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 stolen property when he was In , the year-old Cassady met Justin W.
Brierly , a prominent Denver educator. 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 to ; on at least one of these occasions, he was released by law enforcement into Brierly's safekeeping. In June , 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.
While in New York, Cassady persuaded Kerouac to teach him to write fiction. Cassady's second wife, Carolyn, 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 a formal education, which Neal envied, but intellectually he was more than a match for Jack, and they enjoyed long discussions on every subject. Carolyn's book, Off the Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg , details her marriage to Cassady and recalls him as, "the archetype of the American Man".
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.
Role of drugs[ edit ] Following an arrest in 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 , he struggled to meet family obligations, and Carolyn divorced him when his parole period expired in Carolyn stated that she was looking to relieve Cassady of the burden of supporting a family, but "this was a mistake and removed the last pillar of his self-esteem".
Cassady first met author Ken Kesey during the summer of ; he eventually became one of the Merry Pranksters , a group who formed around Kesey in who were vocal proponents of the use of psychedelic drugs. Cassady appears at length in a documentary film about the Merry Pranksters and their cross-country trip, Magic Trip August 4, , directed by Alex Gibney.
Cassady was beloved for his ability to inspire others to love life. Yet at rare times he was known to express regret over his wild life, especially as it affected his family. At one point Cassady took Cox, then 19, aside and told him, "Twenty years of fast living—there's just not much left, and my kids are all screwed up. Don't do what I have done. 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 , Cassady returned to Mexico once again. 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 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 42nd 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 Seconal. The physician who performed the autopsy wrote simply, "general congestion in all systems. Robert William Hyatt Jr.
Hansen , and John Allen Cassady In February , he was featured in Westword Magazine. 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 parents' "beat" friends. After reading Cassady's letters, Kerouac was inspired to write his story in Cassady's communication style: In a letter to Kerouac from , 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.
By capturing Cassady's voice, Kerouac discovered a unique style of his own that he called "spontaneous prose," a stream of consciousness prose form.
Cassady admitted to Kerouac in a letter from , "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.