Ken Kesey

Ken Kesey

Infobox Writer
name = Ken Kesey

birthdate = birth date|1935|9|17
birthplace = La Junta, Colorado
deathdate = death date and age|2001|11|10|1935|9|17
deathplace = Pleasant Hill, Oregon
occupation = Novelist, short story writer, essayist
nationality = United States
genre = Beat, Postmodernism
movement =
notableworks = "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
influences = Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner, Friedrich Nietzsche, William Shakespeare, William S. Burroughs, Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain
influenced = Jerry Garcia, Lester Bangs, Hunter S. Thompson, Chuck Palahniuk, Paul McCartney
website =

Kenneth Elton Kesey (September 17, 1935 – November 10, 2001) was an American author, best known for his major novels, [ [ OBITUARY: Ken Kesey | Independent, The (London) | Find Articles at ] ] "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Sometimes a Great Notion", and as a counter-cultural figure who, some consider, was 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, Colorado to Frederick A. Kesey and Geneva Smith Kesey who were both dairy farmers.Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. " [ Ken Kesey, Author of 'Cuckoo's Nest,' Who Defined the Psychedelic Era, Dies at 66] ". "The New York Times" (November 11, 2001). Retrieved on February 21, 2008.] In 1946, the family moved to Springfield, Oregon. A champion wrestler in both high school and college, he graduated from Springfield High School in 1953.

Kesey eloped with his high-school sweetheart, Norma "Faye" Haxby, who he met while in seventh grade, in 1956 while attending college at the University of Oregon in neighboring Eugene. They had three children, Jed, Zane, and Shannon. Kesey had another child, Sunshine, in 1966 with fellow Merry Prankster Carolyn Adams.cite web |url= |title=Kesey's friends gather in tribute |first=Cynthia |last=Robins |date=2001-12-07 ]

Kesey attended the University of Oregon'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 University, 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 Park Veterans Hospital. The project studied the effects of psychoactive drugs, particularly LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, cocaine, AMT, and DMT on people.cite news|title=All times a great artist, Ken Kesey is dead at age 66|last=Baker|first=Jeff|date=November 11, 2001|work=The Oregonian|pages=A1|accessdate=2008-09-19] 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. His role as a medical guinea pig inspired Kesey 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, California, in the mountains south of San Francisco. 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 "" 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 their future performances in the UK.

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"

In 1959, Kesey wrote a novel called "Zoo", which was about the beatniks living in the North Beach community of San Francisco. The novel was never published. He wrote another novel in 1960 called "End of Autumn" which was about the life of a college football and wrestling star. This novel is also unpublished. However, Kesey started writing another novel, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The inspiration for Kesey's second novel came from his work at the Menlo Park Veterans' Hospital on the night shift with Gordon Lish. 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 believed that these patients were not insane, but that society had pushed them out because they did not fit the conventional ideas of how people were supposed to act and behave. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was an immediate success. It was later adapted into a successful stage play by Dale Wasserman; Miloš Forman directed a screen adaptation in 1975. The film starred Jack Nicholson and won the "Big Five" Academy Awards: Academy Award for Best Picture, Academy Award for Best Actor (Nicholson), Academy Award for Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), Academy Award for Best Director (Forman) and the Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman). Kesey, who was originally involved in creating the film, left two weeks into production. He claimed to have never seen the movie because of a dispute over the $20,000 he was initially paid for the film rights. Kesey loathed the fact that the film was not narrated, as the book was, by the character Chief Bromden, and disagreed with the casting of Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy (he wanted Gene Hackman). Despite this, Faye Kesey has stated that he 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." [ [ NMAH | Signboard, Pass the Acid Test ] ] 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 to Allen Ginsberg, who in turn introduced them to Timothy Leary. "Sometimes a Great Notion" was made into a 1971 film starring Paul Newman, which was nominated for two Academy Awards, and in 1972 was the first film shown by the new television network HBO, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.-

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 Eureka, along with a suicide note that read, "Ocean, Ocean I'll beat you in the end." Kesey fled to Mexico in the back of a friend's car. When he returned to the United States eight months later, Kesey was arrested and sent to the San Mateo County jail in Redwood City, California, for five months. On his release, he moved back to the family farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, 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.


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 Fillmore in San Francisco to Boulder, Colorado, 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 "Furthur2" 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 Woodstock MC Wavy Gravy, in Laytonville, California), where they mock-canonized a very ill but still quite aware Dr. Timothy Leary atop "Further2". 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.Fact|date=April 2007 This deeply affected Kesey, who later said Jed was a victim of conservative, anti-government policy that starved the team of proper funding.Fact|date=April 2007 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 College.

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.


Some of Kesey's better-known works include:Cite web|last=Martin|first=Blank|url= |title=Selected Bibliography for Ken Kesey|work=Literary Kicks|date=unspecified|accessdate=2007-10-26]

* "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1962, novel)
* "" (1963, magazine article)
* "Sometimes a Great Notion" (1964, novel)
* "Kesey's Garage Sale" (1973, collection of essays and short stories)
* "Demon Box" (1986, collection of short stories)
* "Caverns" (1989, novel)
* "The Further Inquiry" (1990, screenplay)
* "Sailor Song" (1992, novel)
* "Last Go Round" (1994, novel, written with Ken Babbs)
* "Twister" (1994, play)
* "Kesey's Jail Journal" (2003, collection of essays)

Movies made about Ken Kesey

*"Neal Cassady", starring Tate Donovan as Cassady, and Chris Bauer as Kesey.


*Charters, Ann (ed.). "The Portable Beat Reader". Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk)
* rs|date=October 2007
*Cite news| url= | last=Comer|first=Chris|coauthors=and Ervin, Rob|title=Ken Kesey interview|date=August 3, 1999|accessdate=2007-10-26|work= [ The Chris and Rob Radio Talk Show] |publisher=WAIF Radio|location=Cincinnati, Ohio

External links

* [ Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters]
* [ Ken Kesey Multimedia Directory - Kerouac Alley]
* [ Ken Kesey - The Beat Museum]
* [ Ken Kesey - The Beat Page]

NAME=Kesey, Ken Elton
DATE OF BIRTH=birth date|1935|9|17|mf=y
PLACE OF BIRTH=La Junta, Colorado, United States
DATE OF DEATH=death date|2001|11|10|mf=y
PLACE OF DEATH=Pleasant Hill, Oregon

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