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Novelist Ken Kesey dies at 66

Ken Kesey, who broke into the literary scene with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and then helped immortalize the psychedelic 1960s with an LSD-fueled bus ride, died Saturday. He was 66.

Kesey died at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Ore., two weeks after cancer surgery to remove 40 percent of his liver.

After studying writing at Stanford University, Kesey gained fame in 1962 with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, followed quickly with Sometimes a Great Notion in 1964, then went 28 years before publishing his third major novel.

In 1964, he rode cross-country in an old school bus named Furthur driven by Neal Cassady, hero of Jack Kerouac's beat generation classic, On The Road. The passengers called themselves the Merry Pranksters and sought enlightenment through the psychedelic drug LSD. The odyssey is documented in Tom Wolfe's 1968, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest became widely known because of a movie that Kesey hated. It tells the story of R.P. McMurphy, who feigned insanity to get off a prison farm, only to be lobotomized when he threatened the authority of the mental hospital.

The 1974 movie swept the Academy Awards for best picture, best director, best actor and best actress, but Kesey sued the producers because it took the viewpoint away from the character of the schizophrenic Indian, Chief Bromden.

Born in La Junta, Colo., on Sept. 17, 1935, Kesey moved in 1943 from the dry prairie to his grandparents' dairy farm in Oregon's lush Willamette Valley.

After serving four months in jail for a marijuana bust in California, he set down roots in Pleasant Hill in 1965 with his high school sweetheart, Faye, and reared four children. Their rambling red barn house became a landmark of the psychedelic era, attracting visits from myriad strangers in tie-dyed clothing seeking enlightenment.

Furthur rusted away in a boggy pasture while Kesey raised beef cattle.

Kesey was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992.

His son Jed, killed in a 1984 van wreck on a road trip with the University of Oregon wrestling team, was buried in the back yard. Kesey also wrestled in college.

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