Neal Leon Cassady, Jr., 1926-1968, was born in Salt Lake
City, Utah, while his parents were traveling from Iowa to Hollywood,
California. Neal's father earned a living intermittently as a barber, and
mother had been widowed and already had seven children before marrying the
senior Cassady. Neal was six when his parents separated and Neal went to live
with his father in the slums of Denver.
Exposed at an early age to poverty, alcoholism, and the
despair to which men can be driven, young Neal learned to use his intellect
move up in the world. A good reader with an excellent memory, and eager to
liked by authority figures, he did well in school and pushed himself to be
good athlete, playing football and running track. While he was impressing
teachers and coaches at school, he was also becoming involved in petty crime,
eventually becoming a car thief. He had been arrested six times by the age
21. Cassady frequently ran away from home and around the age of 15 he began
trading in on his good looks and worked as a male prostitute. An attorney,
nephew of one of Cassady's clients, took an interest in his welfare and
endeavored to help him better himself. Besides helping him out of legal
difficulties he introduced Cassady to Hal Chase, a student at Columbia
In 1946 Cassady moved to New York, along with his new 16
year-old wife, LuAnn Henderson. He was to have entered Columbia in the fall,
thanks to the intervention of Chase, but did not reach the City until December.
Though angry that Cassady had thrown away the opportunity to go to college,
Chase introduced him to his friends, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
Both men took an interest in Cassady, and he and Ginsberg became lovers, though
Cassady denied being homosexual and only had sex with men for money or some
other consideration. In the case of Ginsberg, Cassady used him both as a tutor
and as an entry into the intellectual crowd he admired.
Cassady only remained in New York for a few months before
returning to Denver. In 1948 he finalized the annulment of his first marriage
and married Carolyn Robinson, who was pregnant with his child, and took a
with the Southern Pacific Railroad. His attempt to settle down into a more
conventional lifestyle was not very successful. Cassady felt stifled by the
responsibilities and over the next several years he would take off on several
road trips, often with Kerouac, and often lasting for months at a time. In
he married Diane Hansen, who was pregnant, but he had not divorced Carolyn
within a few months abandoned Diane and returned to Carolyn and his job on
In 1951 Diane gave birth to a son and Cassady began to feel
his life spinning out of control. He wrote a long, confessional letter to
Kerouac which altered the way Kerouac viewed writing. Cassady wrote in a
spontaneous and unedited manner which conveyed a breathless rush to get the
words onto paper. Kerouac was inspired by the method, later calling it
spontaneous prose, and he used it for the rest of his writing career.
Throughout the fifties, Cassady's behavior grew more erratic.
He ceased to even try to hide his affairs from Carolyn and though he managed
keep his job and support her and their three children, it was clear that he
heading towards some sort of crisis. In 1955 he moved to San Francisco with
another woman and in 1958 was arrested on narcotics charges and spent two
in San Quentin.
In the early sixties Cassady met Ken Kesey and the two men
became friends, sharing an interest in sports, drugs, and literature. Cassady
was deeply admired by Kesey's group of young acolytes, the Merry Pranksters,
and he joined their group on many cross-country bus trips. In 1963 he
reluctantly agreed to a divorce from Carolyn, but continued to return to see
her and their children, until Carolyn asked him to stop in 1965. In January
1968 he went to Mexico to make an avant-garde film. At a cast party on February
3 he took a fatal mixture of alcohol and tranquilizers. He was found
unconscious the next morning on nearby railroad tracks and died a few hours