Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady
Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady, left, with Jack Kerouac in 1952. Photograph by Carolyn Cassady.
Born February 8, 1926(1926-02-08)
Salt Lake City, Utah
Died February 4, 1968(1968-02-04) (aged 41)
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
Occupation Author, poet
Nationality American
Genres Beat poet
Literary movement Beat
Notable work(s) The First Third

Neal Leon Cassady (February 8, 1926 – February 4, 1968) was a major figure of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the psychedelic movement of the 1960s. He served as the model for the character Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road.


Early years

Cassady was born to Maude Jean Scheuer and Neal Marshall Cassady in Salt Lake City, Utah.[1] After his mother died when he was ten, he was raised by his alcoholic father in Denver, Colorado. Cassady spent much of his youth living on the streets of skid row with his father, or spending time in reform school.

As a youth, Cassady was repeatedly involved in petty crime. He was arrested for car theft when he was 14, for shoplifting and car theft when he was 15, and for car theft and fencing when he was 16.

In 1941, the 15-year old Cassady met Justin W. Brierly, a prominent Denver educator.[2] Brierly was well known as a mentor of promising young men, and, impressed by Cassady's intelligence, Brierly took an active role in Cassady's life over the next few years. He helped admit Cassady to East High School where he taught, encouraged and supervised his reading, and found employment for him. Cassady continued his criminal activities, however, and was repeatedly arrested from 1942 to 1944; on at least one of these occasions, he was released by law enforcement into Brierly's safekeeping. In June 1944, Cassady was arrested for receipt of stolen property, and served eleven months of a one-year prison sentence. He and Brierly actively exchanged letters during this period even through Cassady's intermittent incarcerations; these represent Cassady's earliest surviving letters.[3] Brierly, apparently a closeted homosexual, is also believed to have been responsible for Cassady's first homosexual experience.[4]


In October 1945, after being released from prison, he married the fifteen-year-old LuAnne Henderson. In 1947, Cassady and his wife moved to New York City, where they met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg at Columbia University through Hal Chase, another protégé of Justin W. Brierly's. Although Cassady did not attend Columbia, he soon became friends with them and their acquaintances, some of whom later became members of the Beat Generation. He had a sexual relationship with Ginsberg that lasted off and on for the next twenty years,[5] and he traveled cross-country with both Kerouac and Ginsberg on multiple occasions.

As a character

Cassady was the model for the character Dean Moriarty in Kerouac's On the Road, and Cody Pomeray in many of Kerouac's other novels. In the surviving first draft of On the Road, which Kerouac typed on a 120-foot roll of paper specially constructed for that purpose,[6] the story's protagonist's name remains "Neal Cassady." However, in Kerouac's final edition of On The Road, Cassady's character is known as "Dean Moriarty." One of the interviewees in the film Magic Trip states that Cassady was also the inspiration for the main character of Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Ginsberg mentioned Cassady in the notorious and critically acclaimed poem "Howl" (1955) as "N.C., secret hero of these poems..." Ginsberg is credited with helping Kerouac break with his Thomas Wolfe-influenced sentimental style, as seen in The Town and the City, and Kerouac's discovery of a unique style of his own he called "spontaneous prose", a stream of consciousness prose form, first used in On the Road.[citation needed]

Second marriage and bigamy

After Cassady's marriage to LuAnne Henderson was annulled, Cassady married Carolyn Robinson on April 1, 1948. The couple eventually had three children and settled down in a ranch house in Monte Sereno, California, 50 miles south of San Francisco, where Kerouac and Ginsberg sometimes visited.[7] Cassady committed bigamy by marrying a woman named Diane Hansen, with whom he fathered one son, Curtis Hansen, in 1950. During this period, Cassady worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad and kept in touch with his "Beat" acquaintances even as they became increasingly different philosophically.

Cannabis and psychedelics

Following an arrest during 1958 for offering to share a small amount of marijuana with an undercover agent at a San Francisco nightclub, Cassady served a sentence at San Quentin State Prison. After his release in June 1960, he struggled to meet family obligations, and Carolyn divorced him when his parole period expired in 1963. Cassady shared an apartment with Allen Ginsberg and Charles Plymell in 1963 at 1403 Gough Street, San Francisco.

Cassady first met author Ken Kesey during the summer of 1962, eventually becoming one of the Merry Pranksters, a group who formed around Kesey in 1964 and were proponents of the use of psychedelic drugs. During 1964, he served as the main driver of the bus Furthur, which was immortalized by Tom Wolfe's book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Cassady appears at length in a documentary film about the Merry Pranksters, Magic Trip, directed by Alex Gibney, released on 5 August 2011.

