Remembering Alan Watts: 1/6/1915 - 11/16/73
By Greg Johnson
Alan Watts is one of my favorite writers. Born in Chislehurst, Kent, England, Watts was raised an Anglican, but became a Buddhist at age 15. In 1941, while Watts was living in New York City, his first wife Eleanor had a mystical vision of Jesus. This led him to return to Anglicanism.
Watts skipped undergraduate study, but later earned an MA in theology and a doctorate in divinity and was ordained an Anglican priest in 1945. For several years, he was the Anglican chaplain at Northwestern University, renowned for his accessibility and innovative rituals. In 1950, he left the priesthood, primarily due to the breakup of his first marriage. (Watts had a recognized gift for “ritual magic,” which he continued to perform as a shaman once he was finished being a priest.)
- But there was a dark side to his sensualism: a dimension of compulsion and addiction. Watts married three times, divorced twice, and fathered seven children. But as a family man, he was a success only in the most minimal Darwinian sense. He was a compulsive womanizer and a neglectful father, which caused his wives and children much pain. Like many products of the British Public School system, with its repulsive traditions of beatings and bullying, Watts had a streak of sexual masochism. He began smoking as a child and never stopped. He was also a serious alcoholic. Watts’ father lived into his 90s, thus it was a very real possibility that Alan Watts could have celebrated his 96th birthday with us today, with 50 more books to his name, had he been just a bit of an ascetic, had he controlled his sensualism rather than letting it control him.
- Greg Johnson