Saturday, 10 November, 2001, 21:57 GMT

Author and hippie icon Kesey dies

American author Ken Kesey, who wrote the classic novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and whose exploits spawned the hippie movement, has died.

The celebrated king of counter-culture died in an Oregon hospital following an operation for liver cancer. He was 66.

Kesey found success at the age of 27 when he wrote Cuckoo's Nest, his first novel, which was later made into an Oscar-winning film starring Jack Nicholson.

It tells the story of McMurphy, a rebellious inmate in a mental hospital who leads a rebellion against the repressive staff.

Authority eventually wins; McMurphy is lobotomised.

But the book, published in 1962, was an instant bestseller and was championed by those who embraced the counter-culture of the 1960s.


Kesey was equally well-known for his drug-infused exploits.

In 1964, the year of the publication of his second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, he and some friends toured the US in a psychedelic painted bus calling themselves the Merry Pranksters, giving away free LSD.

It was a trip in more senses than one, says the BBC's media correspondent Nick Higham.

The Pranksters were often fuelled by LSD, and the journey was interrupted by frequent drug-inspired "happenings" which helped define the hippy movement of the 1960s.

Kesey's adventures were later chronicled by author Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

The author was jailed in 1967 for six months for possession of marijuana.

He then retreated to his farm and family in Oregon, where he continued to write and made occasional appearances on stage - including ones in the UK.

He made a rare visit to the Edinburgh Festival three years ago with fellow Prankster Ken Babbs for performance which included readings and vintage film footage from their days on the tour.

They travelled in a Mark II version of the original bus.