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Neal Cassady
Neal .jpg
Born Neal Leon Cassady
(1926-02-08)February 8, 1926
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
Died February 4, 1968(1968-02-04) (aged 41)
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Occupation Author, poet
Genre Beat poetry
Notable works The First Third
Spouse LuAnne Henderson (1945–1948; annulled),
Carolyn Cassady (1948–1963; divorced),
Partner Diane Hansen (1950–?),
Anne Murphy (?–1968)
Children 5

Neal Leon Cassady (February 8, 1926 – February 4, 1968) was a major figure of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the counterculture movements of the 1960s.

He was prominently featured as himself in the "scroll" (first draft) version of Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road, and served as the model for the character Dean Moriarty in the 1957 version of that book. In many of Kerouac's later books, Cassady is represented by the character Cody Pomeray. Cassady also appeared in Allen Ginsberg's poems, and in several other works of literature by other writers.


Early years

Cassady was born to Maude Jean (Scheuer) and Neal Marshall Cassady in Salt Lake City, Utah. His mother died when he was 10, and he was raised by his father in Denver, Colorado. 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 16.

In 1941, the 15-year-old Cassady met Justin W. Brierly, a prominent Denver educator. Brierly was well known as a mentor of promising young men and was impressed by Cassady's intelligence. 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 1942 to 1944; on at least one of these occasions, he was released by law enforcement into Brierly's safekeeping. In June 1944, Cassady was arrested for possession of stolen goods and served 11 months of a one-year prison sentence. Brierly and he actively exchanged letters during this period, even through Cassady's intermittent incarcerations; this correspondence represents Cassady's earliest surviving letters. Brierly is also believed to have been responsible for Cassady's first homosexual experience.

Personal life

1944 Denver mug shot of Cassady

In October 1945, after being released from prison, Cassady married 16-year-old Lu Anne Henderson. In 1946, the couple traveled to New York City to visit their friend, Hal Chase, another protégé of Brierly's. While visiting Chase at Columbia University, Cassady met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Although Cassady did not attend Columbia, he soon became friends with them and their acquaintances, some of whom later became members of the Beat Generation. While in New York, Cassady persuaded Kerouac to teach him to write fiction. Cassady's second wife, Carolyn, has stated, "Neal, having been raised in the slums of Denver amongst the world's lost men, 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 Robinson met Cassady in 1947, while she was studying for her master's in theater arts at the University of Denver. Five weeks after Lu Anne's departure, Neal got an annulment from Lu Anne and married Carolyn, on April 1, 1948. Carolyn's book, Off the Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg (1990), details her marriage to Cassady and recalls him as "the archetype of the American Man". Cassady's relationship with Ginsberg lasted off and on for the next 20 years.

During this period, Cassady worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad and kept in touch with his "Beat" acquaintances, even as they became increasingly different philosophically.

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. This home, built in 1954 with money from a settlement from Southern Pacific Railroad for a train-related accident, was demolished in August 1997. In 1950, Cassady entered into a marriage with Diane Hansen, a young model who was pregnant with his child, Curtis Hansen.

Cassady traveled cross-country with both Kerouac and Ginsberg on multiple occasions, including the trips documented in Kerouac's On the Road.

Travels and death

During 1964, Cassady served as the main driver of the bus named Furthur on the iconic first half of the journey from San Francisco to New York, which was immortalized by Tom Wolfe's book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

In January 1967, Cassady traveled to Mexico with fellow prankster George "Barely Visible" Walker and Cassady's longtime girlfriend Anne Murphy. In a beachside house just south of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, they were joined by Barbara Wilson and Walter Cox. 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: "[T]wenty years of fast living — there's just not much left, and my kids are all screwed up. Don't do what I have done."

During the next year, Cassady's life became less stable, and the pace of his travels more frenetic. He left Mexico in May, traveling to San Francisco, Denver, New York City, and points in between. 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 1968, Cassady returned to Mexico once again.

On February 3, 1968, Cassady attended a wedding party in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. 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, aged 41.


Cassady has five known children: Robert William Hyatt Jr. (1945), Cathleen Joanne Cassady (1948), Jami Cassady Ratto (1949), Curtis W. Hansen (1950), and John Allen Cassady (1951). Robert, son of Neal Cassady and Maxine Beam, is an artist working in Arvada, Colorado. In February 2017, 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.

Curt, born from a bigamous marriage with Diana Hansen, died April 30, 2014, aged 63. He was one of the co-founders of radio station WEBE 108, in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Writing style and influence

Cassady is credited with helping Kerouac break with his Thomas Wolfe-influenced sentimental style, as seen in The Town and the City (1950).

This fluid writing style, reading more like a stream of consciousness or hypermanic rapid-fire conversation than written prose, is best demonstrated within Cassady's letters to family and friends.

