William S. Burroughs, Jr.

William S. Burroughs, Jr.

William Seward Burroughs, III (21 July 1947 – 3 March 1981) was an American novelist, also known as William S. Burroughs, Jr. and Billy Burroughs. He bears the name of both his father and his great grandfather, William Seward Burroughs I, the original inventor of the Burroughs adding machine. He wrote three novels, two of which were published as "Speed" (1970) and "Kentucky Ham" (1973). His third novel, "Prakriti Junction," begun in 1977, was never completed.


Early life

Burroughs was born on July 21, 1947 in Conroe, Texas, to William S. Burroughs and Joan Vollmer. His mother was addicted to amphetamines, and his father was a heroin addict. Herbert Huncke, a friend of his parents, relates that when Joan was pregnant he would drive into Houston to obtain Benzedrine, an inhaled amphetamine, for her.

In 1951, Billy's father accidentally shot and killed his mother in a drunken game of 'William Tell' in Mexico City. In chapter three of his second novel, "Kentucky Ham", Burroughs relates his memory of the day his mother was shot dead, as well as the following reunion with his father after he was freed from a Mexico City prison. While his father stayed in Mexico and his mother was buried, Billy went to live with his grandparents, Mortimer and Laura Lee Burroughs, in St. Louis, Missouri. In elementary school, he moved with his grandparents to Palm Beach, where they relocated their store, Cobblestone Gardens. By his own account, Billy said his grandparents were kind and reassuring; yet as they grew older, and he grew into adolescence, his life began to take on a troubled tone.

His grandparents' age and inability to relate to Billy as his father and mother eventually led them to ask William S. Burroughs to take Billy back. He agreed, and Billy, thirteen years old, was sent alone by air and sea to Tangiers, Morocco, where his father was writing what would become "Naked Lunch". In Tangiers Billy was introduced, by his father, to hashish, and he experienced several unpleasant episodes of grown men attempting to engage him in sexual conduct. By his father's own admission, the visit was a failed attempt to rehabilitate their relationship. After Burroughs' lover, Ian Sommerville, convinced William that his son was irrevocably homesick, Billy returned to Palm Beach.

As a fifteen year old, Billy accidentally shot his best friend in the neck with a small rifle, causing an almost fatal wound. This event caused him to suffer a nervous breakdown, related in "Kentucky Ham". According to the novel, Billy thought his friend was dead and ran away to seek refuge in a girlfriend's family fallout shelter. He planned to flee to California, convinced that he was a murderer. Yet his friend lived, and the police ruled the wounding unintentional. Still, this act did not go unnoticed in the exclusive Palm Beach community, and the manner in which his mother perished at the hand of his father was revived. Billy was sent to a mental hospital in St. Louis for help, but threats to run away caused Mortimer and Laura to bring their grandson home. Despite his many difficulties, Billy did return to the Palm Beach Private School and graduated with his class.


Living in a wealthy section of Palm Beach, but restless, haunted by loss, and drug addicted, Billy Burroughs began to spend more time out of his grandparents' care and beyond the reach of school truant officers. Whereas heroin was his father’s drug of choice, Billy followed his mother’s vice, amphetamines, into criminal behavior: forging prescriptions and visiting doctors' offices to steal prescription pads. Like his father, he was soon arrested. Unlike his father, Billy was not an adult, and had the tragic story of his parents' life to temper criminal proceedings against him. Nevertheless, his second novel begins with his condemnation to a four-year suspended sentence and required admission to the infamous Federal Narcotics Farm at Lexington in Kentucky. This prison was one of two U.S. Federal prison hospitals treating persons convicted of federal drug crimes in the United States from 1935 until the early 1970s. Interestingly, William S. Burroughs writes about his own experience in the prison hospital in "Junkie," but his time there was actually voluntary, unlike his son’s. Since the hospitals were the only facilities in the U.S. to treat addicts, many addicts would spend much of their life revolving through its gates.

After getting out of the prison hospital, still on probation, Billy quit his addiction to amphetamines and sought treatment at The Green Valley School. A private institution run by an eccentric Reverend Von Hilsheimer in Orange City, Florida. The Green Valley School was where Billy met his wife, a seventeen year old Jewish girl from Georgia named Karen Perry who was from a wealthy family. The two were married in 1969 and lived in Savannah, Georgia. Billy began to write; Karen was a waitress.

