Ken Kesey Biography
Claim to Fame: One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
Date of Birth: September 17, 1935
Date of Death: November 10, 2001
Diabetes Type: unknown
Quote: "I'd rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph."
American novelist Ken Kesey was born in La Junta, CA in 1935 and moved with his family to Oregon in 1946. He married his high school sweetheart, Norma Faye Haxby, and had three children with her.
After graduating high school in 1953, Kesey attended the University of Oregons School of Journalism where he wrestled and experimented with acting. He later enrolled in the writing program at Stanford University and volunteered for a CIA-financed study on the effects of psychoactive drugs, particularly LSD, on people at the Menlo Park, CA psychiatric hospital. It was here that Kesey briefly worked as a psychiatric ward attendant and found his influence for one of his greatest known books, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1962). Keseys other works include the novels Sometimes a Great Notion (1964), Sailor Song (1992), and Last Go Round (1994).
Mind-altering drugs such as LSD became a focal point in Keseys life and shaped most of his work. He continued his endeavors as a leader of the Merry Pranksters, a group of travelers fueled by LSD, defining the psychedelic era on a bus across the country. In 1965, Kesey was arrested for possession of marijuana and tried to fake his suicide in an effort to mislead police; he fled to Mexico in the back of a friends car. Eight months later, he returned to the United States and was sentenced to five months in jail. In 1966, Kesey had another child with fellow Merry Prankster Carolyn Adams.
Kesey returned to the University of Oregon to teach writing in 1990. He lived on a farm in Pleasant Hill where he wrote, raised cattle, and spent the rest of his days. In 1992, he was diagnosed with diabetes and suffered a stroke in 1997. His last major contribution to the literary world was an essay for Rolling Stone magazine in which he called for peace in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Kesey never recovered after he was hospitalized for surgery to remove nearly half of his liver due to cancer in 2001. With failed health, he died in 2001 at the age of 66.
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