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Biography

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Overview (4)

Date of Birth 8 February 1926Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Date of Death 4 February 1968San Miguel de Allende, Mexico  (exposure)
Birth NameNeal Leon Cassady
Nickname The Holy Goof

Mini Bio (1)

Neal Cassady became the well-spring from which the Beat Generation gushed forth due to his close friendships with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg Born on February 8, 1926 (in the back of a car, according to his own fanciful musings). Cassady -- arguably the most famous non-professional automobile driver in history -- became famous as Dean Morarity, the character Kerouac based on him in his seminal 1957 novel "On the Road". Unlike Kerouac (and like Ginsberg), he also became an icon of the psychedelic movement in the 1960s, traveling with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters in the psychedelic school-bus "Further". Immortalized as a remarkable driver with a Zen-like sense of the road in the 1950s by Kerouac, he was further immortalized as the driver of "Further" in the 1960s by Tom Wolfe. As a driver and free spirit with boundless energy and enthusiasm, Cassady went down in literary history as a symbol of the wandering pioneer-spirit of America.

Born poor in Salt Lake City, his mother died when he was a child and he raised by an alcoholic father on Denver's skid row. Cassady served many stints in reform school for car theft, claiming to have stolen 500 cars by the time he was 18. Cassady met Kerouac and Ginsberg in 1946 through mutual friend Hal Chase, who was from Colorado and told them stories of this remarkable Westerner from Denver. Ginsberg was matriculating in Columbia College's pre-law program and Kerouac was living in the vicinity of New York's premier university in a Morningside Heights apartment with his first wife Edie Parker when Cassady rolled into town with his 16-year old bride LuAnne Henderson. (Cassady also met William S. Burroughs at the same time, and although he later stayed with Burroughs on his Louisiana marijuana farm, the two never were close.) Cassady forged friendships with Kerouac and Ginsberg, with his relationship with Kerouac resembling that of a surrogate brother. Though both men were somewhat bisexual and loved one another, according to Ginsberg, they never were sexually intimate. On the other hand, Cassady - a muscular, good-looking con man who was a master at manipulation and was not adverse to using sex to get his ultimate desires - had a sexual relationship with Ginsberg that lasted off and on for the next twenty years.

What Cassady wanted was to learn how to write, and he apprenticed himself to both Kerouac and Ginsberg. Cassady proved to be a major catalyst for the Beat Movement, influencing the spontaneous poetics of Kerouac and Ginsberg through the famous "Joan Anderson letter" written by Neal to Jack in December 1950. Kerouac, who had just published a conservatively written, Thomas Wolfe-pastiche of a novel "The Town and the City", thought it was the most brilliant thing he had ever read. As real as spoken speech, the stream of consciousness approach used by Neal to discuss his seduction of a woman gave Kerouac the direction which his future prose would take, most famously in "Road" and his other paean to Cassady, "Visions of Cody" (with Neal as Cody Pomeroy). This spontaneous prose would inform all of Kerouac's other writing (for good and bad as Kerouac became incapable of revision), including his other two masterworks, The Subterraneans (1960) and "The Dharma Bums". (Although much of this letter is lost, a surviving fragment originally was published in an early 1964 edition of John Bryan's magazine, "Notes From Underground," the only time Cassady was published during his lifetime. His autobiography "The First Third" was published posthumously by Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Press, and his complete surviving letters were published in two volumes, "Grace Beats Karma: Letters from Prison" (Blast, 1993) and "Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967" (Penguin, 2004). On his part, Ginsberg mentioned Cassady in his famous poem, "Howl" as "N.C., secret hero of these poems...."

After divorcing his immature bride Luanne Henderson, Cassady married the middle-class former art student Carolyn Robinson in 1948. They had three children and lived near San Jose, California, a major terminus on the Southern Pacific Railroad where Neal worked for as a brakeman. Kerouac often visited their first home (Cassady even got him a job as a brakeman), and became part of a menage a trois by bedding Carolyn with Neal's approval. Cassady was a compulsive womanizer and was constantly involved with multiple women aside from his wife, taking many of his "conquests" in an aggressive fashion that bordered on rape. Carolyn Cassady believed that Neal, being raised poor and Irish Catholic, had a deep psychological need for punishment. When he would confess his "sins" (such as running off with a new girlfriend), Carolyn would respond by punishing him, which would have the effect, she later realized, of absolving him of his current sin and fulfilling his need for abasement; as soon as this cycle was completed, he would be off womanizing again.

Attracted to psychologically damaged women who could be controlled, he would try to foist them off on Kerouac, a mother-obsessed alcoholic suffering from an Oedipal complex who was in no position to take on the responsibility of a woman (as Carolyn realized). One of Neal's girlfriends committed suicide, while another wound up in a madhouse. Cassady even remained intimate with his first wife, LuAnne, into the late 50s.

In addition to introducing Kerouac to a stream-of-consciousness prose style, Cassady was instrumental in getting Kerouac on the road. Kerouac hitchhiked out to see Neal and went on several car trips with him across the U.S. and into Mexico that were the basis for Jack's break-through novel, "On the Road", one of the seminal works of American fiction. Written soon-after the events transpired in 1951, it took six years for the novel to be published. When it was, in 1957, Jack Kerouac was famous. And so, in a way, was Neal, as Kerouac -- disliking that the press misidentified him as being the "real" Dean Moriarity -- told them that it was a Neal Cassady that was the real Dean, and that he was an unsung great American writer.

