An automatic pill dispenser for dispensing medical pills having different prescribed administration schedules includes a plurality of pill storage compartments each capable of holding more than one pill, an automatic release mechanism for dispensing pills at predetermined time intervals corresponding with their respective administration schedules, and a pill receptacle coupled to a pill detector such that a pill dispensed from the pill dispenser and received by the receptacle causes the pill dispenser to generate a signal to alert the patient to take the dispensed medicine. Twelve storage compartments, arranged in a ring about a vertically rotating wheel, are preloaded by a patient with all pills prescribed to be taken during a 24-hour period. The patient loads pills into individual storage compartments according to a loading code corresponding to the respective administration schedules of the pills. The pill dispenser then automatically sequentially rotates the storage compartments over a trapdoor which operates to empty each compartment positioned thereover. A photoelectric detector, having a light beam traveling vertically through a cup into which pills are dispensed, detects pills therein and responds by alerting the patient with an audible or visual signal. The light source also serves as a night light. A preloadable pill storage canister is also disclosed which may be preloaded by a pharmacist and simply inserted into the pill dispenser by the patient for automatic pill dispensing. A method of dispensing medical pills having different prescribed administration schedules is also described.