Ken Kesey, Novelist Dies at 66

Ken Kesey, Novelist Dies at 66
Posted by FoM on November 10, 2001 at 10:48:48 PT
By Jeff Barnard, Associated Press Writer
Source: Associated Press 
Ken Kesey, whose LSD-fueled bus ride became a symbol of the psychedelic 1960s after he won fame as a novelist with "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," died Saturday morning. He was 66. Kesey died at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, two weeks after cancer surgery to remove 40 percent of his liver. "He's gone too soon and he will leave a big gap. Always the leader, now he leads the way again," said Ken Babbs, a longtime friend. 
After studying writing at Stanford University, Kesey burst onto the literary scene in 1962 with "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," followed quickly with "Sometimes a Great Notion" in 1964, then went 28 years before publishing his third major novel. In 1964, he rode across the country in an old school bus named Furthur driven by Neal Cassady, hero of Jack Kerouac's beat generation classic, "On The Road." The bus was filled with pals who called themselves the Merry Pranksters and sought enlightenment through the psychedelic drug LSD. The odyssey was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's 1968 account, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." "Anyone trying to get a handle on our times had better read Kesey," Charles Bowden wrote when the Los Angeles Times honored Kesey's lifetime of work with the Robert Kirsh Award in 1991. "And unless we get lucky and things change, they're going to have to read him a century from now too." "Sometimes a Great Notion," widely considered Kesey's greatest book, told the saga of the Stamper clan, rugged independent loggers carving a living out of the Oregon woods under the motto, "Never Give A Inch." It was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda and Paul Newman. But "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" became much more widely known, thanks to a movie that Kesey hated. It tells the story of R.P. McMurphy, who feigned insanity to get off a prison farm, only to be lobotomized when he threatened the authority of the mental hospital. The 1974 movie swept the Academy Awards for best picture, best director, best actor and best actress, but Kesey sued the producers because it took the viewpoint away from the character of the schizophrenic Indian, Chief Bromden. Kesey based the story on experiences working at the Veterans Administration hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., while attending Wallace Stegner's writing seminar at Stanford. Kesey also volunteered for experiments with LSD. While Kesey continued to write a variety of short autobiographical fiction, magazine articles and children's books, he didn't produce another major novel until "Sailor Song" in 1992, his long-awaited Alaska book, which he described as a story of "love at the end of the world." "This is a real old-fashioned form," he said of the novel. "But it is sort of the Vatican of the art. Every once in a while you've got to go get a blessing from the pope." Kesey considered pranks part of his art, and in 1990 took a poke at the Smithsonian Institution by announcing he would drive his old psychedelic bus to Washington, D.C., to give it to the nation. The museum recognized the bus as a new one, with no particular history, and rejected the gift. In a 1990 interview with The Associated Press, Kesey said it had become harder to write since he became famous. "When I was working on `Sometimes a Great Notion,' one of the reasons I could do it was because I was unknown," he said. "I could get all those balls in the air and keep them up there and nothing would come along and distract me. Now there's a lot of stuff happens that happens because I'm famous. And famous isn't good for a writer. You don't observe well when you're being observed." A graduate of the University of Oregon, Kesey returned to his alma mater in 1990 to teach novel writing. With each student assigned a character and writing under the gun, the class produced "Caverns," under the pen name OU Levon, or UO Novel spelled backward. "The life of it comes from making people believe that these people are drawing breath and standing up, casting shadows, and living lives and feeling agonies," Kesey said then. "And that's a trick. It's a glorious trick. And it's a trick that you can be taught. It's not something, just a thing that comes from the muses." Among his proudest achievements was seeing "Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear," which he wrote from an Ozark mountains tale told by his grandmother, included on the 1991 Library of Congress list of suggested children's books. "I'm up there with Dr. Seuss," he crowed. Fond of performing, Kesey sometimes