The rebellious Ken Kesey, known in the 1960s for his counterculture exploits and for the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, died Saturday from liver cancer at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene, Oregon, surrounded by his family. Kesey was 66.
“As usual he did things his own way. Even in dying, he did a really good job,” son Zane Kesey told Retuers.
One of the originators of the ’60s cultural revolution, Kesey, along with guru Timothy Leary, helped turn on millions of young Americans and launched the LSD-laden Age of Aquarius. Kesey was also considered one of the foremost novelists of his time. Cuckoo’s Nest and his other popular novel Sometimes a Great Notion (1964) both dealt with the struggles against conformity and unbending authority.
A critical and financial success, Cuckoo’s Nest was turned into a play in 1963. And then in 1975, director Milos Forman directed the Oscar-winning feature film starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher.
Kesey, however, was best known for his infamous 1964 road trip he took across the United States in a 1939 bus painted in psychedelic colors, which he called Furthur. With his companion, beat icon Neal Cassady, at the wheel, Kesey and his group of Merry Pranksters threw outrageous LSD parties and had wild adventures on the road. Their journey was the basis of the brilliant 1968 Tom Wolfe novel, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
“The rumor is that the bus was put in the Smithsonian, but that was just another prank. It’s still in out in out yard. We’d never give it up,” Zane Kesey commented.
Kesey passed away with a few projects in the works, including a film taken during the Pranksters road trip and a novel called Seven Prayers of Grandma Whittier which he started writing while he was in jail for four months in the mid-60s.
Zane Kesey said the writer spent Monday at his farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon.
“He was doing really well and he came home. It was a beautiful day and he just walked around, then he lay down on his back on the porch and looked up at the sky for a while. It was like he was saying goodbye.”
Zane also said there were plans for a “big service” and that many of Kesey’s friends had flown to Eugene to be with Kesey at his death.