Timothy Leary didn't die as he had promised, by suicide live on the Internet. He wasn't high on marijuana or tripping on LSD when he went. Racked by cancer, the 1960s drug guru and 1990s cyberconvert chose instead to be lucid and dignified in his final moments on Earth. He died this morning in his sleep, surrounded by family and friends.

The event, however, was not totally lacking in originality.

Friends videotaped Leary's last hours for posting on the Internet at some later date. He spoke to longtime conspirators such as authors Ken Kesey and William Burroughs, who called to say goodbye. He ordered Chinese food.

He also found a spectacular way to keep himself alive in the public eye, deciding earlier this week to be launched into space on a Spanish satellite in the fall. "When we told him two days ago that we could do this, he was literally jumping up and down in his wheelchair," said friend Carol Rosin, who has been by Leary's side for the past five months in his Beverly Hills home. "He wanted to do something with a sense of humor."

The idea of Timothy Leary's corpse orbiting the planet seems particularly appropriate for the man who challenged a generation to "turn on, tune in, drop out" with psychedelic drugs and found a new following among countercultural cyberyouth through a World Wide Web page chronicling his demise. In fact, only a small portion of his ashes will orbit for up to a decade before burning up on their way back to Earth. His family will decide how to dispose of the rest of his ashes.

This, apparently, was an appealing alternative to a live death on the Web -- which would have been hard for his friends to take and, according to his stepson, Zach, legally problematic -- or cryogenically freezing his head for the future. As a dying statement, space was, like, far out.

Leary, 75, had spent months promoting his death as his body slowly succumbed to the ravages of prostate cancer. But he also clung tightly to life, battling the disease and chemotherapy side effects with stubborn determination and a dazzling array of drugs.

Bill Kinsman, a friend who helped fulfill Leary's pharmaceutical needs, said the psychologist-philosopher went through 800 pounds of nitrous oxide -- laughing gas -- since December. "I provided him with many substances," Kinsman said. "He requested DMT {a psychedelic} and nitrous oxide, and I'd given him marijuana and LSD." Leary encouraged his entourage to inhale the balloons of nitrous oxide with him, and served up a steady supply of Leary biscuits -- Ritz crackers microwaved with cheese and a bud of pot. In recent days, Leary wore a morphine patch.

He didn't sit at home, either. Earlier this month, Leary led an experimental excursion to the Los Angeles club House of Blues, with everyone in wheelchairs. Two weeks ago he attended concerts by the alternative rock bands Ministry and Flaming Lips. On Monday he dragged everyone to Spago, a hip gourmet restaurant.

At Leary's green ranch-style home in the upper reaches of Beverly Hills today, it was mostly his younger acolytes who were there to mourn and, in some way, celebrate. An ancient blue Toyota pulled up to the house, and a young man with a goatee and ponytail hurried inside; a battered yellow Mustang was parked to one side. Twenty-eight-year-old Michele Posch, lately Leary's archivist, showed up with a pound of Starbucks coffee and a supply of all-natural American Spirit cigarettes.

"He was so far ahead of everything," said Posch. "He taught me about myself. That it's here" -- she pointed to her head -- "and here" -- she pointed to her heart.

Friends from the old days, such as poet Allen Ginsberg and scientist John Lilly, called to hear the details of Leary's final moments. Many of them had visited him in recent weeks.

Leary's youngest fans, many of whom had visited the house via the Internet, sent earnest messages of encouragement and farewell to his Web site, http://www.leary.com. "Would you be saddened by the sight of a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly?" wired Marlin May from Penn State. "My congratulations to Tim on graduating from Earth. I'm sure he'll do well on the next level." Donna Cederlund wrote, "Sleep well, Timothy . . . your pain is over. Thank you for inspiring so many of us to our own personal greatness."

Ralph Metzner, who worked with Leary as a graduate student at Harvard University in the 1960s, marveled at his old friend's ability to appeal to a new generation, and said that Leary would be appreciated by history. "It hasn't been about drugs per se all along," he said. "It's been about human consciousness -- how you can expand it, how to use the brain in a creative way, to enhance human potential, to exist. He acknowledged everyone's inherent creativity."

"He was always described as a drug guru. That was so superficial," said Paul Krassner, who published the Realist magazine. "There was so much more. He's part of a long tradition of philosophers -- a cultural philosopher, a spiritual seeker. One of the underplayed notions of psychedelics was that they provided a vehicle for a spiritual revolution. He always made that connection."

And every friend seemed to have a tale of Leary's wit and optimism in his final days. When Leary told Krassner he was to be cremated, "I said, Well, we'll be sure to mix you with some high grade marijuana, and we'll pass you around,' " said Krassner, who noted that Leary just warned him not to "bogart" the joint, slang for not sharing it. Leary told Burroughs on Thursday, in one of his final remarks, "I love you. I hope I'm as funny as you one day."

"I think he brought into the dying process some extraordinary reminders that there is a celebratory act to dying," said Baba Ram Dass, a mystic and onetime Harvard professor who changed his name from Richard Alpert in the 1960s and experimented with LSD with Leary. "He showed that meditation, pills and drugs can be used to alleviate pain and bring delight to the act of dying."

Even old enemies expressed regret at Leary's passing. "I am sorry to see him go," G. Gordon Liddy, who as a New York prosecutor had busted Leary in the '60s and befriended him in the '80s, said on his radio show. "Timothy Leary, I think, did an awful lot of harm. I don't, however, believe that he intended to do harm." Liddy and Leary grew to admire one another while touring the country debating drug policies and politics.

Leary married four times, and a few of his former wives came to his house on Friday; his first wife, Marianne, committed suicide in 1955. The couple had two children, but their son, Jack, rejected Leary's anti-establishment lifestyle and has had no contact with him for many years. Their daughter, Susan, hanged herself in prison after she was accused in 1990 of shooting her boyfriend.

Why Leary abandoned the idea of a public suicide -- if he ever really intended to go through with it -- is anybody's guess, but it may have had something to do with these tragedies. Before slipping into unconsciousness on Thursday evening, Leary looked at his 22-year-old stepson, Zach, and murmured, "Beautiful."

He died at 12:44 a.m., and within a few hours the news was posted in cyberspace: "Timothy has passed. . . . His last words were why not?' and yeah.' " Staff writer Richard Leiby and special correspondent Dana Hull contributed to this report. CAPTION: At the center of the counterculture: Timothy Leary in 1968, flanked by Abbie Hoffman, left, and Jerry Rubin. CAPTION: Timothy Leary in 1976 with then-wife Joanna after being released from a federal correctional facility in San Diego.