Neal Cassady

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Neal Cassady
Born Neal Leon Cassady
(1926-02-08)February 8, 1926
Salt Lake City, Utah
Died February 4, 1968(1968-02-04) (aged 41)
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
Occupation Author, poet
Nationality American
Genre Beat poetry
Literary movement Beat
Notable works The First Third

Neal Leon Cassady (February 8, 1926 – February 4, 1968) was a major figure of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the psychedelic and counterculture movements of the 1960s. He was prominently featured as himself in the original "scroll" (first draft) version of Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road. He also served as the model for the character Dean Moriarty in the 1957 version of the novel. In many of Kerouac's later books, Cassady is represented by the character Cody Pomeray.


Early years[edit]

Cassady was born to Maude Jean (Scheuer) and Neal Marshall Cassady in Salt Lake City, Utah.[1] His mother died when he was ten, and he was raised by his alcoholic father in Denver, Colorado. Cassady spent much of his youth either living on the streets of skid row with his father or 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.[2] Brierly was well known as a mentor of promising young men and was impressed by Cassady's intelligence. Over the next few years, Brierly took an active role in Cassady's life. Brierly helped admit Cassady to East High School where he taught Cassady as a student, encouraged and supervised his reading, and found 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 Brierly's safekeeping. In June 1944, Cassady was arrested for possession of stolen goods, and served eleven months of a one-year prison sentence. He and Brierly actively exchanged letters during this period, even through Cassady's intermittent incarcerations; this correspondence represents Cassady's earliest surviving letters.[3] Brierly, a closeted homosexual, is also believed to have been responsible for Cassady's first homosexual experience.[4]

Personal life[edit]

In October 1945, after being released from prison, Cassady married the sixteen-year-old LuAnne Henderson.[5] In 1946, Cassady and his wife traveled to New York City to visit their friend, Hal Chase, another protege of Brierly's. It was while visiting Chase at Columbia University that Cassady met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.[6] 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. While in New York, Cassady persuaded Kerouac to teach him to write fiction. Carolyn Cassady has stated that, "Neal, having been raised in the slums of Denver amongst the world's lost men, [was] determined to make more of himself, to become somebody, to be worthy and respected. His genius mind absorbed every book he could find, whether literature, philosophy or science. Jack had had a formal education, which Neal envied, but intellectually he was more than a match for Jack, and they enjoyed long discussions on every subject." [7]

Carolyn Robinson met Cassady in 1946 while she worked in Denver, Colorado as a teaching assistant. Carolyn would leave the Beat group shortly after walking in on Neal, Allen Ginsberg, and Neal's wife, LuAnne, in bed together. Five weeks after her departure, Neal got an annulment from LuAnne and married Carolyn on April 1, 1948. Carolyn Cassady's book, Off the Road, details her marriage to Cassady and recalls him as, "the archetype of the American Man."[8]

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.

The couple eventually had three children and settled down in a ranch house in Monte Sereno, California, 50 miles south of San Francisco, where Kerouac and Ginsberg sometimes visited.[9] This home, built in 1954 with money from a settlement from Southern Pacific Railroad for a train-related accident, was demolished in August 1997.[10] In 1950, Cassady entered into a bigamous marriage with Diane Hansen, a young model who was pregnant with his child, and he fathered one son, Curtis Hansen.

It has also been reported that Cassady had a sexual relationship with Ginsberg, which lasted off and on for the next twenty years.[11]

Cassady traveled cross-country with both Kerouac and Ginsberg on multiple occasions, including the trip that is documented in Kerouac's On the Road.

Role of drugs[edit]

Following an arrest in 1958 for offering to share a small amount of marijuana with an undercover agent at a San Francisco nightclub, Cassady served a two-year sentence at California's San Quentin State Prison in Marin County. After his release in June 1960, he struggled to meet family obligations, and Carolyn divorced him when his parole period expired in 1963. Carolyn stated that she was looking to remove the burden of supporting a family from Cassady, but "this was a mistake and removed the last pillar of his self-esteem."[12]

After the divorce, Cassady shared an apartment with Allen Ginsberg and Beat poet Charles Plymell in 1963 at 1403 Gough Street, San Francisco.

Cassady first met author Ken Kesey during the summer of 1962; he eventually became one of the Merry Pranksters, a group who formed around Kesey in 1964 who were vocal proponents of the use of psychedelic drugs. During 1964, Cassady served as the main driver of the bus named "Furthur" on the iconic first half of the journey from San Francisco to New York, which was immortalized by Tom Wolfe's book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Cassady appears at length in a documentary film about the Merry Pranksters and their cross-country trip, Magic Trip, directed by Alex Gibney, released on 5 August 2011.