recited the piece in top hat and tails accompanied by an orchestra, throwing a shawl over his head while assuming the character of his grandmother reciting the nursery rhyme, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Other works include "Kesey's Garage Sale" and "Demon Box," collections of essays and short stories, and "Further Inquiry," another look at the 1964 bus trip in which the soul of Cassidy is put on trial. "The Sea Lion" was another children's book, telling the story of a crippled boy who saves his Northwest Indian tribe from an evil spirit by invoking the gift-giving ceremony of potlatch. Born in La Junta, Colo., on Sept. 17, 1935, Kesey moved as a young boy in 1943 from the dry prairie to his grandparents' dairy farm in Oregon's lush Willamette Valley. He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Oregon, where he also was a wrestler. After serving four months in jail for a marijuana bust in California, he set down roots in Pleasant Hill in 1965 with his high school sweetheart, Faye, and reared four children. Their rambling red barn house with the big Pennsylvania Dutch star on the side became a landmark of the psychedelic era, attracting visits from myriad strangers in tie-dyed clothing seeking enlightenment. The bus Furthur rusted away in a boggy pasture while Kesey raised beef cattle. Kesey was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992. His son Jed, killed in a 1984 van wreck on a road trip with the University of Oregon wrestling team, was buried in the back yard. Complete Title: Ken Kesey, Novelist of `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,' Dies at 66 On the Net: Kesey information: Source: Associated PressAuthor: Jeff Barnard, Associated Press WriterPublished: Saturday, November 10, 2001 Copyright: 2001 Associated Press  Related Articles:Ken Kesey, Checking In on His Famous Nest Individually, We Must Ease Up on Earth Finally Makes Trip from 60s to 00s Kesey Gets On The Bus With Movie 
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #13 posted by Dan B on November 13, 2001 at 13:27:10 PT:
Sad Irony
I began teaching One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Monday, November 12, as was planned from the first day of this semester. What a sad irony that we are covering this book in such close proximity to Kesey's departure. I wish I could have met the man. I feel all the more privileged to be teaching one of his books right now, and I hope my students will understand why it is so important, especially in these days of increased control over the masses. The Combine is mowing down our freedoms left and right. Thank God for a guy like Ken Kesey, who so brilliantly pointed out what few are willing to see. Even by those who never met him, he will be missed.Peace.Dan B
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #12 posted by qqqq on November 11, 2001 at 16:39:11 PT
My favorite scene from the movie..
..of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest,,,was when Murphy took all the nuts fishing,,and they stold a boat,,and this guy came down,,saying ,,"Hey,,where you going with that boat?",,,,and Murphy explains that they are all distinguished doctors and such,who were going fishing,,,and they zero in on all the nuts faces,as Murphy introduces each one of them as doctors,,and each one of them nods,and all of a sudden look like distinguished physicians,going on a fishing trip.....4d
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #11 posted by goneposthole on November 11, 2001 at 13:20:12 PT
Psychedelic site
Typo- nextThis is a pretty good site.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #10 posted by goneposthole on November 11, 2001 at 13:16:16 PT
sometimes a great notion
Paul Newman's character was great in the movie. The best scene was when he was surrounded by about 20 empty cases of beer cans. "We are all God's children, his nest of kin"
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #9 posted by New Mexican on November 11, 2001 at 13:00:08 PT
Ken Kesey led me here!
through the Cuckoos Nest and then as the subject of Tom Wolfes' 'The Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test'. I'm sorry that he's gone, and I'm glad to have benefited from his experiences as have most of us here, if only indirectly. A great loss for us, though a great legacy has been left behind. I'm sure Tim Leary was there to welcome him home, along with Lennon, Marley and Jerry, prophets of the times!
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #8 posted by mayan on November 11, 2001 at 01:01:00 PT
I just walked in & heard this on AM radio...this day is going to be a buzzkill.The world has lost another brilliant mind. I hope we have learned from Kesey because he helped to change this world for the better. Thank you for taking us a little further Ken Kesey!