Hunter S. Thompson

In Hunter S. Thompson's book Hell's Angels, Cassady is described as "the worldly inspiration for the protagonist of two recent novels," drunkenly yelling at police at the famed Hells Angels parties at Ken Kesey's residence in La Honda, California, an event also chronicled in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Although his name was removed at the insistence of Thompson's publisher, the description is clearly a reference to the character based on Cassady in Jack Kerouac's works, On the Road and Visions of Cody. His name appears explicitly in the 50th anniversary edition of the original scroll of On the Road (On the Road: The Original Scroll, Viking 2007). Cassady also appears in Ken Kesey's book Demon Box as "Superman" in the chapter "The Day After Superman Died" and briefly in 'Howl' by Allen Ginsberg under the initials 'NC' as 'the secret hero of these poems'.

Travels and death

In January 1967, Cassady traveled to Mexico with fellow prankster George "Barely Visible" Walker and longtime girlfriend Anne Murphy.[citation needed] In a beachside house just south of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, they were joined by Barbara Wilson and Walter Cox. All-night storytelling, speed drives in Walker's Lotus Elan and the use of LSD made for a classic Cassady performance – "like a trained bear," Carolyn Cassady once said.[citation needed] Cassady was beloved for his ability to inspire others to love life. Yet at rare times he was known to express regret over his wild life, especially as it affected his family.[citation needed] At one point Cassady took Cox, then 19, aside and told him, "Twenty years of fast living – there's just not much left, and my kids are all screwed up. Don't do what I have done."[citation needed]

During the next year, Cassady's life became less stable and the pace of his travels became more frenetic. He left Mexico in May, traveling to San Francisco, California; Denver, Colorado; New York City, New York and points in between: then returned to Mexico in September and October (stopping in San Antonio, Texas on the way to visit his oldest daughter who had just given birth to his first grandchild); visited Ken Kesey's Oregon farm in December; and spent the New Year with Carolyn at a friend's house near San Francisco. Finally, in late January 1968, Cassady returned to Mexico once again.

On February 3, 1968, Cassady attended a wedding party in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. After the party he went walking along a railroad track to reach the next town, but passed out in the cold and rainy night wearing nothing but a T-shirt and jeans. In the morning, he was found in a coma by the track, reportedly by Dr. Anton Black, later a professor at El Paso Community College, who carried Cassady over his shoulders to the local post office building. Cassady was then transported to the closest hospital, where he died a few hours later on February 4, four days short of his forty-second birthday.

The exact cause of Cassady's death remains uncertain. Those who attended the wedding party confirm that he took an unknown quantity of Secobarbital, a powerful barbiturate sold under the brand name of Seconal, that can easily lead to overdose. Cassady was not a heavy drinker, though he may have participated in a toast to the bride and groom. The physician who performed the autopsy wrote simply "general congestion in all systems". When interviewed later, the physician stated that he was unable to give an accurate report, because Cassady was a foreigner and there were drugs involved. 'Exposure' is commonly cited as his cause of death, although his widow disputes this and believes he may have died of renal failure.[8]

Legacy and influence

In literature

Ken Kesey wrote a fictional account of Cassady's death in a short story named "The Day After Superman Died", where Cassady is quoted mumbling the number of railroad ties he had counted on the line (sixty-four thousand nine-hundred and twenty-eight) as his last words before dying. It was published as a part of Kesey's 1986 collection Demon Box.

Cassady's autobiographical novel The First Third was published posthumously in 1971, three years after his death. His complete surviving letters are published in Grace Beats Karma: Letters from Prison (Blast, 1993) and Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967 (Penguin, 2007).

In music

Cassady lived briefly with The Grateful Dead and is immortalized in the "Cryptical Envelopment" section of their song "That's It For The Other One" as the bus driver "Cowboy Neal."[9][10] A second Grateful Dead song, "Cassidy," by John Perry Barlow,[11] might seem to be a misspelling of Cassady's name; in fact the song primarily celebrates the 1970 birth of baby girl Cassidy Law into the Grateful Dead family, though the lyrics also include references to Neal Cassady himself.

A New York City-based folk duo, Aztec Two Step, in their 1972 debut album memorialized Cassady in the song "The Persecution & Restoration of Dean Moriarty (On The Road)".

The Beat-inspired folk revival band the Washington Squares released a song named "Neal Cassady" on their 1989 album Fair and Square.

The Doobie Brothers guitarist and songwriter Patrick Simmons refers to Cassady in his song "Neal's Fandango" as his incentive for taking to the road.

