, research indicates the general perception is not in sync with the data yielded from decades of studies.
Flashbacks: The majority of respondents in clinical studies report not to have experienced flashbacks, according to published research compiled by David Abrahart. Flashbacks are often visual, though they can take numerous forms, including auditory, emotional, and body. The cause and effect between LSD use and flashbacks appears to be minimal, if one exists at all. While flashbacks have been reported by people who have used LSD, their occurrence is not discernably greater than what is found among the general population.
Psychotic reactions: It has been reported that LSD can both trigger psychosis in otherwise healthy-minded people and hasten the onset of psychosis in those already predisposed towards psychotic episodes. This is difficult to prove due to ethical restraints imposed on those conducting research in this area. LSD is illegal in the U.S. and clinical studies cannot be conducted comparing individuals before and after taking acid. The only studies available have been conducted using subjects who’ve already taken LSD, most of whom suffered short-term or long-term consequences as a result of their acid use.
A 1983 study of patients hospitalized for LSD- induced psychosis found that, while the rates of psychosis and suicide among the parents of those studied was comparable to patients suffering from acute schizophrenia, rates of parental alcoholism among LSD psychotics greatly exceeded that of schizophrenics and the general population. Otherwise, the study found that “in most respects the LSD psychotics were fundamentally similar to schizophrenics in genealogy, phenomenology, and course of illness.”
Lynch was not the only celebrity to see his life and career significantly altered by LSD use. The late Syd Barrett, founding member of Pink Floyd and its primary creative force during its early years, was known to have used LSD excessively, to the point where he became uncommunicative and nearly impossible to work with in the studio. As a result of his mental and emotional breakdown, the other three members of the band voted to replace their former leader with guitarist David Gilmour in 1968. Barrett would record and perform sporadically over the next few years but retired from music for good in 1975, retreating to his mother’s home and living a quiet and unassuming existence until his death in 2006 from cancer. Whether LSD triggered his mental problems or simply exacerbated a preexisting condition remains a matter of speculation.
In an interview for an educational film about drug abuse made shortly after the accident, Lynch warned, “If you had ever told me that I would go into Central Park and try to burn myself to death I would have said you were out of your mind. If you’ve taken your last LSD trip, and you really want to be hip, well—dig it, man. Be hip. Lay off it, because it does affect the mind. I’m a perfect example of what LSD can do to the human mind.”
- Sharps, Linda. “’Halloween’ Actor Dies & His Story Is Even Spookier Than His Roles.” Café Mom Articles. 21 June 2012 1:08pm. Web. 22 June 2012.
- Abrahart, David. “A Critical Review of Theories and Research Concerning Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) and Mental Health.” March 1998. Web. 22 June 2012.
Vardy, MM. Kay, SR. “LSD psychosis or LSD-induced schizophrenia? A multimethod inquiry.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. National Institute of Health. August 1983. Web. 22 June 2012.