Travels and death[edit]

In January 1967, Cassady traveled to Mexico with fellow prankster George "Barely Visible" Walker and Cassady's 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.[citation needed]

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, Denver, New York City, and points in-between. Cassady then returned to Mexico in September and October (stopping in San Antonio, 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, in 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 tracks, reportedly by Dr.[vague] Anton Black, later a professor at El Paso Community College, who carried Cassady over his shoulders to the local post office building. Cassady was then transported 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. The physician who performed the autopsy wrote simply, "general congestion in all systems." When interviewed later, the physician 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 believes he may have died of renal failure.[13]


Neal Cassady has four known children: Cathleen Joanne Cassady (1948), Jami Cassady Ratto (1949), Curtis W. Hansen (1950) and John Cassady (1951). Cathleen, known as Cathy, is the mother of the only grandchild Neal met. Cathy, Jami and John keep a website in memory of their parents and parent's beat friends.[14][15] Curt, born from a bigamous marriage with Diana Hansen, died April 30, 2014. He was one of the co-founders of radio station WEBE 108, in Bridgeport, CT.[16]

In popular culture[edit]

In On the Road, the narrator, Sal Paradise (representing Jack Kerouac) states, "He was simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man, he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and to get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him...Somewhere along the line, I knew there'd be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line, the pearl would be handed to me."[17]

In literature[edit]

The late Ken Kesey wrote a fictional account of Cassady's death in a short story named "The Day After Superman Died", where Cassady is portrayed as mumbling about the number of railroad ties he had counted on the line (64,928) as his last words before dying. It was published as a part of Kesey's 1986 collection Demon Box.

Cassady's autobiographical novel The First Third, was published in 1971, three years after his death. Most of his complete surviving letters were published in Grace Beats Karma: Letters from Prison (Blast, 1993) and Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967 (Penguin, 2007). The legendary Joan Anderson letter has been reported to have been recently found, according to an AP story dated Nov 24, 2014. The 18-page letter, which is said to have substantially inspired Kerouac's subsequent writing style, was to be auctioned on Dec 17, 2014, however a legal dispute over ownership prevented the auction going ahead. A National Public Radio website story includes an Associated Press photograph of 30 lines of the similar "stream of consciousness," annotated first draft of Kerouac's On the Road for comparison.[18][19]

Cassady was the model for the character Dean Moriarty in Kerouac's On the Road, and the character "Cody Pomeray" in many of Kerouac's other novels. In the surviving first draft of On the Road, which Kerouac typed on a 120-foot roll of paper specially constructed for that purpose, the story's protagonist's name remains "Neal Cassady".[20] However, in Kerouac's final edition of On The Road, Cassady's character is known as "Dean Moriarty".

One of the interviewees[who?] in the film Magic Trip states that Cassady was also the inspiration for the main character of Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Ginsberg mentioned Cassady in the notorious and critically acclaimed poem "Howl" (1955) as "N.C., secret hero of these poems".

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 during the famed Hells Angels parties at Ken Kesey's residence in La Honda, California, an event also chronicled in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Although his name was removed from the book at the insistence of 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.

Writing style and influence[edit]

Cassady is credited with helping Kerouac break with his Thomas Wolfe-influenced sentimental style, as seen in The Town and the City. After reading Cassady's letters, Kerouac was inspired to write his story in the style that Cassady spoke, "in a rush of mad ecstasy, without self-consciousness or mental hesitation."[21]

This fluid writing style, reading more like a stream of consciousness or hypermanic rapid-fire conversation than written prose, is best demonstrated within Cassady's letters to family and friends. In a letter to Keroauc from 1953, Cassady begins with the following fervent sentence;

"Well it’s about time you wrote, I was fearing you farted out on top that mean mountain or slid under while pissing in Pismo, beach of flowers, food and foolishness, but I knew the fear was ill-founded for balancing it in my thoughts of you, much stronger and valid if you weren’t dead, was a realization of the experiences you would be having down there, rail, home, and the most important, climate, by a remembrance of my own feelings and thoughts (former low, or more exactly, nostalgic and unreal; latter hi) as, for example, I too seemed to spend time looking out upper floor windows at sparse, especially night times, traffic in females—old or young."[22]

"On the Road" became a sensation by capturing Cassady's voice and Kerouac discovered a unique style of his own that he called "spontaneous prose", a stream of consciousness prose form.[23]

Unfortunately, Cassady’s own written work was never formally published in his lifetime, and he left behind only a half written manuscript and a number of personal letters. Cassady admitted to Kerouac in a letter from 1948, “My prose has no individual style as such, but is rather an unspoken and still unexpressed groping toward the personal. There is something there that wants to come out; something of my own that must be said. Yet, perhaps, words are not the way for me.” [22]