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #7 posted by FoM on November 10, 2001 at 23:07:41 PT
Here's a WP article I'll post on Sunday 
Hi everyone, 
I'm saving this WP article to post on Sunday but I thought you might like to read it. I really don't know much about anything from the 60s except what I felt was right, light hearted and good. I think I missed out on a lot but I'm glad some of you have really good memories. I want the world to know that people who believe and act differently then the norm are ok people and society needs to learn the lessons that we have learned. Love, compassion, being slow to anger are virtues that I believe I learned from the values of the 60s. I was young and so wanting to know why things were the way they were and that decade in time taught me a lot.Author Ken Kesey, 66, Dies; Led '60s LSD-Laden Bus Ride 
By Richard Pearson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2001; Page C06 Ken Kesey, 66, the author of the best-selling novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" who probably gained greater fame for his lifestyle as a rebellious, drug-infused "Merry Prankster" than he did as a serious and gifted author, died Nov. 10 at a hospital in Eugene, Ore. He had liver cancer and diabetes.
He published "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in 1962 and saw it become something between a manifesto and bible for youths later in the 1960s who were rebelling against the war in Vietnam and racial injustice. His second novel, "Sometimes a Great Notion," appeared in 1964 and is considered by some critics to be the better of the two. He was not to publish another major novel until 1992, when "Sailor Song" hit the bookshelves.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #6 posted by Dankhank on November 10, 2001 at 22:27:00 PT:
A visionary, a storyteller in his own right.I am halfway through reading his novel "Sailor Song" as I mourn his passing.I read Electric Kool-aid Acid Test in the mid sixties and was astounded by it's implications and information.I'll let ya'll know in a few days how I liked "Sailor Song."It's holding my interest, though, and a book must be good to do that.Later ..
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #5 posted by dddd on November 10, 2001 at 22:11:39 PT
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test..
...changed my outlook on life,,even though it was not by Kesey,it was very much about him.,,after that,,I read "In Watermelon Sugar",by Richard Brautigan,,,,....warm memories of better times.....dddd
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #4 posted by Zero_G on November 10, 2001 at 13:39:23 PT:
a short one for ken
Taking leave of this Cukoo's Nest,
A last Intrepid Trip.Godspeed, Farewell and Thanks once more,
Until we meet again.Zero G.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #3 posted by TroutMask on November 10, 2001 at 12:52:44 PT
Very Sad Day
Very sad, as bad as when Jerry Garcia died. well, ever further...-TM
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #2 posted by FoM on November 10, 2001 at 11:27:44 PT
Dr. Russo
That was very nice. I feel bad because without people like Ken Kesey no one would have been able to experience life in a different light. I lead a very sheltered life and it was only when I was in my mid twenties that I discovered life could be different in so many ways even if for only a short time if this makes sense.I got the perfect words. To be able to take a trip and never leave the farm! LOL!PS: Not good for the airline industry! LOL!
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo MD on November 10, 2001 at 11:19:01 PT:
Transitioning to a Higher Plane
To amend an earlier message, I am very sorry to hear this news. As an unidentified man held a placard in an AIDS rally, I would echo the sentiment, "Why does God want to take his finest flowers so soon?"Ken Kesey was a genuine cultural pioneer. Irrespective of the kind of vicious and retributive criticism his credo has provoked from various people on the right wing (George Will, Moral Majority et al.), there are valuable lessons available from his life and times. Amidst the crazy antics, valuable lessons abound. He was a cultural icon, indeed. Wolfe's treatise on his exploits, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a lasting tribute. he influenced many, even those who never knew his name.Some people are blessed, or cursed, with a vision that allows them to see more than others: A light beyond the darkness, beauty from despair. This is thinking outside the box, and Ken was one of the first do accomplish it, and one of the best.I suspect that Ken was at peace with his life and legacy. I wish him peace and good luck in his journey to a higher plane of existence.
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment