By Julia | Curator, PeterMcWilliams.org
“As it turns out, even with the endless medical miracles available today, some people in this country, lacking in effective anti-nausea medication, must choose death by malnutrition or death by cancer. The words I had waited a whole lifetime to hear coming from a doctor, ‘Eat as much as you can,’ fell on ears deafened by a stomach not at all happy with life.”
When Peter McWilliams wrote these words, he was in the middle of fighting for his life.
He was always a fighter. After all, he was a Leo, a feisty warrior who roared when angry. Peter was always so full of life and fiery passion.
Even when in high school in his hometown of Allen Park, Michigan, he was a rebel. Peter would play pranks on the faculty members and was sent to the principal’s office quite a few times.
As a young child he started using a typewriter and he never looked back.
At 17 he published his first poem, and soon he was publishing books out of his house, going to shops and asking them to carry them.
Words like those moved a generation and are still touching hearts today. The poetry Peter penned in his book Come Love With Me and Be My Life & Surviving ended up being a huge part of the 1971 best-seller, How to Survive the Loss of a Love. That book is still in print.
You would think a poet would be the least likely person to receive the title of The Doctor Spock of Computers, but that’s exactly what Americans began to think of him as.
The Personal Computer Book, first published in 1981, became an inspiration for influential people such as William F. Buckley, Jr. He was so wowed by Peter’s talents that they would become life long friends.
Peter became a frequent guest on “The TODAY Show” with Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel. He’d haul out these gadgets, that by today’s standards were huge and clunky, but back then they were the “in” thing!
You might think that Peter would be satisfied making greeting cards and spurting out computer advice, but he was never one to slack off. What would you expect from an author who would write DO IT! Let’s Get Off Our Buts!?
Peter was diving into the magical world of meditation and began the “LIFE 101” series.
He would write such wise words as: “To the degree we’re not living our dreams, our comfort zone has more control over us than we have over ourselves.”
Books such as LIFE 101, Do It! Let’s Get Off Our Buts, Love 101, You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought soon soared to the top of the New York Times’ Bestseller lists.
And Peter had published every one of those books himself. After writing all these books on personal growth (Peter hated the term “self-help,”) Peter discovered he needed some help himself.
In DO IT, Let’s Get Off Our Buts, Peter confided, “Normal for me..was depression. I’ve had a long-term, low-grade depression since I was 3. This depressed state was my benchmark for ‘normal’. I would have major depressive episodes-lasting from 6 mos. to more than a year. When the 2 of these played.. havoc together on me, I had what is known in psychiatric circles as a ‘double depression’ (a fate I would not wish upon my worst enemy).”
Harold Bloomfield who had known Peter way back when they collaborated on How to Survive the Loss of a Love, became a light through Peter’s suffocating dark days. He helped guide him, and with the help of some traditional medication and some good ‘ol honest St. John’s Wort-Peter was able to find joy in his life.
Peter described being able to go to a restaurant by himself and just sit there, enjoying all his surroundings, and taking the littlest things in with delight. Peter and Harold teamed up to write How to Heal Depression.
Whenever Peter learned something new, he didn’t want to be selfish and keep that knowledge to himself. He wanted to share it with the whole world.
Another book followed; Hypericum & Depression. Peter was joined by two doctors: Harold Bloomfield and also Mikael Nordfors to tell the story about how St. John’s Wort can be very effective in many people suffering from depression.
Peter soon unveiled what many Libertarians, including Judge Jim Gray, herald as The Libertarian Bible. Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do became another hit for Peter. Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute gave his praise: “Peter McWilliams has entertainingly demonstrated that we need a second American revolution not only to reign in government spending and taxing; we also need one to stop the state from persecuting people who have harmed no one other than themselves. For helping to spread this message McWilliams deserves our thanks.”
Many took notice of this book, especially the DEA. Copies of Peter’s book were found nestled in many homes raided in California for pot possession. The DEA smelled a pattern, connected the dots, and it led them right up to Peter’s home in the hills.
Peter said they had wiped his computer clean, and put a virus in its place. They searched his home, top to bottom, inspecting every inch. At this point, Peter wasn’t just an author, he had become a medical cannabis patient.
In March of 1996 Peter was diagnosed with AIDS and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Peter had done tons of research, after all, he considered himself a journalist.
He found that cannabis was the one thing that kept his medication and food down. Otherwise he would be spending a good part of his day, tossing his cookies in a toilet. He was afraid that marijuana wouldn’t be tough enough to help soothe the vicious beast of AIDS and Cancer.
But within a few tokes, Peter’s body calmed down, his appetite returned, and Peter began eating again. He was able to drink in the colors around him, his senses soared, his creativity once again blossomed. And thanks to medical cannabis, Peter gave birth-to another best-seller!
But Peter was becoming too outspoken for the DEA. He began his own medical marijuana magazine online, and was in the process of writing A Question of Compassion: An AIDS-Cancer Patient Explores Medical Marijuana.
He would never be able to finish this masterpiece.
Peter published a book on growing medical cannabis.
The Feds found more than 4,000 plants that he was helping to grow. They labeled him a “drug kingpin,” tossed the best-selling author in jail without his cannabis. He spent thirty days in there, and the level of AIDS in his system had gone from undetectable to alarmingly skyrocketing.
Peter was threatened with 10 years of prison, if he were to ever use medical cannabis. His mother and brother would lose their homes. Peter took the plea bargain-he cared about his family too much not to.
Peter’s health quickly tumbled. Judge George King wouldn’t allow medical marijuana as a defense, even though Peter should have been safe under Proposition 215 which was supposed to protect patients in California.
The self-publisher of over 40 books, the late-in-life-Libertarian who gave a fiery speech before the Libertarian Party that called for the end of marijuana prohibition; the lover of life and the passionate poet, died alone, in his bathroom on June 14, 2000.
There was a protest rally after Peter’s death. The likes of Jack Herer were among those attending and those decrying what had transpired.
Thirteen years later, Peter’s books are still touching peoples’ lives and hearts.
I discovered Peter in 2009, and found there wasn’t much written about the guy. I wanted to change that in my own small way so I created a tribute, which is growing daily.
I speak everywhere I can about Peter, his life, his legacy. On June 14 of this year, the anniversary of Peter’s death, I am going to make public a Youtube video, free of charge for all patients.
For the very first time, Peter’s A Question of Compassion will become an audio-book-video, read by Josh Stanley, host of National Geographic’s American Weed.
Peter once wrote, “Marijuana is the finest anti-nausea medication known to science, and our leaders have lied about this consistently. Arresting people for medical marijuana is the most hideous example of government influence in the private lives of individuals. It’s an outrage within an outrage within an outrage.”
No truer words were ever written by an author who knew it all too well, he lived it, and he died because of it.(Photo credit: Steve Elliot)
Julia, curator of the online Peter McWilliams Museum. Julia has established “Peter’s Page” at PeterMcWilliams.org and on Facebook, and also maintains McWilliams.com, which was once Peter’s own personal site.