Writing career

Billy began to write when he was 21 years old while he was attending The Green Valley School and usually wrote poems. Billy was interested in writing about personal expieriences that have happened in his life. He began to work on his first novel "Speed" in 1968 which dealt with his expieriences as a "teenage speed freak" as well as his arrest and his life on a prison farm. "Speed" was published by the Olympia Press in 1970. Billy's next work published was another novel called "Kentucky Ham" which was a sequel to his previous novel. "Kentucky Ham" was also an autobiographical novel like "Speed" and was about his release from prison and his live spent in Kentucky, Florida, Alaska, Tangiers, Colorado, and Mexico. "Kentucky Ham" was published in 1973, three years after his first novel was published. Billy had written a third novel called "Prakriti Junction" which was a third sequel to its predecessors. Billy had began writing his third novel in 1978, however it has never been published or possibly never completed.


The marriage dissolved in 1974, when Karen left Billy because of his chronic alcoholism. Despite the publication of his novels, he was increasingly alienated from friends and family, and there were long periods when his whereabouts were unknown. When he showed up in Boulder, Colorado, to visit his father and Allen Ginsberg at Ginsberg's Buddhist retreat at the Naropa University Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, he had the appearance of a derelict. During a dinner with Ginsberg and his father, Billy began vomiting blood. When the heaving would not stop, he was admitted to Colorado General Hospital with liver failure. There is no doubt he would have died if he had not been in Colorado. The hospital was one of only two institutions in 1976 that performed liver transplants. Dr. Tom Starzl had performed over a hundred transplants, with a survival rate of less than thirty percent. Nevertheless, the chances of survival improved with each operation, and Billy profited from Starzl's care. Although Billy spent months in and out of the hospital, and there were many serious complications, the operation was successful. Unfortunately, Billy didn't take advantage of his second chance. Despite the obvious risks, Burroughs kept drinking. Many people, notably Allen Ginsberg, tried to support and encourage him to quit, but Billy's self-destructive behavior continued. Following his liver transplant, he began to express hostility towards his father. He published a damning article in Esquire magazine, explaining how his life was "ruined" by his father’s actions. Among other things, Billy revealed that he was sexually molested in Tangier by friends of his father. The estrangement between father and son was never reconciled.


In 1981, Burroughs stopped taking his anti-rejection drugs. Allen Ginsberg was notified that Billy had returned to Florida to reconnect with the founder of the Green Valley School. Shortly after, Burroughs was found lying chilled, drunk, and exhausted in a shallow ditch at the side of an DeLand, Florida, highway on March 2. He was taken by a passerby to a local hospital, where he died the following day at 6:35 a.m. on March 3, 1981, of acute gastrointestinal hemorrhage associated with micronodular cirrhosis. He was 33 years old. Burroughs was cremated and his ashes were buried in Boulder, Colorado.

Writing style

William S. Burroughs, Jr. wrote three autobiographical novels, one of which is unpublished. His novels show much promise and also have interest for readers because of their Beat sensibility. The novels relate the trips of a teenage runaway in the early sixties, and are comparable in style and content to both Kerouac’s "On the Road" and his father’s "Junkie". His friendships, his drug use, and his social commentary make each novel interesting, if at times unpolished.

List of works

*"Speed" (1970)
*"Kentucky Ham" (1973)
*"Prakriti Junction" (1977-1978, unpublished)
*"Speed and Kentucky Ham: Two Novels" (1993, novel compilation)


*Ohle, David. "Cursed from Birth: The Short, Unhappy Life of William S. Burroughs, Jr". New York: Grove Press, 2002.

ee also

*William S. Burroughs
*Beat generation

External links

*Articles about the David Ohle book from September 2006::An interview with James Grauerholz about the [http://www.lawrence.com/news/2006/sep/23/burroughsjr/ David Ohle book] :A review of the book and interview with the author in [http://www.lawrence.com/news/2006/sep/24/interview_james_grauerholz/ Lawrence.com] .

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