Today in Literary History – October 21, 1969 – Jack Kerouac dies

56383585_KerouaceThe great prophet of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac, died at the age of 47 on October 21, 1969, in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he lived with his mother and his third wife. He had long been an alcoholic recluse.

Kerouac always wanted to be a writer but he never wanted fame, and when it came to him it was more than he could handle, according to his friend, novelist John Clellon Holmes, who said that fame “so discombobulated him that for the rest of his life he never, never got his needle back on true north.

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Kerouac and his mother, Gabrielle

Kerouac gave the Beats their name and became their informal spokesman, championing wild experiences, drug use, creativity, sexual inhibition and disregard for bourgeois norms.

Yet, in the following generation Kerouac came to despise the hippies who the Beats gave birth to (although they adored him) and shrank into an alcoholic haze and conservative Catholicism.

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Photo and caption by Allen Ginsberg, 1964

Like many of his contemporaries, such as Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, Kerouac became enchanted with Buddhism during his Beat years, but after a nervous breakdown in 1960 he returned to the faith of his childhood and that of his Quebecois parents.

Heavy drinking, coupled with feelings of guilt that his renewed religiosity brought him, led Kerouac to become paranoid enough to believe that his old friends were plotting to poison him for being a Catholic.

He made rare appearances and they were usually embarrassing. He was always drunk, bloated, overweight and rambling incoherently. He refused to see any of his friends from the old days.

On the night of October 20, 1969, his already cirrhotic liver hemhorraged and Kerouac began vomiting blood.

He died in hospital the next day. A very sad end to a truly unique and talented spirit.

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