[sixties-l] Novelist Ken Kesey is dead at 66 (fwd)

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Date: Fri Nov 23 2001 - 01:55:39 EST

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    Date: Wed, 21 Nov 2001 23:51:18 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Novelist Ken Kesey is dead at 66

    Novelist Ken Kesey is dead at 66


    Author of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' was pioneer of counterculture

    GRANTS PASS, Ore., Nov. 10 Ken Kesey, the psychedelic pioneer who wrote
    the 1960s novels "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Sometimes a Great
    Notion," and who became famous as a counterculture figure leading his
    LSD-fueled Merry Pranksters on a cross-country bus ride, died Saturday from
    complications following liver cancer surgery.
    Kesey died at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Ore., two weeks after
    surgery to remove 40 percent of his liver. Kesey, who was 66, "passed away
    peacefully in his sleep" with his family at his side, according to a
    nursing supervisor. His liver cancer had been complicated by diabetes and a
    minor stroke he suffered four years ago.
    "He's gone too soon and he will leave a big gap. Always the leader, now he
    leads the way again," said Ken Babbs, a longtime friend.
    After studying writing at Stanford University, Kesey burst onto the
    literary scene in 1962 with "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," followed
    quickly with "Sometimes a Great Notion" in 1964, then went 28 years before
    publishing his third major novel.
    In 1964, he rode across the country in an old school bus named Furthur
    driven by Neal Cassady, hero of Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation classic, "On
    The Road."
    The bus was filled with pals who called themselves the Merry Pranksters and
    sought enlightenment through the psychedelic drug LSD.
    The odyssey was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's 1968 account, "The Electric
    Kool-Aid Acid Test."
    "Anyone trying to get a handle on our times had better read Kesey," Charles
    Bowden wrote when the Los Angeles Times honored Kesey's lifetime of work
    with the Robert Kirsh Award in 1991. "And unless we get lucky and things
    change, they're going to have to read him a century from now too."
                               HATED FILM OF 'CUCKOO'S NEST'
    "Sometimes a Great Notion," widely considered Kesey's greatest book, told
    the saga of the Stamper clan, rugged independent loggers carving a living
    out of the Oregon woods under the motto, "Never Give a Inch." It was made
    into a movie starring Henry Fonda and Paul Newman.
    But "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" became much more widely known, thanks
    to a movie that Kesey hated. It tells the story of Randle P. McMurphy, who
    feigned insanity to get off a prison farm, only to be lobotomized when he
    threatened the authority of the mental hospital.
    The 1974 Milos Forman movie swept the Academy Awards for best picture, best
    director (Forman), best actor (Jack Nicholson) and best actress (Louise
    Fletcher), but Kesey sued the producers because it took the viewpoint away
    from the character of the schizophrenic Indian, Chief Bromden.
    Kesey based the story on experiences working at the Veterans Administration
    hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., while attending Wallace Stegner's writing
    seminar at Stanford.
    While Kesey continued to write a variety of short autobiographical fiction,
    magazine articles and children's books, he didn't produce another major
    novel until "Sailor Song" in 1992, his long-awaited Alaska book, which he
    described as a story of "love at the end of the world."
    "This is a real old-fashioned form," he said of the novel. "But it is sort
    of the Vatican of the art. Every once in a while you've got to go get a
    blessing from the pope."
                               PSYCHEDLIC PRANKSTER
    Kesey considered pranks part of his art, and in 1990 he took a poke at the
    Smithsonian Institution by announcing he would drive his old psychedelic
    bus to Washington, D.C., to give it to the nation. The museum recognized
    the bus as a new one, with no particular history, and rejected the gift.
    In a 1990 interview with The Associated Press, Kesey said it had become
    harder to write since he became famous.
    "When I was working on 'Sometimes a Great Notion,' one of the reasons I
    could do it was because I was unknown," he said. "I could get all those
    balls in the air and keep them up there and nothing would come along and
    distract me. Now there's a lot of stuff happens that happens because I'm
    famous. And famous isn't good for a writer. You don't observe well when
    you're being observed."
    A graduate of the University of Oregon, Kesey returned to his alma mater in
    1990 to teach novel writing. With each student assigned a character and
    writing under the gun, the class produced "Caverns," under the pen name OU
    Levon, or UO Novel spelled backward.