In music[edit]

Cassady lived briefly with The Grateful Dead and is immortalized in "The Other One" section of their song "That's It For The Other One" as the bus driver "Cowboy Neal."[24][25] A second Grateful Dead song, "Cassidy," by John Perry Barlow, 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.[26]

Other references to Cassady include

  • A New York City-based folk duo, Aztec Two Step, in their 1972 debut album memorialized Cassady in the song "The Persecution & Restoration of Dean Moriarty (On The Road)."
  • The Beat-inspired folk revival band Washington Squares released a song named "Neal Cassady" on their 1989 album Fair and Square.
  • The Doobie Brothers guitarist and songwriter Patrick Simmons refers to Cassady in his song "Neal's Fandango" as his incentive for taking to the road.
  • The progressive rock band King Crimson released a song named "Neal and Jack and Me" on their 1982 album Beat.
  • Tom Waits composed and recorded a song named "Jack & Neal" (included in his 1977 Foreign Affairs album) about a trip to California, with Neal Cassady driving in the company of Jack Kerouac.
  • The Franco-American band Moriarty is named after the fictional character Dean Moriarty that Kerouac created from Neal Cassady.
  • Fatboy Slim produced a track, "Neal Cassady Starts Here," that appeared as a B-side to the singles "Santa Cruz" and Everybody Needs A 303.
  • Singer-songwriter Eric Taylor's 1995 song "Dean Moriarty" describes a character patterned after Neal Cassady.
  • Jazz guitarist John Scofield wrote a song called "Cassidae" [sic], released on his 1979 album "Who's who?"
  • Death Cab for Cutie loosely based their song "Styrofoam Plates" from the album The Photo Album on the events of Cassady's life depicted in On the Road.
  • World Peace Is None of Your Business, the 2014 album by British musician Morrissey, features a track called "Neal Cassady Drops Dead".
  • Bocephus King sings a song called Cowboy Neal.

In film[edit]

  • Neal Cassady's friendship with Jack Kerouac was portrayed in John Byrum's film, Heart Beat, starring Nick Nolte as Cassady and John Heard as Kerouac. The film was based on the memoir of the same name by Carolyn Cassady (played by Sissy Spacek). Released in 1980 immediately after Warner Bros. acquired Orion Pictures, the film was given a limited release due to studio politics and a perceived lack of public interest. The film quickly fell from view. Talk show host Steve Allen, who was a big supporter of On The Road, appears briefly as himself.
  • The film Who'll Stop the Rain (1978) is a psychological drama released by United Artists. The film is based on Robert Stone's novel Dog Soldiers. This film also starred Nick Nolte. Stone based the character of Ray Hicks (Nolte) on Beat writer Cassady. Stone became acquainted with Cassady through novelist Ken Kesey, a classmate of Stone's in graduate school at Stanford University. Hicks' death scene on the railroad tracks at the film's conclusion was directly based on Cassady's death along a railroad track outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in 1968.
  • The film The Last Time I Committed Suicide (1997), with Thomas Jane as Cassady, is based on the "Joan Anderson letter" written by Cassady to Jack Kerouac in December 1950. Until 2014, much of this letter was thought to have been lost, though an excerpt had been published in a 1964 edition of John Bryan's magazine Notes from Underground.
  • A 2007 short film Luz Del Mundo deals with Cassady's friendship and adventures with Jack Kerouac. Cassady is played by Austin Nichols, and Kerouac is played by Will Estes.[27]
  • The biographical film Neal Cassady, was also released in 2007.[28] This film focuses more on the Prankster years and stars Tate Donovan as Neal, Amy Ryan as Carolyn Cassady, Chris Bauer as Kesey, and Glenn Fitzgerald as Kerouac. Noah Buschel wrote and directed the film. The film deals primarily with how Neal became trapped by his fictional alter-ego, Dean Moriarty. The Cassady family criticized this film as highly inaccurate.[29]
  • Cassady is portrayed by Jon Prescott in the 2010 film, Howl, which chronicles the creation of the poem "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg and the obscenity trial surrounding its publication.[30][31]
  • In the film Across the Universe (2007), the character Dr. Robert, played by Bono, is said to have been inspired by Neal Cassady.[32]
  • In the documentary film Love Always, Carolyn — A film about Kerouac, Cassady and Me (2011), Cassady is featured in archival segments. The film also features interviews with Cassady's ex-wife Carolyn and children.[33]
  • Cassady appears in Alex Gibney's Magic Trip (2011), a documentary film using the footage shot by Kesey and the Merry Pranksters during their cross-country bus trip in the "Furthur" bus. The hyperkinetic Cassady is frequently seen driving the bus, jabbering, and sitting next to a sign that boasts, "Neal gets things done."
  • In the 2012 dramatic adaptation of On the Road by Walter Salles, Neal Cassady/Dean Moriarty is portrayed by Garrett Hedlund.[34]
  • Josh Lucas portrayed Cassady in 2013's Big Sur.

