Brother Ken Kesey was born September 17, 1935, in La Junta, Colorado, the son of Fred A. Kesey and Geneva Smith Kesey, cooperative dairy farmers. Kesey’s father described his son affectionately as always trying “to unscrew the unscrutable.” An avid reader and filmgoer, the young Kesey took John Wayne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Zane Grey as his models (later naming a son Zane) and toyed with magic, ventriloquism, and hypnotism.
Kesey’s Springfield, Oregon, high school class voted him most likely to succeed. He played football as a freshman at the University of Oregon in Eugene before receiving a scholarship as the outstanding college wrestler in the Northwest. He majored in speech and communications, acted in a number of campus theater productions, joined the Beta Rho chapter of Beta Theta Pi and was a proud member of the fraternity. He often wrote, directed, and starred in the Betas’ efforts at the annual “Duck Preview Vodvil” variety show. In 1957 the Betas performed a musical adaptation of the biblical story of creation, with Kesey as the narrator, backed by a male-voice chorus. Around this time, he tried his hand at short stories about his college experiences, and after graduation worked on a novel about college athletics. On May 10, 1956, he married his friend since seventh grade, Faye Haxby, with whom he had two sons and a daughter (a fourth child, Sunshine, was born to Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Adams).
Beta Rho Chapter
Brother Kesey burst into the literary scene with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1962 which he wrote from his experiences working at a veterans hospital. During this period, he volunteered for the testing on the drug LSD. After writing his second novel, Sometimes A Great Notion, he bought an old school bus dubbed “Further.” With Neal Cassidy at the wheel, Kesey and a band of friends took a trip across America to New York’s World Fair. It would be 28 years until Kesey published his third major novel, Sailor Song, in 1992, and he later said he lost interest in the novel as an art form after he discovered the magic of the bus. The bus ride was immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 account, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The movie version of the “Cuckoo’s Nest” swept the 1974 Academy Awards for best actor, best actress, best director, and best picture. But Kesey, who has never seen the film, sued the producers because it took the viewpoint away from the character of the schizophrenic American Indian, Cheif Bromden. Kesey was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992 and set down root in Pleasant Hill, in the mid 1960s. His rambling red barn-house has become a landmark of the psychedelic era, attracting visits from myriad strangers in tie-dyed clothing seeking enlightenment.