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Carolyn Cassady tribute 1923 – 2013

September 20th, 2013 · 145 Comments · Kerouac and The Beats, Real-life Adventure Tales



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.

We should all be so 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’s love for her, it’s my considered opinion she was also the love of Jack Kerouac’s life — and they 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, creative, curious as all get-out, strong … yet loved hugs, uncommonly forgiving while still holding a firm sense of right and wrong, and was a helluva gifted portrait painter.  Sold hundreds of them.  

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, then earned her MA in Theater and Fine Arts at the University of Denver, where she was living when she met Neal.

Carolyn was the first of the then 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 home in the forest around 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 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 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 those 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 I guess we were always a week off.  Talk about fabulous roman candles exploding across the stars — those two together woulda lit up the night sky till 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, offering her advice and years of wisdom to help with 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 by 5:00 it was okay to have a glass of wine and watch the local and then Beeb national news, then quiz shows or nature documentaries in the evenings.

She also had shelves full of Beat movies that I went through and had us systematically watch every damn one, and I could ask her any question and we’d hit pause and go off on crazy 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 funniest time was when she was yelling at the 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 by her daughter Jami “Jack liked me best” Cassady-Ratto, and her first-born Cathy Sylvia, as well as her grandchildren Jamie, Becky and Bill, and her great-grandchildren Jon, Ellie, David, Bradley, Elizabeth and . . . Cody. 😉


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


Carolyn Cassady      1923 – 2013       R.I.P.



Here’s a video tribute done for her Memorial —>


For a sweet ode I wrote for her several cycles ago you can riff the  Carolyn Birthday Poem.

Here’s a riff on the wonderful relationship she had with her son John.

Or here’s another one about CC as living history from when I was living with her — The Royal Woods of Cassady County.

Or there’s our great adventure in Jack’s Long Island—  The Northport Report. 😉

Or here’s a book I wrote that she read part of and loved — “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” — but sadly wasn’t published until after she passed.

Or for some pictures of her and her house when I was there last summer you can check out the FB photo albums …


For a riff on my Carolyn-like Mom … check this  Song of Enid I Sing.


Or here’s my recent book with lots of cool Carolyn stories . . .

full_cover12 copy




Brian Hassett

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145 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lorie Cunningham / Hoefler // Sep 21, 2013 at 9:57 PM

    Gads, what can I say. Loving thoughts are with you all in the Cassady family.
    Growing up on Bancroft Avenue with the Cassady family and keeping in touch through the years, I am sending warmest of thoughts for Cathy, Jamie & John. Carolyn was one of the greatest & bravest women I ever knew. She leaves her legacy of the Beats, but she was the beginning. She’s free now and would want a celebration of her life. I’m glad the Cassady family has been part of my life. Love to each and every one.
    Lorie Cunningham / Hoefler

  • 2 Barbara Siepker // Sep 21, 2013 at 11:39 PM

    What a great photo. Sure looks like a great lady who will be greatly missed.

  • 3 Noonik Darbinian // Sep 22, 2013 at 2:58 AM

    Just when I woke up today in Yerevan, Armenia, to start working on my dissertation’s last few paragraphs, I found out that dear Carolyn Cassady is no longer in this world. Because of the subject of my Ph.D. dissertation (Novels of Jack Kerouac) five years of my life has been involved with the memories and books of The Beat Generation members. So everything I ever sensed about Carolyn Cassady was pure respect and I’m totally happy that she lived the life she chose for herself and I’m really saddened by her death.
    Noonik Darbinian

  • 4 Eleonora Tarantino // Sep 22, 2013 at 3:27 AM

    Simply thank you Carolyn, a brave woman of the Beat Generation!

    Milan, Italy

  • 5 Kim Martin // Sep 22, 2013 at 3:33 AM

    What a wonderful eulogy to a fantastic person.

  • 6 Buffalo Johnson // Sep 22, 2013 at 3:41 AM

    God Bless her. I don’t know what else to say…

  • 7 Emilie Thiry-Bourg // Sep 22, 2013 at 4:35 AM

    Goodbye sweet Carolyn
    may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest
    You were such a wise lady
    I am pretty sure that you have a special place in heaven.

  • 8 Jürgen // Sep 22, 2013 at 6:50 AM

    It makes me very sad to hear about Carolyn’s passing, with her, another angel has left Earth.
    Everything I know about her comes from books, but I always imagined that she must truly be a wonderful person. Regretfully, I never plucked up the courage to try and get in touch with her.
    My thoughts go out to her family and friends. Rest in Peace, Carolyn!

  • 9 Erica // Sep 22, 2013 at 8:23 AM

    Thank you Carolyn, enjoy your next ride.. we’ll miss you.

