Sue Young Histories

Neal Leon Cassady 1926 – 1968

June 27, 2010

Neal Leon Cassady 1926 –
1968{::}**{::}** Neal Leon Cassady 1926 – 1968 was a major figure of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the psychedelic movement of the 1960s,

Neal Cassady was an advocate of homeopathy, and he consulted homeopath George Ubo in Merida for his remedies,

From Cassady was born to Maude Jean Scheuer and Neal Marshall Cassady in Salt Lake City, Utah. After his mother died when he was ten, he was raised by his alcoholic father in Denver, Colorado. Cassady spent much of his youth living on the streets of skid row with his father, or spending time in reform school.

As a youth, Cassady was repeatedly involved in petty crime. He was arrested for car theft when he was 14, for shoplifting and car theft when he was 15, and for car theft and fencing when he was 16.

In 1941, the 15 year old Cassady met Justin W Brierly, a prominent Denver educator. Justin W Brierly was well known as a mentor of promising young men, and, impressed by Cassady’s high IQ, Justin W Brierly took an active role in Cassady’s life over the next few years.

Justin W Brierly helped admit Cassady to East High School where he taught, encouraging and supervising his reading, and finding employment for him. Cassady continued his criminal activities, however, and was repeatedly arrested from 1942 to 1944; on at least one of these occasions, he was released by law enforcement into Justin W Brierly’s safekeeping.

In June 1944, Cassady was arrested for receipt of stolen property, and served eleven months of a one year prison sentence. He and Justin W Brierly actively exchanged letters during this period even through Cassady’s intermittent incarcerations; these represent Cassady’s earliest surviving letters.

Justin W Brierly, apparently a closeted homosexual, is also believed to have been responsible for Cassady’s first homosexual experience.

In October 1945, after being released from prison, Cassady married the fifteen year old LuAnne Henderson. In 1947, Cassady and his wife moved to New York City, where they met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg at Columbia University through Hal Chase, another protégé of Justin W Brierly‘s.

Although Cassady did not attend Columbia, he soon became friends with them and their acquaintances, some of whom later became members of the Beat Generation. He had a sexual relationship with Allen Ginsberg that lasted off and on for the next twenty years, and he later traveled cross country with Jack Kerouac.

Cassady was the model for the character Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Cody Pomeray in many of Jack Kerouac’s other novels. In the surviving first draft of On the Road, which Jack Kerouac typed on a 120 foot roll of paper specially constructed for that purpose, Dean Moriarty is named “Neal”.

Allen Ginsberg mentioned Cassady in his ground breaking poem, Howl as “N.C., secret hero of these poems…”

Additionally, he is commonly credited with helping Jack Kerouac break with his Thomas Wolfe-influenced sentimental style (as seen in The Town and the City) and Jack Kerouac’s discovery of a unique style of his own he called “spontaneous prose”, a stream of consciousness prose form, first used in On the Road.

After Cassady’s marriage to LuAnne Henderson was annulled, Cassady married Carolyn Robinson on April 1,

  1. The couple eventually had three children and settled down in a ranch house in Monte Sereno, California, 50 miles south of San Francisco, where Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg sometimes visited.

Cassady committed bigamy by briefly marrying a woman named Diane Hansen two years after he married Carolyn Cassady. During this period, Cassady worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad and kept in touch with his “Beat” acquaintances even as they became increasingly different philosophically.

Following an arrest during 1958 for offering to share a small amount of marijuana with an undercover agent at a San Francisco nightclub, Cassady served a sentence at San Quentin State Prison.

After his release in June 1960, he struggled to meet family obligations, and Carolyn divorced him when his parole period expired in 1963. Cassady shared an apartment with Allen Ginsberg and Charles Plymell in 1963 at 1403 Gough Street, San Francisco.

Cassady first met author Ken Kesey during the summer of 1962, eventually becoming one of the Merry Pranksters, a group who formed around Kesey in 1964 and were proponents of the use of psychedelic drugs.

During 1964, he served as the main driver of the bus Further, which was immortalized by Tom Wolfe’s book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. He later played a prominent role in the California psychedelic scene of the 1960s.

In Hunter S Thompson’s book Hell’s Angels, Cassady is described as “the worldly inspiration for the protagonist of two recent novels,” drunkenly yelling at police at the famed Hells Angels parties at Ken Kesey’s residence in La Honda, an event also chronicled in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Although his name was removed at the insistence of Hunter S Thompson’s publisher, the description is clearly a reference to the character based on Cassady in Jack Kerouac’s works, On the Road and Visions of Cody. His name appears explicitly in the 50th anniversary edition of the original scroll of On the Road (On the Road: The Original Scroll, Viking 2007). Cassady also appears in Ken Kesey’s book Demon Box as “Superman” in the chapter “The Day After Superman Died”.

In January 1967, Cassady traveled to Mexico with fellow prankster George “Barely Visible” Walker and longtime girlfriend Anne Murphy. In a beachside house just south of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, they were joined by Barbara Wilson and Walter Cox.

All-night storytelling, speed drives in Walker’s Lotus Elan and the use of LSD made for a classic Cassady performance – “like a trained bear,” Carolyn Cassady once said.

Cassady was beloved for his ability to inspire others to love life. Yet at rare times he was known to express regret over his wild life, especially as it affected his family. At one point Cassady took Walter Cox, then 19, aside and told him, “Twenty years of fast living – there’s just not much left, and my kids are all screwed up. Don’t do what I have done.”

During the next year, Cassady’s life became less stable and the pace of his travels became more frenetic. He left Mexico in May, traveling to San Francisco, California; Denver, Colorado; New York City, New York and points in between: then returned to Mexico in September and October (stopping in San Antonio, Texas on the way to visit his oldest daughter who had just given birth to his first grandchild); visited Ken Kesey’s Oregon farm in December; and spent the New Year with Carolyn at a friend’s house near San Francisco. Finally, during late January, 1968, Cassady returned to Mexico once again.

On February 3, 1968 Cassady attended a wedding party in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. After the party he went walking along a railroad track to reach the next town, but passed out in the cold and rainy night wearing nothing but a T-shirt and jeans. In the morning, he was found in a coma by the track and taken to the closest hospital, where he died a few hours later on February 4, four days short of his forty second birthday.

The exact cause of Cassady’s death remains uncertain. Those who attended the wedding party confirm that he took an unknown quantity of Secobarbital, a powerful barbiturate sold under the brand name of Seconal, that can easily lead to overdose.

The physician who performed the autopsy wrote simply “general congestion in all systems;” when interviewed later he stated that he was unable to give an accurate report, because Cassady was a foreigner and there were drugs involved. ‘Exposure’ is commonly cited as his cause of death, although his widow disputes this and believes he may have died of renal failure.