KEN KESEY Biography - Writers


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Ken Kesey, 1935-2001                                                                   
Ken Kesey passed away on November 10, 2001 at the age of 66, of complications         
following surgery for a tumor on his liver.                                           
The following biographical sketch was written by Jason Reott several months           
before Kesey's death; it appears on our Beat biography page.                           
Perhaps Ken Kesey is best known for his work One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a       
novel symbolizing the corruption of freedoms in America, but a generation or           
more has been influenced more by "Further," the bus on which the Kesey and the         
Merry Pranksters traveled the country in search for expansion.                         
The sixties' flower power and psychedelia are direct descendants of Kesey and         
his group. While the government was trying to "lobotomize" its citizenry, Kesey       
and the Pranksters sought to liberate and expand them through crystallized             
perception and broadened horizons.                                                     
As a graduate student at Stanford, Kesey was a volunteer for a government             
research group designed to determine the effects of LSD and other psychotropic         
drugs, which were legal at the time. Once introduced to the effects of                 
hallucinogens, Kesey designed parties themed around music and visually                 
disorienting stimuli, also known as the Acid Tests. Famous participants in these       
gatherings were Neal Cassady, Hunter S. Thompson, the Hells Angels, and members       
of the Grateful Dead.                                                                 
Touring the country in 1964, the Merry Pranksters made mischief and introduced         
the new, wild lifestyle to the teen culture, and formed what would become a           
movement of peace, love and drug use, on a scale never seen before. As driver of       
the bus, Neal Cassady took the Merry Pranksters to New York, where Kesey met           
Allen Ginsberg (who took immediately to the chaotic bunch) and Timothy Leary (another 
LSD legend, who took no interest in the group).                                       
Kesey filmed much of this period, but it was Tom Wolfe who wrote about it in The       
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a document of his time spent with the Merry               
Pranksters near the end of their ride. Soon, the US Government banned the             
substances and the Merry Pranksters became outlaws. Kesey fled to Mexico to           
avoid prosecution, and was arrested for possession of marijuana when the gang         
returned for another go in 1966.                                                       
In addition to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Kesey's works include Sometimes       
A Great Notion, the publication of which was the reason for the original cross-country 
trip to New York. In retrospect, Kesey is the Golden Gate Bridge connecting the       
Beats in City Lights to the Hippies in Haight-Ashbury.