Facts about Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady died at 41 years old
Best known as: The basis for Dean Moriarity in Jack Kerouac's On the Road

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Neal Cassady Biography

Neal Cassady wasn’t much of a writer, and yet he is considered a pillar — a muse, it’s said — of the Beat Generation, the American narcotized literary movement of the 1950s and ’60s that gave celebrity status to writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Ken Kesey. Cassady had a rough childhood in Salt Lake City and Denver; his entry into adulthood was all about petty crimes, including a year in jail from 1944 to 1945. He then went to New York City, where he befriended a Columbia University crowd that included Kerouac and Ginsberg (and William S. Burroughs). Cassady was by all accounts a hard-partying, larger-than-life figure, and was immortalized as the character Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s 1957 novel On the Road, and later noted as the “hero” inspiration for his sometime-lover Ginsberg’s famous poem “Howl.” Cassady settled in central California in the early 1960s, and from then on had a kind of dual life — sometimes he was the married family man who worked for the railroads, and sometimes he was “Cowboy Neal,” off on LSD-fueled benders with the Grateful Dead, or driving a hippie bus (“Further”) cross-country for Kesey’s so-called Merry Pranksters. Cassady was found comatose alongside some railroad tracks in Mexico in the winter of 1968, and died a short while later, a few days before his 42nd birthday. His autobiographical novel, The First Third, was published three years after his death, but Cassady’s not famous for being a writer. He’s famous for other writers admiring him, as in the works of Kerouac and Ginsberg, and in Ken Kesey’s story “The Day After Superman Died.”

Extra credit

Yes, the spelling of Neal Cassady’s surname is all over the map, and sometimes appears as “Cassidy,” “Casady” and other variations.


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