---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2001 15:07:44 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Farewell to a Merry Prankster
Farewell to a Merry Prankster
Novelist Ken Kesey, a '60s Icon, Dies at 66
Nov. 10, 2001 -- Ken Kesey emerged from a generation of rebels to become
one of the leaders of the pack. His critically praised novels ridiculed the
stifling nature of authority, and helped make him a celebrated symbol of
The novel One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, which he based on his own work
experience at a VA hospital, announced Kesey's arrival as a writer in 1962.
When he wrote it, he had barely finished graduate work at Stanford
University, where he was encouraged by the novelist Wallace Stegner.
Kesey next produced a long and equally well-received novel, Sometimes a
Great Notion, that told the saga of a self-reliant family of Oregon loggers.
Then Kesey set novels aside to climb aboard a 25-year-old school bus and
lead a group calling themselves the Merry Pranksters on a memorable
Kesey had volunteered to test the effects of LSD during his time at the VA
hospital, and the Pranksters' adventures, on the bus called Furthur, were
amplified by similar experimentation.
Writer Tom Wolfe offered a chronicle of the trip in his book The Electric
Kool-Aid Acid Test. One of the many along for the ride was Neal Cassady,
Jack Kerouac's boon companion for his own exploits On the Road. A band
called the Warlocks, ater transformed into The Grateful Dead, was also a
steady presence. The trip and Wolfe's account contributed greatly to
Kesey's fame, but may have dampened his career as a novelist.
"Famous isn't good for a writer," Kesey later said. "You don't observe well
when you're being observed."
So, after publishing two acclaimed novels in the space of two years in the
early 1960s, Kesey didn't turn out a third novel for nearly three decades.
In 1975, Cuckoo's Nest became an Oscar-winning film, starring Jack
Nicholson as R.P. McMurphy, an irrepressible figure who feigns mental
illness until hospital authorities force him to undergo a lobotomy. Kesey
hated the film, and sued unsuccessfully to stop it, because he felt it
diminished the role of McMurphy's fellow inmate, the stoic Native American
Kesey turned to farming later in life, but he never stopped writing,
telling NPR in 1986:
"I've got other novels in me."
And he did. Sailor Song, published in 1992, was based on his experiences in
Alaska. Two years earlier, he had returned to his alma mater, the
University of Oregon, to teach a course in novel writing.
In addition to numerous short stories and essays, he also wrote a
children's book, Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear,
that pleased him greatly. It was based on a tale of the Ozarks told to him
by his grandmother, and in 1991 it made the Library of Congress list of
recommended books for children.
He never apologized for his use of drugs.
"I think acid is a blessed drug," he said in 1986, adding: "There have been
more people killed in planes searching for marijuana [than] smoking it."
Kesey was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992 and had recently undergone
surgery to remove a tumor from
his liver. His death Saturday was attributed to complications of both
diseases. He was 66.
View two sites dedicated to the exploits of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters:
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