North Jersey-based progressive rock band Children of Dust pay tribute to Cassady in their song "Neal Cassady."

The progressive rock band King Crimson released a song named "Neal and Jack and Me" on their 1982 album Beat.

Tom Waits composed and recorded a song named "Jack & Neal" (included in his 1977 Foreign Affairs album) about a trip to California, with Neal Cassady driving in the company of Jack Kerouac.

The Franco-American band Moriarty is named after the fictional character Dean Moriarty that Kerouac created from Neal Cassady.

Fatboy Slim produced a track, "Neal Cassady Starts Here", that appeared as a B-side to the singles Santa Cruz and Everybody Needs A 303.

Singer-songwriter Eric Taylor's 1995 song "Dean Moriarty" describes a character patterned after Neal Cassady.

Jazz guitarist John Scofield wrote a song called "Cassidae"[sic], released on his 1979 album "Who's who ?".

In film

  • Neal Cassady and his friendship with Jack Kerouac were portrayed in John Byrum's film, Heart Beat, starring Nick Nolte as Cassady and John Heard as Kerouac. The film was based on Carolyn Cassady's memoir of the same name. Released in 1980 immediately after Warner Bros. acquired Orion Pictures, the film was given a limited release due to studio politics and a perceived lack of public interest, and the film quickly fell from view. Talk show host Steve Allen, who was a big supporter of On The Road appears briefly as himself.
  • The film Who'll Stop The Rain (1978) is a psychological drama released by United Artists. The film is based on Robert Stone's novel Dog Soldiers. This film also starred Nick Nolte. Stone based the character of Ray Hicks (Nolte) on Beat writer Cassady, with whom Stone became acquainted through novelist Kesey, a classmate of Stone's in graduate school at Stanford University. Hicks' death scene on the railroad tracks at the film's conclusion was directly based on Cassady's death along a railroad track outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in 1968.
  • The film The Last Time I Committed Suicide (1997), with Thomas Jane as Cassady, is based on the "Joan Anderson letter" written by Cassady to Jack Kerouac in December 1950. Although much of this letter had been lost, a surviving remnant was originally published in a 1964 edition of John Bryan's magazine Notes from Underground.
  • A 2007 short film, Luz Del Mundo, deals with Cassady's friendship and adventures with Jack Kerouac. Cassady is played by Austin Nichols and Kerouac is played by Will Estes.[12]
  • The biopic Neal Cassady, was also released in 2007.[13] This film focuses more on the Prankster years and stars Tate Donovan as Neal, Amy Ryan as Carolyn Cassady, Chris Bauer as Kesey, and Glenn Fitzgerald as Kerouac. Noah Buschel wrote and directed the film. The film deals primarily with how Neal became trapped by his fictional alter-ego, Dean Moriarty. The Cassady family criticized this film as highly inaccurate.[14]
  • Cassady is portrayed by Jon Prescott in the film, Howl,[15] which chronicles the creation of the poem "Howl"[16] by Allen Ginsberg and the obscenity trial surrounding its publication.
  • In the film Across the Universe (2007), the character Dr. Robert, played by Bono, is said to have been inspired by Neal Cassady [17]
  • In the documentary film Love Always, Carolyn - A film about Kerouac, Cassady and Me (2011), featured in archive footage. Also features interviews with his wife Carolyn and children.[18]
  • Cassady appears in Alex Gibney's Magic Trip (2011) a documentary film using the footage shot by Kesey and the Merry Pranksters during their cross-country bus trip in the "Furthur" bus. The hyperkinetic Cassady is frequently seen driving the bus, jabbering, and sitting next to a sign that boasts, "Neal gets things done".

Published works

  • "Pull My Daisy" (1951, poetry) written with Jack Kerouac
  • "Genesis West: Volume Seven" (1965, magazine article)
  • The First Third (1971, autobiographical novel)
  • Grace Beats Karma (1993, collection of poetry and letters)
  • Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967 (2004, letters)

Published biographies

Literary studies

  • Friendly and Flowing Savage: The Literary Legend of Neal Cassady, by Gregory Stephenson (1987). Incorporated in The Daybreak Boys: Essays on the Literature of the Beat Generation by Gregory Stephenson (1990)

