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Ken Kesey: the cuckoo in the nest

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Wrestler turned nurse, Ken Kesey, used his experience of working in a mental institution to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Ken Kesey's original bus

Ken Kesey’s original bus

Source: Rcarlberg

The book was made into a multi-Oscar winning film with Jack Nicholson chronicling the struggles of one patient against the system. It reflected Kesey’s own view that society marginalised the mentally ill because they didn’t fit into people’s view of what was ‘normal’.

The former champion wrestler turned nurse lived a bohemian existence in 1960s America and became one of the leading figures of the counterculture movement.

The book, which was published in 1962, became an instant best-seller and Kesey moved his family to La Honda, California, which fellow writer Hunter S.Thompson described as the ”world capital of madness”.

Kesey’s notorious parties could last for days where ”there were no rules, fear was unknown and sleep out of the question”. It was here that he mingled with the weird and wonderful of San Francisco including poet Alan Ginsberg and the notorious Hells’ Angels.

He completed his second book, Sometimes a Great Notion, before taking to the road with a group counter culturists called the Merry Pranksters. The group’s escapades in a garishly-painted bus across American were later the basis of Tom Wolfe’s best-selling novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Kesey wrote several more novels and remained married to his childhood sweetheart until he died following cancer surgery on his liver in 2001.

His advancing years age didn’t prevent him warning followers on his website that every now and then he still “got the itch to do something weird”.

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