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What Happened to Kerouac? (1986)

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Documentary explore the unfulfilled promise of Beat Generation icon Jack Kerouac, covering the period from the publication of his notorious novel On the Road in 1957 to his alcohol-related death 12 years later.


Jack Kerouac (works "On the Road", "Visions of Cody", "Desolation Angels", "Mexico City Blues" and "Dr. Sax and others")



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Gregory Corso Gregory Corso ... Himself
Jan Kerouac Jan Kerouac ... Herself
Herbert Huncke Herbert Huncke ... Himself
Fran Landesman Fran Landesman ... Herself
William F. Buckley ... Himself (archive footage)
Ed Sanders Ed Sanders ... Himself (archive footage)
Allen Ginsberg ... Himself
Edie Kerouac Parker Edie Kerouac Parker ... Herself
William S. Burroughs ... Himself (as William Burroughs)
Michael McClure Michael McClure ... Himself
John Clellon Holmes John Clellon Holmes ... Himself
Lawrence Ferlinghetti Lawrence Ferlinghetti ... Himself
Ann Charters Ann Charters ... Herself
Gary Snyder ... Himself
Neal Cassady Neal Cassady ... Himself (archive footage)


Documentary explore the unfulfilled promise of Beat Generation icon Jack Kerouac, covering the period from the publication of his notorious novel On the Road in 1957 to his alcohol-related death 12 years later.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


An investigation of the king of the Beat Generation.


Not Rated | See all certifications »






Release Date:

16 April 1986 (USA) See more »

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Did You Know?


New York theatrical run 5/23/86; San Francisco 7/11/86. See more »

Alternate Versions

A shorter version of this documentary has aired on television under the title Kerouac (1985). This is not to be confused with Kerouac, the Movie (1985). See more »


References Rent-a-Girl (1965) See more »

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User Reviews

Essential Kerouac
7 March 2004 | by Zen BonesSee all my reviews

Anyone who's a fan of Kerouac, or who would like to know about him, will be thrilled to see so much great stuff packed into one film. Aside from the usual anecdotes by people who knew him (Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso etc.), there are numerous scenes of him on TV guest shows and in all kinds of home movies. The stuff with him on the Steve Allen Show is particularly invaluable as he reads some of his work with Allen playing background jazz piano. If you've never heard Kerouac read his work before, he is amazing. He has a rhythm and a beat that is like that of a great jazz vocalist.

This film beautifully chronicles his life from his early years when he seemed frivolous and free-spirited, to the mid-late 1950s, when he was becoming more intense and serious. It also covers the mid-late 1960s, when he was bloated, burnt-out and indigent (you can't blame him for being a little indigent toward William F. Buckley though!). There's a lot of great speculation about his personality and the meaning of his writings by those who knew him. My favorite bits though were just incredible B/W scenes of San Francisco's deserted seedy dock areas seemingly shot in late afternoon, with a jazz trumpet background and Kerouac's voice reading his work. Which is to say, that this film is more than just a well-researched documentary about a writer. It captures his tone and essence visually and musically. Everything one can hope for in a documentary!

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