neal cassady, the "dean moriarty" of jack kerouac's "on the road" and "secret hero" of allen ginsberg's "howl" is 85 years old in heaven today. cassady was born on february 8, 1926, and died tragically in mexico on february 4, 1968, at the way too young age of 41. during the 40's and 50's, cassady - through his close relationships with kerouac and ginsberg - was an integral part of the nascent beat generation.
by the end of the decade, cassady was a quasi-tragic figure as he found himself in san quentin for marijuana possession. then, in the early 60's he befriended ken kesey and morphed into one of his merry pranksters. cassady become the official driver of the intrepid psychedelic bus "further" - as he criss-crossed the country with a new generation of hipsters.
aside from his unfinished biography, published posthumously as "the first third," and his collected correspondence, cassady wrote no prose or poetry. in that regard he wasn't technically beat generation author in the classic sense. but cassady letters to kerouac in the late 1940's were the inspiration behind kerouac's break from the tom wolfe style his prose then aped to kerouac's more famous "spontaneous" prosody of the 1950's.
one of cassady's more infamous letters - known as the "joan anderson letter" (of which only a significant fragment survives) - was made into a movie, "the last time i committed suicide." put it on your netflix queue and check it out!
happy birthday, neal cassady, in heaven!