Born in Wabbaseka, Arkansas, Cleaver moved with his family to Phoenix and then to Los Angeles. As a teenager he was first involved in petty crime, and then in 1957 was convicted of assault with intent to murder. While in prison, he wrote a book of essays, published in book form as Soul on Ice (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968; paperback Dell/Delta, 1968) which was influential in the black power movement. Cleaver was released from prison in 1966, after which he joined the Oakland-based Black Panther Party, serving as Minister of Information (spokesperson). He was a Presidential candidate in 1968 on the ticket of the Peace and Freedom Party. That very year, he was injured in a confrontation between the Panthers and Oakland police. Charged with attempted murder, he jumped bail to flee to Algeria, where he was joined by Timothy Leary. Cleaver placed Leary under "revolutionary arrest(kidnapped) as a counter-revolutionary, although Leary was later released alive. Cleaver later left Algeria and spent time in Cuba and France.
Returned to America
In the early 1980s, Cleaver became disillusioned with what he saw as the commercial nature of mainstream evangelical Christianity and flirted with alternatives, including Sun Myung Moon's campus ministry organization CARP, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as "Mormonism". Cleaver was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and remained a member until his death in 1998.Around 1980, Cleaver applied for a job as a technical writer at Apple Computer. His résumé listed a single publication: Soul on Ice, which was notable for unconventional views on politics and race relations, as well as unconventional grammar and word usage. Around 1980, he also became a fixture at Palo Alto's Peninsula Bible Church, which was the spiritual home of Chuck Colson and many right-wing causes. He also designed and marketed a line of men's clothing, including pants with a codpiece which he called a Cleaver Sleeve, which was not a commercial success. By the 1980s, Cleaver had become a conservative Republican. He appeared at various Republican events and spoke at a California Republican State Central Committee meeting regarding his political transformation. He endorsed Ronald Reagan for President in 1980 and in 1984 embarked on an unsuccessful campaign to win one of California's seats in the United States Senate, failing to win the Republican Party's nomination. Later in the 1980s, Cleaver became addicted to crack cocaine. In 1992, he was convicted of cocaine possession and burglary. In 1994, after nearly dying in a cocaine-related assault, he began recovery from his addiction.Sometime after kicking his addiction in 1994 and before his death in California in 1998, Cleaver lived in Miami and hosted a weekly radio talk show on "AM 14, Florida's Talk Leader" WFTL 1400 AM, a Miami/Ft. Lauderdale talk-radio station. The show was popular.He became involved in using healthy nutrition to counteract drug addictions.Cleaver died of prostate cancer in Pomona, California, in 1998, at age 62. He is interred in Mountain View Cemetery, Altadena, California. He is survived by his daughter, Joju Younghi Cleaver, and son, Ahmad Maceo Eldridge Cleaver.