In other sad news, William S. Burroughs died last Saturday at the age of 83 of a heart attack in Lawrence, Kansas, the town where he had lived for 16 years. The writer helped define the term "Beat Generation," along with Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Burroughs was something of a professional oddity, having held numerous jobs; but it was only after he accidentally shot and killed his second wife that he became a writer. Here's a look back at the man who influenced writers, rockers, and his fellow poets, Ginsberg and Kerouac.
ALLEN GINSBERG, 1984: I had a recollection, we both worshipped you or respected you and thought you were really interesting and dignified and strange and weird, but intelligent. Jack said you were the most intelligent man in America.
WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS (clip from "Thanksgiving Prayer," 1990): "Thanks for a country where nobody is allowed to mind their own business. Thanks for a nation of finks."
MTV: An iconoclast
far ahead of his time, Burroughs was a noted homosexual with a drug habit, an addiction he explored in his book "Naked Lunch," which was turned into a movie in 1991. A pop culture icon, Burroughs even riffed on his weakness for illegal substances in the film "Drugstore Cowboy."
BURROUGHS (clip from "Drugstore Cowboy"): "I predict in the near future, right-wingers will use drug hysteria as a pretext to set up an international police apparatus."
MTV: Burroughs' gaunt face and guttural voice began to turn up more and more in contemporary music. In 1993, he collaborated long distance with Kurt Cobain on the song "The Priest They Called Him."
BURROUGHS (from "The Priest They Called Him"): The priest couldn't put his finger on what was so old...
KURT COBAIN: It wasn't an album we did together, technically. But then, I did get to meet him on this tour when we stopped in Lawrence, Kansas. It was a great thrill. It was incredible.
MTV: Burroughs most
recently made his Mark in U2's video for "Last Night On Earth." Bono is, of course, one of many who appreciated the beat icon's wit and daring.
BONO, U2: He's one of America's greatest writers. I think he must be 80 years old. He has lived a life that would have killed 10 men, but he's been through a lot of stuff and he's come out the other end of it.
SERENA: A book of selected work spanning Burroughs' entire career, including previously unpublished essays and poems, will be out by fall '98.