    "The life of it comes from making people believe that these people are
    drawing breath and standing up, casting shadows, and living lives and
    feeling agonies," Kesey said then. "And that's a trick. It's a glorious
    trick. And it's a trick that you can be taught. It's not something, just a
    thing that comes from the muses."
                               FOND OF PERFORMING
    Among his proudest achievements was seeing "Little Tricker the Squirrel
    Meets Big Double the Bear," which he wrote from an Ozark mountain tale told
    by his grandmother, included on the 1991 Library of Congress list of
    suggested children's books.
    "I'm up there with Dr. Seuss," he crowed.
    Fond of performing, Kesey sometimes recited the story in top hat and tails
    accompanied by an orchestra, throwing a shawl over his head while assuming
    the character of his grandmother reciting the nursery rhyme, "One Flew Over
    the Cuckoo's Nest."
    Other works include "Kesey's Garage Sale" and "Demon Box," collections of
    essays and short stories, and "Further Inquiry," another look at the 1964
    bus trip in which the soul of Cassady is put on trial. "The Sea Lion,"
    another children's book, told the story of a crippled boy who saves his
    Northwest Indian tribe from an evil spirit by invoking the gift-giving
    ceremony of potlatch. Kesey, also given credit for turning the legendary
    rock band the Grateful Dead on to LSD, continued to write until going in
    for surgery two weeks ago, said a friend, Philip Dietz, who calls himself
    "the last Prankster."
    "We'd get together on the weekends and play the Thunder Machine," said
    Dietz, who lives near Kesey and his family farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon.
    The Thunder Machine, an amalgam of an old Thunderbird fender, piano
    strings, a smoke machine and other mixing gear, was a touchstone for
    Prankster jam sessions and has been featured in Grateful Dead concerts.
    Kesey was also working on turning film footage of the Furthur odyssey into
    a trio of movies, and he was fascinated by the promise that the Internet
    could be used as a kind of "pirate" medium to broadcast performance art and
    bypass publishing houses.
                               EARLY YEARS
    Born in La Junta, Colo., on Sept. 17, 1935, Kesey moved in 1943 from the
    dry prairie to his grandparents' dairy farm in Oregon's lush Willamette
    Valley. He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of
    Oregon, where he also was a wrestler.
    Kesey encountered drugs in 1959 when, as a struggling writer studying at
    Stanford University, he signed up for experiments at the Menlo Park
    Veterans Administration Hospital to test the effects of LSD and other
    After serving four months in jail for a marijuana bust in California, he
    set down roots in Pleasant Hill in 1965 with his high school sweetheart,
    Faye, and reared four children. Their rambling red barn house with the big
    Pennsylvania Dutch star on the side became a landmark of the psychedelic
    era, attracting visits from myriad strangers in tie-dyed clothing seeking
    The bus Furthur rusted away in a boggy pasture while Kesey raised beef cattle.
                               PRANKSTERS STICKING TOGETHER
    Kesey died just a week after fellow Prankster Sandy Lehmann-Haupt, who
    passed away of a heart attack at age 59.
    In a recent interview, Kesey had said the Pranksters "still stick pretty
    close together."
    "When you don't know where you're going, you have to stick together just in
    case someone gets there," he said.
    Kesey was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992.
    His son Jed, killed in a 1984 van accident on a road trip with the
    University of Oregon wrestling team, was buried in the back yard at
    Pleasant Hill.
    Kesey is survived by his wife, Faye; his son, Zane; his daughters, Shannon
    and Sunshine, and three grandchildren.
                               'SAYING GOODBYE'
    Zane Kesey said the author spent a last afternoon on Monday at his farm in
    Pleasant Hill.
    "He was doing really well and he came home," he said. "It was a beautiful
    day and he just walked around, then he lay down on his back on the porch
    and looked up at the sky for a while. It was like he was saying goodbye."
    "He had a full life, that's for sure. He didn't just sit around," said Zane
    Kesey, who is 40.
    Ken Kesey died with a major project in the works, a film taken during the
    Pranksters bus trip. Two parts have been finished and were being sold
    through Kesey's Web site, www.key-z.com.
    His son also said Kesey had several unpublished works, including the
    completion to his partially published "Seven Prayers of Grandma Whittier"
    and a book he wrote while he was in jail for four months for a marijuana
    bust in the mid-60s.
    His son said "he was always writing. He was the total archivist."
    When asked in a recent interview if he had any regrets about his colorful
    past, Kesey replied: "Anybody who says they have no regrets is either a
    dimwit or a liar probably both."

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