Ken Kesey, 66, the author of the best-selling novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" who probably gained greater fame for his lifestyle as a rebellious, drug-infused "Merry Prankster" than he did as a serious and gifted author, died Nov. 10 at a hospital in Eugene, Ore. He had liver cancer and diabetes.
He published "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in 1962 and saw it become something between a manifesto and bible for youths later in the 1960s who were rebelling against the war in Vietnam and racial injustice. His second novel, "Sometimes a Great Notion," appeared in 1964 and is considered by some critics to be the better of the two. He was not to publish another major novel until 1992, when "Sailor Song" hit the bookshelves.
One of the reasons for the huge time gap in his work was the legendary life he lived. If "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was an anthem to anti-authoritarianism and nonconformity, he certainly practiced what he preached.
In a 1964 odyssey that has gone down in literary history, he traveled from coast to coast in a 1939 International Harvester school bus, which Mr. Kesey named Further and was painted in what later became known as "psychedelic" colors. The vehicle's driver was Neal Cassady, best known as the hero of Jack Kerouac's beat book "On the Road." Other members of the "Merry Pranksters" living and playing on that bus ride included the band that came to be known as the Grateful Dead.
After numerous stops for parties and "happenings" and copious interludes of illicit drug use, they finally arrived in New York, where Mr. Kesey was introduced to Kerouac, beat poet Allen Ginsberg and psychedelic drug enthusiast Timothy Leary. The epic was later recounted in Tom Wolfe's 1968 book, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."
The trip, and later colorful events in Mr. Kesey's life, were made possible by the success of his first novel.
"Cuckoo's Nest" included the story of the struggle between R.P. McMurphy, the gloriously rebellious insane asylum inmate (who is faking insanity) and Nurse Ratched, his psychiatric nemesis, who represents implacably idiotic authority. McMurphy is eventually lobotomized because he is seen as a threat to hospital order and authority.
The novel, which featured other memorable characters and their tales, brings forth laughter at inmate antics, fury at the mindless authority of the psychiatric establishment and respect for the eloquence of Mr. Kesey's story and message.
The book was a hugely popular and critical success, and so was the movie based upon it. The 1975 film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" received the Academy Award for best picture, and Milos Forman received the Oscar for best director. Jack Nicholson, who played McMurphy, received the award for best actor, and Louise Fletcher, who portrayed Nurse Ratched, was given the best actress Oscar.
Of course, Mr. Kesey hated the movie: He was not happy with changes made in his story.
Mr. Kesey continued to experiment with drugs. He also spent time evading authorities on drug charges.
Over the years, he gained a degree of fame for adding the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang to his extended social family. They had been introduced to him by the self-proclaimed gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
Eventually, Mr. Kesey seemed to give up much of life in the fast lane. He turned creative interests to the Internet, which he felt was a way to reach the public without publishing houses and recording companies as middlemen. He taught writing at the University of Oregon and lived on an Oregon farm, where he raised beef cattle and housed his famous bus until it reportedly rusted away. At the time of his death, he was working on a film involving the Pranksters.
Mr. Kesey, who was born in Colorado, grew up on a dairy farm in Oregon's Willamette Valley. He graduated from the University of Oregon, where he was a member of the wrestling team. He then went to Stanford University on a Woodrow Wilson fellowship to study creative writing under Wallace Stegner.
At Stanford, he took part in psychology department experiments to make money. His job involved ingesting such substances as psilocybin, mescaline, amphetamine IT-290 and LSD, an experience that both changed his life and fueled his art. Similar results can be traced from another job he held while attending Stanford -- as an orderly in the psychiatric ward of the local Veterans Administration hospital.
His second novel, "Sometimes a Great Notion," told the story of the Stamper family, who made their living as loggers in the Oregon forests. This novel was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda and Paul Newman. His 1992 novel featured a love story in Alaska.
His other books included "The Further Inquiry," a later look at his famous bus trip. He also wrote collections of short stories and essays, as well as such well-received children's stories as "The Sea Lion" and "Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear."
The Reuters news agency reported that in a recent interview, Mr. Kesey said the Merry Pranksters "still stick pretty close together."
"When you don't know where you're going, you have to stick together just in case someone gets there," he said.
He once explained his goal with the Pranksters, saying, "What we hoped was that we could stop the coming end of the world."
Survivors include his wife, a son, two daughters and three grandchildren.