On the Road became a sensation. 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's own written work was never formally published in his lifetime, and he left behind only a half-written manuscript and a number of personal letters. Cassady admitted to Kerouac in a letter from 1948, "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."

Popular culture

In film

Archival footage

  • Anthem to Beauty (1997).
  • Love Always, Carolyn — A film about Kerouac, Cassady and Me (2011), a documentary that features Cassady in archival segments, as well as interviews with Cassady's ex-wife Carolyn and his children.
  • The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir (2015).


  • The film Who'll Stop the Rain (1978) is a psychological drama released by United Artists. The film is based on Robert Stone's novel Dog Soldiers (1974), and stars Nick Nolte as Ray Hicks. Stone based the character of Hicks on Beat writer Neal Cassady. Stone became acquainted with Cassady through novelist Ken Kesey, a classmate of Stone in graduate school at Stanford University. Hicks' death scene on the railroad tracks at the film's conclusion was directly based on Cassady's death along a railroad track outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in 1968.
  • Heart Beat (1980), which portrays Neal Cassady's friendship with Jack Kerouac, stars Nick Nolte as Cassady and John Heard as Kerouac. The film was based on the memoir of the same name by Carolyn Cassady (played by Sissy Spacek). Talk show host Steve Allen, who was a big supporter of On The Road, appears briefly as himself. Released immediately after Warner Bros. acquired Orion Pictures, the film was given a limited release due to studio politics and a perceived lack of public interest. The film quickly fell from view.
  • What Happened to Kerouac (1986).
  • A short film Luz Del Mundo (2007) deals with Cassady's friendship and adventures with Jack Kerouac. Cassady is played by Austin Nichols, and Kerouac is played by Will Estes.
  • In the film Across the Universe (2007), the character Dr. Robert, played by Bono, is said to have been inspired by Neal Cassady.
  • Neal Cassady (2007), a biographical film focused mostly on the Merry Prankster years and stars Tate Donovan as Neal, Amy Ryan as Carolyn Cassady, Chris Bauer as Kesey, and Glenn Fitzgerald as Kerouac; Noah Buschel wrote and directed the film, which deals primarily with how Neal became trapped by his fictional alter-ego, Dean Moriarty. The Cassady family criticized this film as highly inaccurate.
  • In On the Road (2012), the dramatic adaptation of the book, Neal Cassady/Dean Moriarty is portrayed by Garrett Hedlund.
  • In Big Sur (2013), Josh Lucas portrays Cassady.

In literature

  • David Amram's OFFBEAT: Collaborating with Kerouac (2002)
  • Charles Bukowski's Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969) as "Kerouac's boy Neal C."
  • Allen Ginsberg:
    • "The Green Automobile" (1953) as "my old companion"
    • "Howl" (1956) as "N.C., secret hero of these poems"
    • "Many Loves" (1956)
    • "On Neal's Ashes" (1968)
    • "The Fall of America" (1968)
    • "Elegies for Neal Cassady" (1968)
  • John Clellon Holmes:
    • Go (1952) as "Hart Kennedy"
    • The Horn (1958) as "the driver"
  • Jack Kerouac:
    • On the Road (1957) as "Dean Moriarty". Cassady was the model for the character Dean Moriarty in Kerouac's On the Road, and the character "Cody Pomeray" in many of Kerouac's other novels. In the surviving first draft of On the Road, which Kerouac typed on a 120-foot roll of paper specially constructed for that purpose, the story's protagonist's name remains "Neal Cassady". However, in Kerouac's final edition of On The Road, Cassady's character is known as "Dean Moriarty". In On the Road, the narrator, Sal Paradise (representing Jack Kerouac) states, "He was simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man, he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and to get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him ... Somewhere along the line, I knew there'd be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line, the pearl would be handed to me."
    • The Subterraneans (1958) as "Leroy"
    • The Dharma Bums (1958) as "Cody"
    • Book of Dreams (1960) as "Cody Pomeray"
    • Visions of Cody (1960; published 1973) as "Cody Pomeray"
    • Big Sur (1962) as "Cody Pomeray"
    • Desolation Angels (novel) (1965) as "Cody Pomeray"
  • Ken Kesey:
    • "Over the Border" (1973), as "Houlihan"
    • Kesey also wrote a fictional account of Cassady's death in the short story "The Day After Superman Died" (1979, referring to Cassady as "Houlihan"), wherein Cassady is portrayed as mumbling about the number of railroad ties he had counted on the line (64,928) as his last words before dying. It was published as a part of Kesey's collection Demon Box (1986).
    • One of the interviewees in the film Magic Trip (2011) states that Cassady was the inspiration for the main character, Randle Patrick McMurphy, of Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962).
  • Phil Lesh's Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead (2005)
  • Nick Mamatas' Move Under Ground (2004)
  • Chuck Rosenthal's Jack Kerouac's Avatar Angel: His Last Novel (2001), as "Cody Pomeray."
  • Robert Stone:
    • "Porque No Tiene, Porque Le Falta" (1969), as "Willie Wings"
    • Dog Soldiers (1974), as "Ray Hicks"
    • Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties (2007)
  • In Hunter S. Thompson's book Hell's Angels (1966), Cassady is described as, "the worldly inspiration for the protagonist of two recent novels", drunkenly yelling at police during the famed Hells Angels parties at Ken Kesey's residence in La Honda, California. Although Cassady's name was removed from the book at the insistence of Thompson's publisher, the description is clearly a reference to the character based on Cassady in Jack Kerouac's works, On the Road and Visions of Cody (1951–1952).
  • Tom Wolfe also chronicled Cassady's drunken yelling at police during Hells Angels parties in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