In 1958, Cassady was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover narcotics agent in a San Francisco night club and sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin Prison. Kerouac, who had made Neal famous through "On the Road", felt guilty as he felt Cassady's notoriety (which Jack did not know he had embraced) had made him known to narcotics cops in San Francisco. Actually, Cassady did little to disguise the fact that he was dealing (his concept of dealing was more akin to Johnny Appleseed: he gave away enormous quantities of pot to his friends for free), at one point boasting to friends of having given a narc two joints in a North Beach nitery. On their part, the narcotics police though Neal was part of a ring that was using the railroads to smuggle massive quantities of pot into the U.S. due to the large quantities of grass he frequently had. It was a charge that was never proven, and eventually, he was released in June 1960, by which time Carolyn was almost through with him. She stuck it out with him for the children. Though Neal struggled to meet his family obligations, but Carolyn finally divorced him when his parole period expired in 1963.

Cassady's second bout with fame came through Ken Kesey, who had been hailed as a sort of successor to Kerouac after the publishing of his One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). The two met during the summer of 1962, and Neal eventually became one of Kesey's hangers-on, the Merry Pranksters as they became known, serving as the driver of Kesey's psychedelic-painted school-bus called "Furthur". Startign in 1965, the Pranksters crossed America putting on "Happenings" (light shows with rock music) at which the then-legal LSD was distributed freely. The Pranksters and Neal were immortalized in Tom Wolfe's book "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." After being an icon of the Beat Geneartion, a decade later, Neal became an icon of the psychedelic scene in California in the 1960s (an era that ended with the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Charles Manson family in 1969), becoming close to such counter-cultural idols as The Grateful Dead.

Neal Cassady never lived to see 1969. He died sometime on the night of February 3/4, 1968, after attending a wedding party in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He imbibed the alcoholic beverage pulque at the wedding, which may have contributed to his death as he was taking the barbiturate Seconal that day. After the party, he went walking on the railroad track to reach the next town wearing nothing but a T-shirt and jeans, and was found passed out the next morning in a coma. He was taken to the closest hospital, where he died a few hours later. As the night had been cold and rainy, the coroner ruled he had died from exposure, but Carolyn Cassady believed that he had been worn out, used up by the likes of Ken Kesey and others. He had told Carolyn shortly before his death that he was tired of playing the fool (the Holy Fool or Goof, the role that Kerouac had immortalized him in for all time). She believed that Neal simply did not want to live anymore. He was four days shy of his 42nd birthday when he died, alone, on the railroad tracks.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (3)

Diane Hansen (1950 - ?) (1 child)
Carolyn Cassady (1 April 1948 - 1963) (divorced) (3 children)
LuAnne Henderson (1945 - 1948) (annulled)

Trivia (9)

Received a letter from second wife Carolyn (recounted in Kerouac's "On the Road") when their family was at a low point, that told Neal "It's the end of the first half of the century. You're welcome to spend the second half with us." He reconciled with Carolyn, but unfortunately it didn't last - and he only lived another eighteen years.
Usually referred to as "Dean Moriarty" or "Cody Pomeray" in Kerouac's (autobiographical) novels, while Allen Ginsberg referred to him as "N.C., secret hero of these poems" in his landmark "Howl" (titled by Kerouac) and other works.
Got acquainted with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in the mid-1940s (shortly after he got out of jail, and married the teenaged LuAnne), when he asked their help in "learning to write". More time was spent hustling Kerouac and his mother for food and drinks, and carrying on an affair with Ginsberg, than in his learning the art of writing, but it all seemed to pay off in the end; each became a legend in part through their relationship.
Claimed to have literally been born "on the road", in the back of a car while his parents were traveling. Much of his "upbringing" came in pool halls and troubled-youth homes (or jail) around the Denver CO area; his mother wasn't around much after his birth, and his father only a little more.
Became the driver of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters bus in his later years, during their "electric Kool-Aid acid test" days. He still grinned from ear to ear, and would flip a hammer to show his enthusiasm, when the Pranksters were around, but in private would sometimes drop the hammer and give old acquaintances a tired look.
Was arrested for selling marijuana and sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin Prison in 1958. His friend (and some-time lover of Cassady's second wife Carolyn) Jack Kerouac, who had made him famous by writing of him as Dean Moriarity in "On the Road", felt guilty as he felt Neal's notoriety had made him none to narcotics cops in San Francisco. Actually, Cassady did little to disguise the fact that he was dealing, at one point boasting to friends of having given a narc two joints in a North Beach nitery. On their part, the narcotics police though Neal was part of a ring that was using the railroads to smuggle massive quantities of pot into the U.S., a charge that was never proven. He was released in 1960.
On Saturday, February 3, 1968 Cassady met up with a wedding party in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and was invited to party. Although he was taking Seconals (the brand name for secobarbital, a barbiturate), he drank pulque, a fermented alcoholic drink made from the maguey plant (an agave known as the "century plant"), before wandering off at night. Alcohol and barbiturates are often a fatal combination, and as Neal walked on the railroad tracks to reach the next town, he 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 and brought to the closest hospital, where he died a few hours later. He was 41 years old.
Is immortalized as the driver of Ken Kesey's psychedelic school-bus "Further" by Tom Wolfe in "The Electric Kool-Aid Acide Test." Kesey himself recreated Neal's death in a short story named "The Day After Superman Died" (collected in "Demon Box"), in which Cassady is quoted mumbling the number of ties he had counted in the rail (sixty-four thousand nine-hundred and twenty-eight) as his last words before dying.
Cassady lived briefly with the Grateful Dead and is immortalized in the Dead song "That's It For the Other One." The title of another Dead tune, "Cassidy," 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.

Personal Quotes (1)

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. [Advice to a young friend, January, 1967]

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