Enlightened Sixties Author – Ken Kesey

‘There Is A Difference Between Enlightenment and Irresponsibility’
(a look back at the life of Ken Kesey)

Ken Kesey, born September 17, 1935 in La Junta, Colorado.

In 1956, while living in Springfield, Oregon, he meets and marries, Faye Haxby. They will go on to have three children, Jed, Zane, and Shannon. Note: Kesey would also father a child named Sunshine, born by Prankster Carolyn Adams, aka ‘Mountain Girl’.

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While attending college at the University of Oregon, Kesey excels not only in scholastics, but athletics. He was an AAU Champion Wrestler, and gets his degree in 1957 which included receiving a fellowship award to participate in a creative writing program at Stanford University. While at Stanford, Kesey begins journaling what would become his acclaimed novel, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’ Much of the novel is based on his experience ‘moonlighting’ as a janitor at a local VA Hospital in the psychiatric ward, and interacting with some of the patients while high on various hallucinogens. Kesey was introduced to these drugs when he volunteered for a CIA sponsored experiment on the effects of various psychoactive drugs which was conducted at the same
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In 1962, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is completed, and Kesey meets legendary beatnik, Neal Cassady. Note: The character , Dean Moriarity, and protagonist for the book, ‘On The Road’ was based on Neal Cassady, long time friend of famed beat writer, Jack Kerouac.In 1964, Kesey buys a 1939 International Harvester school bus (named ‘Furthur’ by Kesey and the Pranksters) while living in the mountain enclave of La Honda which is just south of San Francisco. It is here that Kesey begins throwing wild
LSD parties where the participants are not only his bohemian friends from Stanford, but the Hells Angels as well. By now, Kesey has met the Grateful Dead which provides the musical backdrops to his parties, and ‘Acid Tests’. The bus is painted in wild psychedelic color, and design, and a road trip to New York is
planned coinciding with the publication of his second novel, ‘Sometimes a Great Notion’. The group assembled for this cross country trip, call themselves, ‘The Merry Pranksters’, with Neal Cassady assigned as the driver of the bus. When the Pranksters finally make it to New York, Cassady brings Kesey along for a visit with Jack Kerouac. Kerouac, at this stage of his life is in a state of depression that is worsened by his increased alcohol abuse, and is visibly bitter when he sees his old pal following the tutelage of Kesey and the Pranksters. Onward the bus travels to Millbrook in upstate New York to visit fellow psychedelic meteor, Tim Leary, then back to California. The entire trip was filmed by the Pranksters, in hopes that Kesey, some day, would make an epic
film about the trip.

In 1966, Kesey is busted for possession of marijuana. In an attempt to avoid legal prosecution, he fakes his suicide, and sneaks into Mexico. After months on the run, he gets word from fellow prankster, Carolyn Adams (aka Mountain Girl), that the jig is up, the cops are on to him. Kesey proceeds to sneak back into the United States, appears at an Acid Test, and taunts the prosecuting judge for calling him a ‘Tarnished Galahad’. Kesey is finally brought to justice, and serves a five month prison sentence in San Mateo, Ca.

After this riotous period in the Sixties, Kesey bought a farm in Oregon, and had an epiphany when some hippies nearly burned down his barn when he gave them a place to sleep one night. He finally realized there was a difference between enlightenment, and irresponsibility. In the 70’s,’One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ would be made into a movie, and garnish five academy awards. The movie was bitter sweet for Kesey, he disliked the script, and wanted Gene Hackman to play the part of Randall Patrick
McMurphy instead of Jack Nicholson. He got minimal accolades, and claimed he never watched the movie. ‘Sometimes a Great Notion’ would also be made into a movie starring Paul Newman, and Kesey continued to write, producing ‘Kesey’s Garage Sale’, along with other short stories, and articles.

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