Carolyn Cassady, the lover of Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac and the wife of Kerouac’s road companion Neal Cassady, the “Dean Moriarty” of Kerouac’s 1957 novel “On The Road,” died Sept. 20 in a hospital near her home in Bracknell, England. She was 90.
Her friend Estelle Cimino, co-owner of the Beat Museum in San Francisco, confirmed the death to the Associated Press. No cause of death was given.
The Beat Generation, which included Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Michael McClure, were a close-knit group of post-World War II poets and writers, known for their experimentation with drugs, sexual freedom, fascination with Eastern religions, rejection of materialism and, above all, explicit autobiographical writings that put them at odds with the prevailing social order of the 1950s.
Mrs. Cassady, from a conventional, middle-class family, landed in their full-throttle, whirlwind, amphetamine-crazed world and attempted — unsuccessfully — to make a conventional family man out of Kerouac’s muse, Neal Cassady.
While studying theater arts and set design at the University of Denver in 1947, she met Cassady, a working-class man with literary ambitions, and his close friends from the East, the budding writers Kerouac and Ginsberg. She began dating the 20-year-old Cassady, even though he was then married to 16-year-old LuAnne Henderson.
She soon discovered that Neal’s friend Kerouac was in love with Neal — and later, that Neal was in love with the poet Ginsberg — a fact that came to light when she found Neal, LuAnne and Ginsberg in bed together.
Five weeks after she broke up with Neal, he got an annulment from LuAnne. Neal followed his future wife to San Francisco where they married on April 1, 1948. She was six months pregnant.
The marriage ceremony was detailed in her 1990 memoir, “Off The Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg.”
When their child, Cathleen Joanne, was 3 months old, Neal used their savings of $900 to buy a new 1949 Hudson for a trip to New York City to collect Kerouac. This desertion formed the basis of a road trip that Kerouac later chronicled in “On The Road.” (“On The Road” was made into a movie last year.)
Throughout their marriage, Mrs. Cassady competed with the attentions of several women, including the divorced first wife and a third wife from a bigamous marriage — as well as Ginsberg, with whom Neal had a 20-year on-again, off-again affair.
She tolerated Neal’s ramblings with Kerouac. She also encouraged him to enter psychotherapy — though he was often too stoned to speak — and joined him in his study of Edgar Cayce’s mix of mysticism and Christianity largely in an effort to keep him home.
After the release of Kerouac’s “On The Road,” Neal served three years in San Quentin for selling marijuana to an undercover officer. After his 1963 release, the Cassadys were divorced. Always looking for “kicks,” Neal joined the Merry Pranksters, writer Ken Kesey’s posse of LSD enthusiasts, where he was viewed as something of a sage elder. He belatedly realized his literary ambitions with the posthumous release of an autobiographical novel “The First Third” in 1971, three years after a drug-related death.
“It must have been the open sex that shocked everyone,” she told the London Times in 1990. “It’s interesting that it was seen by the critics as such a threat. I don’t know why. There have always been bohemians. So what was the big thing about this?”
Carolyn Robinson was born in Lansing, Mich., on April 28, 1923, the youngest of five siblings. Her parents were educators. When she was 8, the family moved to Nashville, where she attended a girl’s preparatory school. At 12, she joined a community theater group and later received a bachelor’s degree in drama from Bennington College in Vermont.
During World War II, she served as an Army occupational therapist in California before returning to school in Denver.
Survivors include three children from her marriage to Neal Cassady.
In later years, Mrs. Cassady devoted much of her time to, as she put it, ‘de-mythologizing’ her ex-husband — and perhaps Kerouac’s portrayal of him.
“There are a few more myths that have evolved from Kerouac’s ‘fiction,’ ” she wrote on the Neal Cassady estate Web site. “For instance, Neal would never answer a door ‘stark naked.’ He could be naked, but his jeans were always nearby, and he held them in front of him. He was very modest personally, not an exhibitionist.”
The fascination with the Beats created innumerable opportunities for myth-making. Mrs. Cassady was particularly critical of — and amused by — a Hollywood biopic “Heart Beat” (1980), which starred Nick Nolte as Neal, John Heard as Kerouac and Sissy Spacek as Mrs. Cassady.
“Sissy’s got me all cleaned up, I’m the most wonderful heroine, I go through everything and come out unscathed,” she told The Washington Post during the movie’s filming in 1978. “I saw the dailies the other day and I cracked up. Everything was so romantic, I was crying. It could have been like that but it wasn’t at all. This is going to be a six-box-of-Kleenex movie. I used up two in that shot alone.”
She added: “I kept thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it have been nice if it had really been that way?’ ”