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Novelist Ken Kesey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and is credited with helping to usher in the era of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s.
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Ken Kesey was born September 17, 1935, in La Junta, Colorado. He attended Stanford University and later served as an experimental subject and aide in a hospital, an experience that led to his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. That book was followed by Sometimes a Great Notion and several works of nonfiction that detailed Kesey's transformation from novelist to guru of the hippie generation.
Ken Elton Kesey was born September 17, 1935, in La Junta, Colorado. He was raised in rugged Springfield, Oregon. Kesey grew to be a star wrestler and received the Fred Lowe Scholarship at the University of Oregon. After graduating in 1957, Kesey won a scholarship to the graduate program in writing at Stanford University and relocated to Palo Alto, California.
In 1960, Kesey volunteered as a paid experimental subject in a study conducted by the U.S. Army in which he wrote about the effects of mind-altering drugs. He also worked as an attendant in a hospital's psychiatric ward. These experiences served as the basis for his 1963 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which examined the abuses of the system against the individual. The book was made into a film starring Jack Nicholson, which won five Oscars. Kesey famously hated the script and refused to watch the film.
Kesey's next novel, 1964's Sometimes a Great Notion, also focused on questions of individuality and conformity. Kesey believed the key to individual liberation was psychedelic drugs. He often wrote under the influence of acid.
Kesey was the leader of a group who called themselves the Merry Pranksters. The Pranksters supported open drug use and were known for their theatricality. In 1964, the Pranksters rode a bus they dubbed "Further" across the country. The DayGlo-colored bus was driven by Neal Cassady, immortalized in Jack Kerouac's On the Road as Dean Moriarty.
The Pranksters conducted "Acid Tests," wherein Californians would pay $1 to receive a cup of "electric," LSD-laced Kool-Aid. Attendees were treated to the music of The Warlocks, who later became known as The Grateful Dead, as they resisted the urge to "freak out."
Tom Wolfe chronicled the Pranksters culture, and in 1968 he published The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which depicted Kesey's adventures throughout the 1960s. Upon the book's publication, Kesey flew to Mexico to avoid charges for marijuana possession. He returned and was briefly jailed.
After his release from jail, Kesey settled down with his wife, his high school sweetheart Norma Faye Haxby, and their four children on his father's Oregon farm. He published short stories and essays and taught at the University of Oregon, where he collaborated with students under the pen name O.U. Levon on the novel Caverns. He also wrote a children's book called Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear in 1988. He died in Eugene, Oregon, on November 10, 2001, from complications from liver cancer surgery. He was 66 years old.
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