Ken Kesey is one of the country’s most visible icons of the Psychedelic Sixties. He gained early recognition for his first two novels, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion; however, as his biographer Robert Faggen suggests, “maybe Kesey did not conceive of having a career as a writer as being the most important thing that he could do.”
His early writing success shoved Kesey into the public spotlight, and his colorful and spirited lifestyle kept him there. Kesey and his friends heralded the advent of newly-developed mind-altering drugs—substances he thought presented “a new way to think.” His zany 1964 bus adventure with a group of Merry Pranksters inspired Tom Wolfe’s popular “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and propelled Kesey to celebrity status. The news media would in time anoint him “a founding father of the 1960s counterculture.”
Those episodes have come to define the Kesey that most people envision, but once settled on his Oregon farm, Kesey changed. He continued to grow as a writer, artist, farmer, family man and all-around character. Until his death in 2001, Kesey pursued life with a purpose, as his son Zane explains, ”…to get up and do something that makes today different than yesterday.”
This documentary offers a fresh look at this tie-dyed-in-the-wool icon. “Ken Kesey” presents interviews with Kesey family members, including his son Zane, daughter Sunshine, granddaughter Kate Smith, widow Faye Kesey McMurtry and his 97-year-old mother Geneva Jolley. Additionally, several authors weigh in on Kesey’s writings and antics, including Michael Strelow, professor of literature at Willamette University, Robert Faggen, professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College and Kesey’s biographer; and Ken Babbs, a Kesey friend, writer and lifelong Merry Prankster.