Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady, legendary folk hero in the Beat movement, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah to a life of hardship, married three times, and was immortalized as Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road”. Cassady was a car thief and minor con-man who spent much of his earlier years in reform schools and juvenile detention centers.

Jack Kerouac joined Neal Cassady on several road trips across the United States and Mexico, writing about their experiences, sometimes as they were happening, while Cassady generally led the way. These adventures were culminated in the pages of “On The Road”. Kerouac included Cassady’s persona in several later novels, such as “Dharma Bums” and “Visions of Cody”. Cassady reportedly appealed to Kerouac to teach him how to write fiction, but of all of the prominent Beats of the generation, he was the least prolific. His only book, an unfinished autobiography titled “The First Third”, was published by City Lights Books in 1971 a few years after his death.

In the 1960’s Cassady joined young novelist Ken Kesey (author of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”) on a new series of cross-country adventures as Kerouac was slipping into a state of depression and alcoholism. He sat behind the wheel of a psychedelically painted bus named “Further” on a Kesey-organized road trip to the New York World’s Fair. The group referred to themselves as the “Merry Pranksters”. Tom Wolfe captured the events of the excursion in his book titled “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”

Cassady’s wife Carolyn, wrote about their relationship in “Heart Beat”, published in 1976 and later made into a movie starring Nick Nolte as Neal, Sissy Spacek as Carolyn, and John Heard as Jack Kerouac. William Plummer’s definitive book on Cassady, “The Holy Goof” was published in 1981.

Cassady was found in a coma alongside a pair of deserted railroad tracks in Mexico in 1968, presumably after a night of partying with alcohol and drugs. He was found wearing only a t-shirt and jeans and it was concluded that he was intent on walking to a town 15 miles away and fell asleep mid-journey. The night was chilling and wet with rain. Cassady remained in a coma until later that day when he passed away. His death came four days before his 43rd birthday and one year before Jack Kerouac’s.

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