  • 10 Edward Heflin // Sep 22, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    Carolyn Cassady had class. Having admired her for years, I eventually exchanged some emails with her several years ago, agreeing with her that most media portrayals of Neal and Jack were off center. She was gracious to this fan and she was a gift to all who lived or studied the Beat Generation. Underappreciated, I believe she is on the Mt. Rushmore of that phenomenal time- Kerouac, Cassady, Cassady, Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Corso.

  • 11 Sue - Sams mum // Sep 22, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    I was with Sam yesterday when we heard the very sad news. I was so honoured to have met her and I spent her 90th birthday with her and Sam and Camilla. She was an amazing lady and I too will miss her greatly. She’s now with her loved ones and happy. RIP Carolyn x

  • 12 Maripat Robison // Sep 22, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    Dedicated to Carolyn

    I saw the soul of
    San Francisco
    at the Beat Museum
    deep roots of
    unapproved thought
    dusty soldiers hijacked
    by pseudo societies
    silenced by full bellies
    and treadmill -wearied brains.

    Now amoral consciences
    step over bodies
    on the street
    pursuing nothing of value
    as priceless currency

  • 13 Mavis Musitelli // Sep 22, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    I honor Carolyn and her life. A tribute to all the family.

  • 14 Cathy Cassady-Sylvia // Sep 22, 2013 at 2:14 PM

    Brilliant (and accurate!) bio and heartfelt homage to Mom, Brian.
    Thank you so much.


  • 15 Liz Belcher // Sep 22, 2013 at 2:24 PM

    This sparked a journey through a history of Beatdom for me.
    I am sorry for your loss Brian. You will carry many memories and stories with you.

  • 16 Krista Swisher // Sep 22, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    I was at a retreat & was “off the grid” all weekend & just read the news!! I am so So sad & so so SO sorry. She was kind enough to email me a few times when I was beginning to teach my “Intro to the Beat Generation” class. We mainly talked about the kids of these complex wonderful people. Her children were the light & life in her eyes. The world is a darker place without her in it.

  • 17 Laura Slye-Haythornthwaite // Sep 22, 2013 at 4:33 PM

    Such fond memories of Aunt Carolyn and our philosophical discussions when I was growing up. She was great and I miss her.

  • 18 Debbie M // Sep 22, 2013 at 6:19 PM

    Wikipedia brought me to this page. What a beautiful and loving tribute. You paint a portrait of a lovely lady. Condolences to her family and friends.

  • 19 L // Sep 22, 2013 at 6:32 PM

    I never met her in reality but reading this makes me feel as if she was quite a woman. Perhaps she and my parents of blessed memory will meet on another plain

  • 20 Doug Badders // Sep 22, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    She really did respond to e-mail sent from fans. I printed mine out and put it in my copy of Off The Road. It’s there in my library. Every time I see it I have to smile knowing that she wrote a few extra paragraphs just for me because I asked her a few questions. Sweet lady.

  • 21 Mary Jo Sullivan-Hicks // Sep 22, 2013 at 10:03 PM

    I am speechless Brian. I read some of your other pieces, but…wow! My friend, you get it…you get life and love and growing old and tenderness and compassion…so few people get it, but you do.
    You live your life without regrets, taking the time to care for others, which in turn nurtures your own soul. I admire the man you are.

  • 22 Scott Webber // Sep 23, 2013 at 6:26 AM

    Rest In Peace!

  • 23 Nic Saunders // Sep 23, 2013 at 8:53 AM

    This is very sad news indeed.

    I was very fortunate to film an interview with Carolyn in June of this year. She welcomed us into her home and shared her time and stories generously, showing us paintings and photographs she knew we’d be interested in. She’d doubtless done this a thousand times before, but she made us feel that this was the first time. Kerouac once said that houses were nothing but things full of dust, but hers was one of rich memories.

    Previously she’d been kind enough to watch a copy of a film I’d made and sent her and she took the time to write me and share her thoughts.

    She seemed so full of energy and life, that this news is a real shock. From the fleeting moments spent with her, she seemed such a generous woman.

    My thoughts go out to her family and friends in this sad time. But unlike so many of us, she can be pleased she will not be forgotten.

  • 24 John Leland // Sep 23, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    John Leland of the NY Times here. I’m writing an obit of Carolyn Cassady.

    Your tribute was very moving. Do you have a moment today to talk about her?
    Thanks, John

  • 25 Ronn // Sep 23, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    What a beautifully and thoughtfully written piece. Thanks Brian.
    And thanks, Carolyn, for being a light in many of our lives without ever having met you in person.
    John to you and your sisters I send my regrets, but also smiles as obviously your mom was a truly great lady and how lucky your family was and all of us were in ways to have had her here with us.
    Love, R

  • 26 Scott // Sep 23, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    The world lost an amazing person who made it more interesting.

