Ken Kesey Biography and One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest

Kesey was born on September, 17th, 1935 in La Junta Colorado. Growing up his father worked for a creamery business as the family lived on a farm. Both his parents were very religious Christians and raised Kesey the same way. The family had moved around quite a few times before finally settling in Eugene Oregon, where Kesey’s father founded Eugene Farmers Cooperative. Ken Kesey went to high school and university in Oregon where he majored his studies towards acting and continued his love for sports with wrestling.

Kesey received his bachelor degree in 1957, and then enrolled in creative writing at Stanford University. After University, he returned to his hometown to work in the dairy business (like his parents) for a year with his brother Chuck. Kesey also married in 1957 and had four children. He singed up for the military but, was disqualified because of a shoulder injury while wrestling, which also stopped him from doing the sport. Since this career was out of reach Kesey signed up for a writing program in 1958.

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However, he went through some radical transformations when a friend offered him the job of doing experiments with hallucinogenic drugs at Veterans’ Administration Hospital. This job convinced Kesey to start working in a mental hospital which is where he was inspired to write ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ which was finished in 1962. While working with his brother back in Eugene for the creamery business, Kesey started his next book ‘Sometimes a Great Nation’. While ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ was gaining more popularity, a Broadway version of it was made in 1963. Sometimes a Great Nation’ was then finished in 1964 but, never achieved the same success as Kesey’s first book. Kesey took a break from writing to form a small group with his friends called the “Merry Pranksters”. The group did “Acidic Tests” and introduced LSD to a wider audience. Kesey was then under drug arrest in 1966 and went to Mexico with his family to avoid prosecution. After his release from jail, Kesey moved back to Oregon and published ‘Kesey’s Garage Sale’ in 1973, which was a collection of plays.

Sadly, a tragic event happened in 1984 when Kesey’s 20 year old son passed away, this affected him greatly but, he continued to write. In 1986, ‘Demon Box’ was published. Also published was a children’s book called, ‘Little Ticker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear’ in 1990, and Sailor Song in 1992 which was his first novel since ‘Sometime a Great Nation’, 28 years prior. However, nothing was as successful as ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, which was turned into an Academy winning film in the 1970’s (which won four awards).

The book itself sold over four million copies and was starting to be used in school to study. ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ was also turned into a musical. On November, 10th, 2001 Kesey died of liver caner in his hometown Eugene Oregon at the age of 66. Overall the five most notable things I learned about Kesey were how he chooses to start a job in drug experimentation. I was surprised to learn that ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ was actually written under drug influence but, also created by actual people he met in the mental hospital.

I was also surprised that he used to do competitive wrestling and would have continued if it was not for his injury as well as be in the military. I did not know that he had written other works but took a 28 break in-between them as well because he was arrested. It was also shocking to learn about how his son passed away and I imagine it must have been a hard thing to deal with. One of the most influential events of Kesey’s life was when he began to do experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs at Veterans’ Administration Hospital.

This job changed how Kesey saw things and thought. Kesey believed that having these hallucinations from the drugs was a tool he could use to change rational consciousness to a higher level of consciousness. This “high level of consciousness” led Kesey to accept a job at a mental hospital where he meets people that he used to model his characters from ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. Chief Bromen, the narrator, is believed to come from Kesey’s hallucinations where he often saw an Indian man sweeping the floors.

While in the hospital Kesey interviewed the patients while under the effects of LSD in order to gain a different perception of the patient’s view on the world. The Death of Kesey’s son was another horrible event that affected his life. In 1984, Kesey’s 20 year old son Jed was headed out to a wrestling tournament. However, the road was icy and went off a 300 foot cliff when the van lost control. Another member of the team was killed on impact. Jed was sent to the hospital. However, two days later was pronounced brain dead.

Jed’s funeral was held on the family’s farm and his dad wrote a letter to his closest friends explaining how hurt he was feeling and what had happened. A paragraph reads, “The phone rang in the nurses’ quarters. It was the doctor, for me. He had just appraised all the latest readouts on the monitors. ‘Your son is essentially dead, Mr. Kesey. I’m very sorry. ’ And sorrow rung absolutely honest… in the dim tangle of technology behind us. In all my life, walking and dreaming, I’ve never imaged anything harder. “

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