Appearances in literature

Appearances in film



  1. ^ Sandison, David; Vickers, Graham (2006-11-19). "‘Neal Cassady'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  2. ^ Cassady & Moore 2004, p. 1.
  3. ^ Cassady & Moore 2004, p. 1; Sandison & Vickers 2006, pp. 42–46.
  4. ^ Turner 1996, p. 79 ("Brierly had been sexually attracted to Neal, and managed to entice him into his first homosexual experience."); Sandison & Vickers 2006, pp. 41–42 ("Brierly was most likely also a closet homosexual, and it was probably through him that Neal Cassady would first discover and explore gay sex and serve as a hustler in Denver's gay community."). According to some reports, however, Brierly's sexual orientation was an open secret. See Weir, John (June 22, 2005), "Everybody knows, nobody cares, or: Neal Cassady's Penis", TriQuarterly, .
  5. ^ Allen Young, "Allen Ginsberg: the Gay Sunshine Interview," page 1 (Bolinas, California: Grey Fox Press, 1973)
  6. ^ Paul Maher Jr. Kerouac: The Definitive Biography (Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004) p. 233 ISBN 0878333053
  7. ^ Cassady, Carolyn (1990). Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg. London: Black Spring Press. ISBN 0948238054. 
  8. ^ Neal Cassidy website (retrieved 26 January 2009)
  9. ^, retrieved 4 August 2007
  10. ^, retrieved 23 August 2007
  11. ^ Cassidy's Tale
  12. ^ IMDB title
  13. ^ IMDB entry
  14. ^, retrieved 28 August 2007
  15. ^ Brooks, Barnes (December 2, 2009). "Sundance Tries to Hone Its Artsy Edge". 
  16. ^ "Alessandro Nivola is hotter than Audrey Tautou". Retrieved 2009-09-22. 
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ "'Love Always, Carolyn". Documentary film. IMDB. Retrieved 9 September 2011. 
  19. ^ Bignell, Paul; Johnson, Andrew (2007-07-29). "On the Road (uncensored). Discovered: Kerouac 'cuts'". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2010-05-20. 


  • Cassady, Neal; Moore, Dave (2004), Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967, Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0142002179 
  • Sandison, David; Vickers, Graham (2006), Neal Cassady: The Fast Life of a Beat Hero, Chicago Review Press, ISBN 978-1-55652-615-6 .
  • Turner, Steve (1996), Angelheaded Hipster: A Life of Jack Kerouac, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, ISBN 0-7475-2480-7 

External links

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  • Neal Cassady — (* 8. Februar 1926 in Salt Lake City; † 4. Februar 1968 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexiko) gehörte zur literarischen Gruppe der Beat Generation, weniger als Autor denn als Quelle der Inspiration. Leben Geboren in Salt Lake City und teils von… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Neal Cassady — (nacido el 8 de febrero de 1926 4 de febrero de 1968) fue un icono de la Generación Beat de la década del 50 y del movimiento psicodélico de la década del 1960, conocido principalmente por ser retratado, bajo el nombre de Dean Moriarty, en la… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Neal Cassady — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Cassady. Neal Cassady (Salt Lake City, 8 février 1926 San Miguel de Allende au Mexique, 4 février 1968) est une personnalité américaine, célèbre pour avoir inspiré le personnage de Dean… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Neal Cassady — n. (1926 1968) American poet, member of the Beat Generation …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Cassady — ist der Name folgender Personen: Carolyn Cassady (* 1923), Schriftstellerin, Malerin und Muse der Beat Generation Neal Cassady (1926–1968), gehörte mit zu der Gruppe der Beats Siehe auch: Casady …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Cassady, Neal — (1926–1968)    One might be tempted to say that if Neal Cassady had not existed, jack kerouac would have had to invent him. But for many students of the Beat Generation, Kerouac did invent Cassady. It is the rare Beat aficionado who knows much… …   Encyclopedia of Beat Literature

  • Cassady, Carolyn — (1923– )    Married to the whirlwind, larger than life Beat muse neal cassady, Carolyn Cassady became a central figure in the lives of Cassady, jack kerouac, and allen ginsberg, as well as an important Beat memoirist with the publication of her… …   Encyclopedia of Beat Literature

  • Cassady —  Cette page d’homonymie répertorie des personnes (réelles ou fictives) partageant un même patronyme. Neal Cassady, une personnalité américaine (1926 1968). Carolyn Cassady, un écrivain américain (1923). Catégorie : Homonymie de patronyme …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Neal and Jack and Me — Song infobox Name = Neal and Jack and Me Artist = King Crimson Album = Beat Released = June 18 1982 track no = 1 Recorded = 1981 Genre = Progressive rock Length = 4:22 Label = EG Records Producer = Rhett Davies prev = None prev no = None next =… …   Wikipedia

  • Cassady — n. family name; Neal Cassady (1926 1968) American poet, member of the Beat Generation …   English contemporary dictionary

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