  • 27 Dan Gallagher // Sep 23, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    Wonderful woman! So sorry I was unable to take her up on the offer to go visit in England.

  • 28 Teresa Conboy // Sep 23, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    I thought Carolyn was timeless and therefore would live forever. I am happy to hear that she lived her life as she wanted up to the end. “Off the Road” remains one of my favorite books and it was always a pleasure to get her perspective in documentaries.
    I lost my own father a few years ago next month, he of the train-hopping generation. We learn so much from the stories they share. My deepest, heartfelt condolences to John and family.

  • 29 Elaine Woo, LA Times // Sep 23, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    Dear Mr. Hassett,
    I read your lovely tribute to Carolyn Cassady on your website and would like to know if it is all right to quote from it in the news obituary I am preparing for the LA Times?
    May I also cite you as the source for the details of her death?
    Thank you for considering my questions.
    Sincerely, Elaine Woo

  • 30 Paul Verizzo // Sep 23, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    Even though OTR was published as I was coming of age, I never read it until 2001. I remember finishing it and wondering who these people were in real life. I started learning and tracking them down, historically and geographically. Tim Gray of OTR was, it turned out, living a mile away from me at the time!

    I’ll never forget being welcomed into John’s home; there at the kitchen sink was Lu Anne, smiling in the low winter sunlight. Seven years later, and with the making of many friends in my Beat investigations, I still can’t believe my fortune.

    I’m glad you were able to be there, John.

    Paul Verizzo

    (For some of my Beat photo investigations, you can go to . That one is about me finding Near Sr.’s gravesite. There are links to the others there.)

  • 31 Brian // Sep 23, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    You were the guy who found the gravesite!?!
    Well done. I JUST talked to John & Carolyn about that in the last month!
    I’ll email you.

  • 32 Richard Gingras et Hélène Piché // Sep 23, 2013 at 9:50 PM

    Dear friends,
    Please accept our deepest condolences.
    Richard Gingras & Hélène Piché,
    Montréal, Québec

  • 33 Jo Wilson // Sep 23, 2013 at 10:02 PM

    What a wonderful woman she must have been.

  • 34 Steve Gilbert // Sep 23, 2013 at 10:34 PM

    Hi Brian, thanks for the this. I am very interested in the beat authors and found you via the Beat Museum web-site. Thanks.

  • 35 Ben Nathan // Sep 24, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    Well done. A fine tribute. I enjoyed the parallels to your relationship with your biological mom – who sounded cooler than cool. And yes, you are lucky in many ways to have spent your time so wisely with the wise ones…. may you always rock on with the true vigor of a peaceful warrior….

  • 36 Amy Friedman // Sep 24, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    A lovely tribute! I used to hang out with Carolyn when she lived in London. We’d chat, look at pictures, do an errand. She was so generous to the young people who visited, the scholars and poets who loved to hear her stories. Thanks for sharing this with all of us who miss her.

  • 37 Michael Hollander // Sep 25, 2013 at 3:34 PM

    Fantastic tribute to a fantastic woman!
    A leader among leaders, an artist among artists, a grounding force surrounded by chaos.
    We lost a great one … and need more like her!
    Thanks for sharing this.

  • 38 Diane Girer // Sep 26, 2013 at 3:32 PM

    I just read this news and thought of you immediately.
    Remembering how you and Carolyn became friends all those precious years ago.
    Thinking of you, Bri…

  • 39 Norine Cook // Sep 26, 2013 at 7:23 PM

    Inspired and inspiring Brian.
    Beautiful piece and the picture says a thousand words.

  • 40 Sloy & Nic Nichols // Sep 27, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    You, Bri, are not only a great writer, but a very good spirit.
    Thank you for sharing this loving tribute to Carolyn with us all.
    Love, Sloy & Nic

  • 41 Margo Smith // Sep 27, 2013 at 8:28 PM

    Poignant, well told. Two roman candles will always light up your September sky. Sincere sympathy.

  • 42 Frank Black // Sep 28, 2013 at 5:13 AM


  • 43 Ron S. // Sep 29, 2013 at 5:30 PM

    This must be the place!
    Mrs. Cassady was always a smile, a kind word, and a flirtatious wink. She was a triple threat: a great artist, a great writer, and a great muse. Her kind of beatitude comes around once in a lifetime.
    Here’s to a time when she will be mentioned in the same breath as Jack, Allen, and Neal.
    Peace and Respect and Love.

  • 44 Promontory Rider // Aug 26, 2014 at 4:33 PM

    Thank you, Brian. Now I understand your connection to the Cassady family… Such a happy tribute.

  • 45 Cheryl Lusk // Aug 26, 2014 at 6:41 PM

    Thank you for this.

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