File:The First Third.jpg

Neal Cassady (February 8, 1926 – February 4, 1968) was an icon of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the psychedelic movement of the 1960s, perhaps best known as the inspiration for the character of Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's classic On the Road.


Born in Salt Lake City and raised by an alcoholic father in Denver, Cassady spent much of his youth bouncing between skid-row hotels with his father and reform schools for car theft. In 1946 Cassady met Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg at Columbia University in New York and quickly became friends with them and the circle of artists and writers there. He had a sexual relationship with Ginsberg that lasted off and on for the next twenty years, and he later traveled cross-country with Kerouac.

Cassady proved to be the catalyst for the Beat Movement, appearing as the characters Dean Moriarty and Cody Pomeray in many of Kerouac's novels. Ginsberg mentioned him as well in his ground-breaking poem, Howl ("N.C., secret hero of these poems..."). Additionally, he is commonly credited for helping Kerouac break ties with his Thomas Wolfe -inspired sentimental style and discover his own unique voice through "spontaneous prose", a stream of consciousness approach to writing.

In 1948, Cassady married Carolyn Robinson. The couple eventually had three children and settled down in a Monte Sereno ranch house, 50 miles south of San Francisco, California, where Kerouac and Ginsberg sometimes visited. Cassady worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad and kept in touch with his Beat counterparts even as they drifted apart philosophically.

Following a 1958 arrest for offering to share a small amount of marijuana with an undercover agent at a San Francisco night club, Cassady served a difficult prison sentence at San Quentin. After his release in June, 1960 he struggled to meet family obligations, and Carolyn divorced him when his parole period expired in 1963. Cassady first met Ken Kesey during the summer of 1962, eventually becoming one of the Merry Pranksters. In 1964 he served as the driver of the bus Furthur, which was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. He later played a prominent role in the explosive California psychedelic scene of the 1960s.

Cassady makes an appearance in Hunter S. Thompson's book Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, in which he 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 Thompson's publisher, the description is clearly a reference to Cassady's appearances in Jack Kerouac's works, On the Road and Visions of Cody.

In January, 1967 Cassady traveled to Mexico with fellow prankster George "Barely Visible" Walker and longtime girlfriend Anne Murphy. Holding court at a beachside house just south of Puerto Vallarta, they were joined by Berkeley folk, Barbara Wilson and Walter Cox. All-night storytelling, speed runs in George's psychedelic Lotus Elan and plenty of LSD for everyone made for a classic Cassady performance--"like a trained bear," Carolyn Cassady once said. At one point Cassady took 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 increasingly peripatetic. He left Mexico in May, traveling to San Francisco, Denver, New York and points in between; then went back to Mexico in September and October; visited Kesey's Oregon farm in December; and spent New Year's with Carolyn in the home they had shared near San Francisco. Finally, in late January, 1968, Cassady returned to Mexico once again.

On Saturday, February 3, 1968 Cassady attended a wedding party in San Miguel de Allende. After the party he went walking by 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 brought to the closest hospital, where he died a few hours later. He was 41, 5 days short of his birthday.

Legacy and InfluenceEdit

Kesey tells the story of Cassady's death in a short story named The Day After Superman Died (in his collected short stories published as Demon Box), where Cassady is quoted mumbling the number of ties he had counted in the rail (sixty-four thousand nine-hundred and twenty-eight) as his last words before dying.

Cassady lived briefly with the Grateful Dead and is immortalised in the Dead song "That's It For the Other One." The title of another Dead tune, "Cassidy," might seem to be a misspelling of Cassady's name; in fact the song primarily celebrates the 1970 birth of baby girl Cassidy Law into the Grateful Dead family, though the lyrics also include references to Neal Cassady himself.

The film The Last Time I Committed Suicide, released in 1997, is based on the "Joan Anderson letter" written by Cassady to Jack Kerouac in December, 1950. Although much of this letter had been lost, a surviving remnant was originally published in an early 1964 edition of John Bryan's magazine, "Notes From Underground".

An upcoming film, Luz Del Mundo, will deal with Cassady's friendship and adventures with Jack Kerouac. Cassady will be played by Austin Nichols and Kerouac will be played by Will Estes.

Another film, the biopic Neal Cassady, is slated for a 2007 release. This film will focus more on the Prankster years and stars Tate Donovan as Neal, Chris Bauer as Kesey, and Glenn Fitzgerald as Kerouac. Noah Buschel wrote and directed the film. The soundtrack to the movie includes Johnny Horton, Thelonious Monk, Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry, Tex Ritter, Kitty Wells, Freddy Fender, and The Chambers Brothers.

Cassady's autobiography The First Third was published posthumously. His complete surviving letters are published in "Grace Beats Karma: Letters from Prison" (Blast, 1993) and "Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967" (Penguin, 2004).


  • Selected works in Genesis West volume seven published in the Winter of 1965 by Gordon Lish
  • The First Third (City Lights, 1971. Expanded version, 1981)
  • Grace Beats Karma: Letters from Prison (Blast, 1993)
  • Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967 (Penguin, 2004)

Published BiographiesEdit

  • The Holy Goof: A Biography of Neal Cassady, by William Plummer (1981)
  • Neal Cassady, Volume One, 1926-1940, by Tom Christopher (1995)
  • Neal Cassady, Volume Two, 1941-1946, by Tom Christopher (1998)
  • Neal Cassady: The Fast Life of a Beat Hero, by David Sandison & Graham Vickers (2006)
  • Heart Beat, by Carolyn Cassady (1976)
  • Off the Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg, by Carolyn Cassady (1990)

Literary StudiesEdit

Appearances In LiteratureEdit

Appearances In FilmEdit

  • "Neal Cassady"(2008) played by Tate Donovan
  • "Heart Beat" (1980) played by Nick Nolte
  • "What Happened to Kerouac" (1986) played by himself
  • "The Last Time I Committed Suicide " (1997) played by Thomas Jane

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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