On the Anniversary of the Death of Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac, Tangier Morocco, April 1957. Photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

51 years ago today Jack Kerouac passed away in St. Anthony’s Hospital Emergency Center,  St Petersburg, Florida, from an abdominal hemorrhage and cirrhosis of the liver, caused by, amongst other things, and most significantly, a lifetime of heavy drinking. He was 47.

From a digest on his Wikipedia page:

At eleven o’clock, on the morning of October 20, 1969, in St. Petersburg, Florida, Kerouac was sitting in his favorite chair drinking whiskey and malt liquor, working on a book about his father’s print shop in Lowell, Massachusetts. He suddenly felt nauseated and walked to the bathroom, where he began to vomit blood. (He) was taken to a nearby hospital, suffering from an esophageal hemorrhage. He received several transfusions in an attempt to make up for the loss of blood, and doctors subsequently attempted surgery, but a damaged liver prevented his blood from clotting. He died at 5:15 the following morning at St. Anthony’s Hospital, never having regained consciousness after the operation.

His cause of death was listed as an internal hemorrhage (bleeding esophageal varices) caused by cirrhosis, the result of longtime alcohol abuse. A possible contributing factor was an untreated hernia he suffered in a bar fight several weeks earlier. He is buried at Edson Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts.

Jack Kerouac’s grave

At the time of his death, he was living with his third wife, Stella Sampas Kerouac, and his mother Gabrielle.

“He had been drinking heavily for the past few days..” (his wife, Stella, is quoted in the New York Times obituary), “…He was a very lonely man”.

Some insight into the sadness and isolation of those final years may be found here – and here. (and check out Paul Maher Jr’ s recently-published volume, Drunken Dumbshow)

Sad sad to think and to dwell on that loneliness and on the contemporary neglect (at the time of his death all but two of his books were out-of-print, and Kerouac had, allegedly, only ninety-one dollars in the bank! – It’s a very different picture now – (he left an estate of just one thousand dollars when he died in 1969, but today the estate is worth much more, upwards of fifteen million).

“The Day After Kerouac Died” – “51 years ago today, Allen Ginsberg recorded his thoughts about the death of his friend Jack Kerouac, and began writing a new poem.” – (this would turn out to be the classic, “Memory Gardens”)” – Revisit the publication of journal entries, notes and an early draft of that poem from that time, edited and annotated by Michael Schumacher and published for the first time last year in The New Yorker , excerpted from the forthcoming Allen Ginsberg Fall of America Journals from University of Minnesota Press.

“Jack had vomited blood this last weekend would not take doctor care, hemorrhaged, & with many dozen transfusions lay in hospital a day before dying operated under knife in stomach—”…

“Jack no more’ll step off at Penn Station
anonymous erranded, to eat sandwich
& drink beer near New Yorker Hotel or walk
under the shadow of the Empire State Building
Didn’t we stare at each other length of the car
& read headlines in faces through Newspaper Holes?”…

Well, while I’m here I’ll
do the work –
and what’s the work?
To ease the pain of living.
Everything else, drunken
dumbshow.”

For more on Jack (recollections of his 1969 funeral in Lowell) – see this Allen Ginsberg Project posting.

 

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