In television[edit]

Published works[edit]

  • "Pull My Daisy" (1951, poetry) written with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg
  • "Genesis West: Volume Seven" (1965, magazine article)
  • The First Third (1971, autobiographical novel)
  • Grace Beats Karma (collection of poetry and letters). New York, NY: Blast Books, 1993. ISBN 0-922-23308-x
  • Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967 (2004, letters)

Published biographies[edit]

Literary studies[edit]

Literary appearances[edit]

Appearances in film[edit]

Archival footage



  1. ^ Sandison, David; Vickers, Graham (2006-11-19). "‘Neal Cassady'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  2. ^ Cassady & Moore 2004, p. 1.
  3. ^ Cassady & Moore 2004, p. 1; Sandison & Vickers 2006, pp. 42–46.
  4. ^ Turner 1996, p. 79 ("Brierly had been sexually attracted to Neal, and managed to entice him into his first homosexual experience."); Sandison & Vickers 2006, pp. 41–42 ("Brierly was most likely also a closet homosexual, and it was probably through him that Neal Cassady would first discover and explore gay sex and serve as a hustler in Denver's gay community."). According to some reports, however, Brierly's sexual orientation was an open secret. See Weir, John (June 22, 2005), "Everybody knows, nobody cares, or: Neal Cassady's Penis", TriQuarterly .
  5. ^
  6. ^ Asher, Levi. "Neal Cassady". Literary Kicks. Retrieved 5 November 2014. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Ferlinghetti, Lawrence (1990). Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg. Nation. pp. 652–653. 
  9. ^ Cassady, Carolyn (1990). Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg. London: Black Spring Press. ISBN 0-948238-05-4. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Allen Young, "Allen Ginsberg: the Gay Sunshine Interview," page 1 (Bolinas, California: Grey Fox Press, 1973)
  12. ^
  13. ^ Neal Cassidy website (retrieved 26 January 2009)
  14. ^ The legacy of iconic literary figure Neal Cassady lives on in Santa Cruz with his son and daughter (retrieved 27 June 2014)
  15. ^ Cassady Family's Website (retrieved 27 June 2014)
  16. ^ Curtis Hansen Obituary (retrieved 27 June 2014)
  17. ^ Kerouac, Jack (1976). On The Road. USA: Penguin Group. ISBN 1101127570. 
  18. ^ "Kerouac letter discovery shows poet didn't toss it". Boston Herald. November 24, 2014. 
  19. ^ Long lost letter that inspired On the Road Style has been found, National Public Radio, Lynne Neary, November 24, 2014. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  20. ^ Paul Maher Jr. Kerouac: The Definitive Biography (Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004) p. 233 ISBN 0-87833-305-3
  21. ^ Asher, Levi. "Neal Cassady". LitKicks.come. Literary Kicks. Retrieved 5 November 2014. 
  22. ^ a b
  23. ^ Knight, Arthur and Kit (1988). Kerouac and the Beats. New York, NY: Paragon House. ISBN 1-55778-067-6. 
  24. ^, retrieved 4 August 2007
  25. ^, retrieved 23 August 2007
  26. ^ Cassidy's Tale
  27. ^ IMDB title
  28. ^ IMDB entry
  29. ^, retrieved 28 August 2007
  30. ^ Brooks, Barnes (December 2, 2009). "Sundance Tries to Hone Its Artsy Edge". 
  31. ^ "Alessandro Nivola is hotter than Audrey Tautou". Retrieved 2009-09-22. 
  32. ^ [1]
  33. ^ "'Love Always, Carolyn". Documentary film. IMDB. Retrieved 9 September 2011. 
  34. ^ [2]
  35. ^ Bignell, Paul; Johnson, Andrew (2007-07-29). "On the Road (uncensored). Discovered: Kerouac 'cuts'". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2010-05-20. 


  • Cassady, Neal; Moore, Dave (2004), Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967, Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0-14-200217-9 
  • Sandison, David; Vickers, Graham (2006), Neal Cassady: The Fast Life of a Beat Hero, Chicago Review Press, ISBN 1-55652-615-6 .
  • Turner, Steve (1996), Angelheaded Hipster: A Life of Jack Kerouac, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, ISBN 0-7475-2480-7 
  • Collins, Ronald & Skover, David. Mania: The Story of the Outraged & Outrageous Lives that Launched a Cultural Revolution (Top-Five Books, March 2013)

Further reading[edit]

Archival resources[edit]

External links[edit]