In music

  • Tom Waits recorded "Jack & Neal /California, Here I Come," on his 1977 album Foreign Affairs.
  • A New York City-based folk duo, Aztec Two Step, in their 1972 debut album memorialized Cassady in the song "The Persecution & Restoration of Dean Moriarty (On The Road)".
  • Death Cab for Cutie loosely based their song "Styrofoam Plates" from The Photo Album (2001) on the events of Cassady's life depicted in On the Road.
  • The Doobie Brothers guitarist and songwriter Patrick Simmons refers to Cassady in his song "Neal's Fandango" as his incentive for taking to the road.
  • Cassady lived briefly with The Grateful Dead and is immortalized in "The Other One" section of their song "That's It For The Other One", as the bus driver "Cowboy Neal".
  • A second Grateful Dead song, "Cassidy" by John Perry Barlow, might seem to be a misspelling of Cassady's name. However, in fact, the song primarily celebrates the 1970 birth of baby girl Cassidy Law into the Grateful Dead family, though the lyrics also include references to Neal Cassady himself.
  • Bocephus King sings a song called "Cowboy Neal".
  • The progressive rock band King Crimson released a song named "Neal and Jack and Me" on their album Beat (1982).
  • Morrissey's album World Peace Is None of Your Business (2014) features a track called "Neal Cassady Drops Dead".
  • The Franco-American band Moriarty is named after the fictional character Dean Moriarty that Kerouac created from Neal Cassady.
  • Jazz guitarist John Scofield wrote a song called "Cassidae" [sic], released on his album Who's who? (1979).
  • Singer-songwriter Eric Taylor's song "Dean Moriarty" (1995) describes a character patterned after Neal Cassady.
  • Fatboy Slim produced a track, "Neal Cassady Starts Here", that appeared as a B-side to the singles "Santa Cruz" and "Everybody Needs A 303" (1996).
  • The Beat-inspired folk revival band Washington Squares released a song named "Neal Cassady" on their album Fair and Square (1989).

Published works

  • "The Joan Anderson Letter", written by Cassady to Jack Kerouac (December 1950): it was, until 2014, thought to have been lost, though an excerpt had been published in a 1964 edition of John Bryan's magazine Notes from Underground. Associated Press reported in November 24, 2014, that the entire letter had been found. The 18-page letter, which is said to have substantially inspired Kerouac's subsequent writing style, was to be auctioned on December 17, 2014, but a legal dispute over ownership prevented the auction from proceeding. The original letter was auctioned by Heritage Auctions as Lot 45378 on March 8, 2017.
  • "Pull My Daisy" (1951, poetry) written with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg
  • "Genesis West: Volume Seven" (1965, magazine article)
  • "First Night of the Tapes" with Jack Kerouac. "Transatlantic Review" December 1969
  • The First Third (1971, autobiographical novel), published three years after Cassady's death
  • As Ever: The Collected Correspondence of Allen Ginsberg & Neal Cassady. Berkeley, CA: Creative Arts Book Company, 1977. ISBN: 978-0916870089
  • Grace Beats Karma: Letters from Prison (collection of poetry and letters). New York, NY: Blast Books, 1993. ISBN: 0-922233-08-X
  • Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944–1967 (2004, letters)

Published biographies

  • The Holy Goof: A Biography of Neal Cassady, by William Plummer (1981)
  • Neal Cassady, Volume One, 1926–1940, by Tom Christopher (1995)
  • Neal Cassady, Volume Two, 1941–1946, by Tom Christopher (1998)
  • Neal Cassady: The Fast Life of a Beat Hero, by David Sandison & Graham Vickers (2006)
  • Off the Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg, by Carolyn Cassady. Black Spring Press (1990).

Literary studies

  • Stephenson, Gregory (2007). "Friendly and Flowing Savage: The Literary Legend of Neal Cassady". Incorporated in The Daybreak Boys: Essays on the Literature of the Beat Generation (1990).

See also

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