Born: 8 February 1926
Died: 4 February 1968
Birthplace: Salt Lake City, Utah
Best known as: The basis for Dean Moriarity in Jack Kerouac's On the Road
Neal Cassady wasn't much of a writer, and yet he is considered a pillar -- a muse, it's said -- of the Beat Generation, the American narcotized literary movement of the 1950s and '60s that gave celebrity status to writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Ken Kesey. Cassady had a rough childhood in Salt Lake City and Denver; his entry into adulthood was all about petty crimes, including a year in jail from 1944 to 1945. He then went to New York City, where he befriended a Columbia University crowd that included Kerouac and Ginsberg (and William S. Burroughs). Cassady was by all accounts a hard-partying, larger-than-life figure, and was immortalized as the character Dean Moriarty in Kerouac's 1957 novel On the Road, and later noted as the "hero" inspiration for his sometime-lover Ginsberg's famous poem "Howl." Cassady settled in central California in the early 1960s, and from then on had a kind of dual life -- sometimes he was the married family man who worked for the railroads, and sometimes he was "Cowboy Neal," off on LSD-fueled benders with the Grateful Dead, or driving a hippie bus ("Further") cross-country for Kesey's so-called Merry Pranksters. Cassady was found comatose alongside some railroad tracks in Mexico in the winter of 1968, and died a short while later, a few days before his 42nd birthday. His autobiographical novel, The First Third, was published three years after his death, but Cassady's not famous for being a writer. He's famous for other writers admiring him, as in the works of Kerouac and Ginsberg, and in Ken Kesey's story "The Day After Superman Died."
Extra credit: Yes, the spelling of Neal Cassady's surname is all over the map, and sometimes appears as "Cassidy," "Casady" and other variations.
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