Carolyn Cassady, 1923 - 2013

Beat Generation Biography Love Tributes Women

(Carolyn Cassady, a major figure from the earliest days of the Beat Generation and a valuable spokesperson for the feminine side of Beat culture, has died at the age of 90. Carolyn was married to Neal Cassady and was also beloved by Jack Kerouac, who wrote her into both 'On The Road' and 'Big Sur'. She published her memoir twice, first as 'Heartbeat' (which was made into a movie starring Sissy Spacek) and then (with greater perspective) as 'Off the Road'. I was privileged to have hung out with the delightful and brilliant Carolyn Cassady a few times, but I did not know her as well as her dear friend Brian Hassett, who wrote the tribute below for his website and took the photos on this page. -- Levi)

Another giant has fallen — another angel taken flight.

Carolyn Cassady has just left us to join Neal and Jack on that great road trip in the sky.

Her son John, the light of her life, was there by her side till the end.

After a year’s refusal of entry into the U.K., just 3 months ago he was able to return to England to be with her.

She was her regular rockin self up through Sunday, woke up with a tummy ache Monday morning, had an infected appendix, and checked out by Friday.

I hope I’m as lucky. She was 90 years old and still drank her white wine and smoked her More menthol ciggies every day.

That is to say — she was living the life she chose, on her own terms, in her own house, until the very end.

Besides Neal, it’s my considered opinion that she was also the love of Jack Kerouac’s life — and in life they both pledged to be together in the next one.

So there’s that.

Carolyn was spiritual, an intuitive channel, naturally smart, well educated, well read, independent, strong, creative, had an ethical sense of right and wrong, and was a helluva gifted portrait painter. She grew up in a library of a house with a biochemist father and English teacher mother, and intellectual discourse and reading were the orders of the day.

She got her BA as one of the first students at the revolutionary Bennington College in Vermont, and then earned her MA in Theater and Fine Arts at the University of Denver, where she was living when she met Neal.

As I’ve mentioned before, Carolyn was the first of the (still unnamed generation of) Beats to move to San Francisco, and she was the reason Neal went there, which is why Jack went there, and so tumbled the dominoes of history.

I used to phone her at her cottage in the forest near Windsor Castle every few months just to chat, and a little over a year ago she told me she didn’t expect to be here next year.

Since none of her three kids could get over there at that point, and I was sort of freed up for the first time with my mom just passing, I went and lived with her for 3 months, and boy did we have a good time!

When we first started hanging out in the early ’90s, we were having so much fun, it made me realize I could be doing this with my own mom, who was about the same age. And from that point on, for the next 15 years my mom and I took our adventure even further and were even better friends than we had been before — and it was thanks to Carolyn opening the doors wide so I could see how much possibility there was.

Carolyn was born a week after my mom in April, and died a week after her in September. I always wanted to get the two of them together but could never pull it off. Talk about fabulous roman candles exploding across the stars — those two together woulda lit up the night sky until dawn!

And she wasn’t just a surrogate mother to me, but was the den mother to the entire Beat Generation, the only one in that whole crazy krewe who maintained a home with kids and a garden — and a Kerouac bivouac under the backyard tree. And she remained a mother figure until the end to hundreds of fans who would email her, and she’d write every one back, always offering her advice and years of wisdom to any problem anyone else had.

She maintained a routine for at least the last decade of her life, where she would do emails in the morning, read from a stack of books beside her bed all afternoon, and at 5:00 it was okay to have a glass of wine and watch the evening local and then Beeb national news, then quiz shows or nature documentaries in the evenings.

She had shelves full of Beat movies that I went through and had us systematically watch every damn one, and we would hit pause and I could ask her any question and we’d go off on tangents and get another glass of wine and maybe watch another five minutes then something else would come up and it would take us about ten hours to get through one movie!

And she’d always say to whoever was talking in a documentary, “That isn’t how it was!” and be correcting the history as it’s being presented. And the best time was when she was yelling at screen, “That’s completely wrong! You don’t know what you’re talking about!” and it was her being interviewed!

She is survived by her beloved son John Allen Cassady — named for Kerouac, Ginsberg and Neal — but she called him Johnny. As well as her daughter Jami “Jack liked me best” Cassady-Ratto, and her first-born Cathy Sylvia, as well as her grandson Jamie, and her great-grandson Cody.

Carolyn rocked, but she also held down the Beat so others could solo.

13 Responses to "Carolyn Cassady, 1923 - 2013"

by David Rollison on

CAROLYN CASSADY
Once a year until he died,
Jack would call Carolyn Cassady.
“Hello,” he’d say. “This
is old Jack. Get yourself a glass of wine
and we’ll talk.”
They talked long hours
and it lasted till he died.
And now she has died.
She was 90. She took herself
to England when she was already an old woman,
her children grown, Jack and Neal both dead,
she lived in the hamlet of Bracknell
where the storm clouds would bunch up in the darkening sky
and she could watch, with her glass of wine and cigarette.
When she was a girl, she went
on the road
and found the spirit.

by André Persson on

She was the last one still around, i guess she already now joined Neal & Jack on new adventures. An important woman in many ways. / Greetings from Sweden.

by Levi Asher on

Shout out to Sweden -- but, regarding "last one still around", let's not forget our healthy friends like Diane DiPrima, Gary Snyder and Michael McClure from the West Coast contingent ...

by Wojciech on

Rest In Peace!

Also, Levi, I'd like to add ruth weiss to that list. She's criminally over-looked and still kickin'!

by Levi Asher on

Thanks for the reminder, Wojo.

by Bill_Ectric on

I don't know how I overlooked this article until now! It is touching, well written, and informative. My 81 year old mom is still a very fun person to be around and this reminded me to cherish the time I spend with her.

by Steve Plonk on

RIP Carolyn Cassady. I read OFF THE ROAD.
I read her many interviews, & saw her on youtube.
Many of the older "beat generation folks" are passing now.
We'll now have to rely on Gary Snyder, Diane DiPrima, & Michael McClure,
et al for authenticity. Their history must be told correctly.

by Jami Cassady on

I think what he means is, mom was the last woman standing of the "On The Road" gang...but Al Hinkle is the last MAN standing...and going strong. Thanks for all the kind words. Jami

by Levi Asher on

That's true, Jami -- thanks!

by Dawn Z on

Today I found out after living here In Belsize Park since July that Carolyn lived virtually across the road from my road...can not say how proud that makes me...after a google today...curiosity led me here to this page...I have been an admirer of Jack Kerouac and the gang for a little while now...so finding out Carolyn was a local, well...still sitting here amazed. Just want to give my condolences for the loss of a remarkable lady...especially to those who were blessed to know her...x

by Cathy Cassady Sylvia on

Just wanted to include the rest of Carolyn's grandkids and great grandkids:
Bill Horbaly (first grandchild) is Cathy Sylvia's son. Jon, Ellie and David are his three.
Becky Locatelli is Jami's daughter. She has Bradley and Lizzy.
And Jamie Cassady (John's son) now has Carly besides Cody.
We miss Mom tremendously and are looking forward to celebrating her life a year after her passing at the Carolyn Cassady Memorial Celebration in San Jose, CA.

by B. Hassett on

There's now a video to go along with the written tribute above. ;-)

On the one year anniversary of her passing, I riffed some stories and insights and lessons learned from Mama Beat into a little "movie" about her life if you want the full sound & light version . . . ;-)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0C5ZwviTls

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