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  • Counter :
  • 516
  • Date :
  • 11/10/2004

Ken Kesey

(September 17, 1935 - November 10, 2001)

Ken Kesey, the youngest of two sons, was born in on September 17, 1935 in La Junta, Colorado and in 1946 moved with his family to Springfield, Oregon, where he spent several years on his family's farm. He was raised in a religion household where he developed a great appreciation for Christian fables and the Christian ethical system. During high school and later in college, Kesey was a champion wrestler, setting long-standing state records in Oregon. Voted "most likely to succeed" in high school, Kesey was an unlikely candidate to become one of the most controversial figures of his age and one of the leading figures of the counterculture.

After high school, Kesey eloped with Faye Haxby, his high school sweetheart, and they had three children together: Jed, Zane and Shannon. Kesey attended the University of Oregon with a degree in Speech and Communications. He also received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to enroll in the Creative Writing program at Stanford. While at Stanford, he participated in experience involving chemicals at the psychology department to earn extra money. These chemicals included psilocybin, mescaline and LSD. It was this experience that fundamentally altered Kesey, personally and professionally. While working as an orderly at the psychiatric ward of the local VA hospital, Kesey began to have hallucinations about an Indian sweeping the floors. This formed the basis for 'Chief Broom' in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, his writing project at Stanford.

While at Stanford, Kesey lived at Perry Lane, a bohemian community in Palo Alto where he became notorious for throwing parties in which certain chemicals mysterious found their way into the punch. Kesey publishedOne Flew Over theCuckoo's Nest in 1962. The novel was an immediate critical and popular success. Dale Wasserman adapted it into a successful stage play, while Milos Forman directed a screen adaptation in 1975.

To do research for his second novel, which dealt with a family of loggers, Kesey moved to La Honda, California, where he wrote Sometimes a Great Notion, published in 1964. The novel deals with the conflicts between West Coast individualism and East Coast intellectualism. In 1964, Kesey and his friends, who had become known as the Merry Pranksters, bought a 1939 International Harvest school bus and drove to New York to see the World's Fair. Kesey recruited Neal Cassady from Kerouac's On the Road to drive the bus, and filmed a significant portion of the journey; Kesey would later show clips from the trip to chemically-induced audiences at his parties. Kesey became the proponent of a local band known as the "Warlocks," which later became the Grateful Dead.

Kesey and his Merry Pranksters became notorious for their "Acid Tests" and use of LSD and other drugs. Kesey's exploits with the Merry Pranksters during this period formed the basis for a best-selling book by Tom Wolfe (A Man in Full, The Bonfire of the Vanities) called The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. When the government made LSD illegal, Ken and the Pranksters fled to Mexico. When he returned to the United States for a final performance, he was arrested on a marijuana charge. Upon his release from jail, Kesey moved to a farm inPleasant Hill,Oregon to raise his family. He did not publish his third novel, Sailor Song, until 1992, but did write several shorter works and compilations during the decades after Sometimes a Great Notion. Even decades after his counterculture experience, Kesey did not "settle down." As he attested on his website late in life, Kesey warned that every now and then he got the itch to do "something weird." Kesey died on November 10, 2001 following cancer surgery on his liver.

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