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Kenneth Elton "Ken" Kesey ( ; September 17, 1935 – November 10, 2001) was an Americanmarker author, best known for his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), and as a counter-cultural figure who considered himself a link between the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s. "I was too young to be a beatnik, and too old to be a hippie," Kesey said in a 1999 interview with Robert K. Elder.

Early life

Ken Kesey was born in La Junta, Coloradomarker to dairy farmers Frederick A. Kesey and Ginevra Smith. In 1946, the family moved to Springfield, Oregonmarker. A champion wrestler in both high school and college, he graduated from Springfield High Schoolmarker in 1953.

In 1956, while attending college at the University of Oregonmarker in neighboring Eugenemarker, Kesey eloped with his high-school sweetheart, Norma "Faye" Haxby, whom he had met in seventh grade. They had three children, Jed, Zane, and Shannon; Kesey had another child, Sunshine, in 1966 with fellow Merry Prankster Carolyn Adams.

Kesey attended the University of Oregonmarker's School of Journalism, where he received a degree in speech and communication in 1957, where he was also a brother of Beta Theta Pi. He was awarded a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship in 1958 to enroll in the creative writing program at Stanford Universitymarker, which he did the following year. While at Stanford, he studied under Wallace Stegner and began the manuscript that would become One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Experimentation with psychoactive drugs

At Stanford in 1959, Kesey volunteered to take part in a CIA-financed study named Project MKULTRA at the Menlo Parkmarker Veterans Hospital. The project studied the effects of psychoactive drugs, particularly LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, cocaine, AMT, and DMT on people. Kesey wrote many detailed accounts of his experiences with these drugs, both during the Project MKULTRA study and in the years of private experimentation that followed. Kesey's role as a medical guinea pig inspired him to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1962. The success of this book, as well as the sale of his residence at Stanford, allowed him to move to La Honda, Californiamarker, in the mountains south of San Franciscomarker. He frequently entertained friends and many others with parties he called "Acid Tests" involving music (such as Kesey's favorite band, The Warlocks, later known as the Grateful Dead), black lights, fluorescent paint, strobes and other "psychedelic" effects, and, of course, LSD. These parties were noted in some of Allen Ginsberg's poems and are also described in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, as well as Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs by Hunter S. Thompson and Freewheelin Frank, Secretary of the Hell's Angels by Frank Reynolds. Ken Kesey was also said to have experimented with LSD with Ringo Starr in 1965 and in fact influenced the set up for his future performances with The Beatles in the UK.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

In 1959, Kesey wrote Zoo, a novel about the beatniks living in the North Beach community of San Franciscomarker, but it was never published. In 1960, he wrote End of Autumn, about a young man who leaves his working class family after he gets a scholarship to an Ivy League school, also unpublished.

The inspiration for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest came while working on the night shift (with Gordon Lish) at the Menlo Parkmarker Veterans' Hospital. There, Kesey often spent time talking to the patients, sometimes under the influence of the hallucinogenic drugs with which he had volunteered to experiment. Kesey did not believe that these patients were insane, rather that society had pushed them out because they did not fit the conventional ideas of how people were supposed to act and behave. Published in 1962, it was an immediate success; in 1963, it was adapted into a successful stage play by Dale Wasserman; in 1975, Miloš Forman directed a screen adaptation, which won the "Big Five" Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), Best Director (Forman) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman).

Kesey was originally involved in creating the film, but left two weeks into production. He claimed never to have seen the movie because of a dispute over the $20,000 he was initially paid for the film rights. Kesey loathed the fact that, unlike the book, the film was not narrated by the Chief Bromden character, and he disagreed with Jack Nicholson being cast as Randle McMurphy (he wanted Gene Hackman). Despite this, Faye Kesey has stated that Ken was generally supportive of the film and pleased that it was made.

Merry Pranksters

When the publication of his second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion in 1964 required his presence in New York, Kesey, Neal Cassady, and others in a group of friends they called the "Merry Pranksters" took a cross-country trip in a school bus nicknamed "Furthur." This trip, described in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (and later in Kesey's own screenplay "The Further Inquiry") was the group's attempt to create art out of everyday life. In New York, Cassady introduced Kesey to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who in turn introduced them to Timothy Leary. Sometimes a Great Notion was made into a 1971 film starring and directed by Paul Newman; it was nominated for two Academy Awards, and in 1972 was the first film shown by the new television network HBO, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvaniamarker.

Legal trouble

Kesey was arrested for possession of marijuana in 1965. In an attempt to mislead police, he faked suicide by having friends leave his truck on a cliffside road near Eurekamarker, along with a suicide note that read, "Ocean, Ocean I'll beat you in the end." Kesey fled to Mexicomarker in the back of a friend's car. When he returned to the United Statesmarker eight months later, Kesey was arrested and sent to the San Mateo County jail in Redwood Citymarker, California, for five months. On his release, he moved back to the family farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregonmarker, in the Willamette Valley, where he spent the rest of his life. He wrote many articles, books (mostly collections of his articles), and short stories during that time.

Twister

In 1994 he toured with members of the Merry Pranksters performing a musical play he wrote about the millennium called Twister: A Ritual Reality. Many old and new friends and family showed up to support the Pranksters on this tour that took them from Seattle's Bumbershoot, all along the West Coast including a sold out two-night run at The Fillmoremarker in San Franciscomarker to Boulder, Coloradomarker, where they coaxed (or pranked) the Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg into performing with them. Kesey, always a friend to musicians since his days of the Acid Test, enlisted the band Jambay, one of the original bands of the jam band genre, to be his "pit orchestra." Jambay played an acoustic set before each Twister performance and an electric set after each show.

Final years

Kesey mainly kept to his home life in Pleasant Hill, preferring to make artistic contributions on the Internet, or holding ritualistic revivals in the spirit of the Acid Test. He occasionally made appearances at rock concerts and festivals, bringing the second bus and various Pranksters with him. In the official Grateful Dead DVD release The Closing of Winterland (2003), which documents the monumental New Year's '78 concert, Kesey is featured in a between-set interview. More notably, he appeared at the Hog Farm Family Pig-Nic Festival (organized by Woodstockmarker MC Wavy Gravy, in Laytonville, Californiamarker), where they mock-canonized a very ill but still quite aware Dr. Timothy Leary atop "Further". He also performed on stage with Jambay at the Pig-Nic, playing a few songs from Twister with members of the original cast.

In 1984, Kesey's son Jed, a wrestler for the University of Oregon, was killed on the way to a wrestling tournament when the team's bald-tired van crashed. This deeply affected Kesey, who later said Jed was a victim of conservative, anti-government policy that starved the team of proper funding. There is a memorial dedicated to Jed on the top of Mount Pisgah, which is near the Keseys' home in Pleasant Hill. In a Grateful Dead Halloween concert just days after Bill Graham died in a helicopter crash, Kesey appeared on stage in a tuxedo to deliver a eulogy, mentioning that Graham had paid for Jed's mountain-top memorial.

In June 2001, Kesey was invited and accepted as the keynote speaker at the annual commencement of The Evergreen State Collegemarker.

His last major work was an essay for Rolling Stone magazine calling for peace in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In 1997, health problems began to take their toll on Kesey, starting with a stroke that year. After developing diabetes, he then needed surgery on his liver to remove a tumor on October 25, 2001. Ken Kesey never recovered from the operation and died on November 10, 2001, at the age of 66.

Works

Some of Kesey's better-known works include:



Portrayals of Ken Kesey



Footnotes

References

  • Charters, Ann (ed.). The Portable Beat Reader. Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk)


External links




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