Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
What Happened to Kerouac? (1986)
What Happened To Kerouac? is a lively and revealing investigation into the personal history and creative process of Jack Kerouac – father of the Beat Generation, author of "On The Road" and pivotal figure of the fifties countercultural revolution. This portrait shows us what happened when fame and notoriety were thrust upon an essentially reticent man whose influence is still felt all over the world.

Features Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, Steve Allen, William Buckley, Charlie Parker, Neal Cassady, Carolyn Cassady, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure and Gary Snyder
Directed by Richard Lerner & Lewis MacAdams
Produced by Richard Lerner
Music by Thelonious Monk

This powerful documentary shows Jack Kerouac's unique creative process and rise to fame as a writer, while also shedding light on his turbulent personal life and his decline to an alcoholism-related death. Kerouac is the Beat Generation icon best known for his counterculture manifesto ON THE ROAD. He possessed unparalleled genius, but also suffered from uncontrollable personal demons that ultimately caused his demise. The film chronicles his chaotic yet fertile career in which he produced an astonishing number of novels and made history collaborating with artists such as Allen Ginsberg. The sometimes contentious relationship between Kerouac and author Neal Cassady factors significantly into the story. Cassady joined Kerouac on many of his road trips and unwillingly served as a character in Kerouac's literature. Kerouac never embraced the spotlight as his work fully consumed him. Instead, the film details how, through unsuccessful marriages, other relationships, and fathering one child, Kerouac yearned for a normal life.

Archival footage illustrates some of Kerouac's most notable public moments, including a moving, harrowing appearance taped just a year before his death. Through intimate interviews with fellow authors, relatives, and friends, including entertainer Steve Allen, author William Burroughs, poet Allen Ginsberg, and ex-wife Edie Kerouac Parker, filmmakers Richard Lerner and Lewis MacAdams elicit a touching, well-rounded picture of this brilliant but troubled artist.

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis

A lovingly assembled mosaic of testimonials to the late lamented Daddy-O of the Beats. What did happen? Gregory Corso's guess is as good as any: 'The American media is a fucker'. The reclusive small-town boy simply shrivelled under the glare of publicity, and vowed that he'd drink himself to death since suicide was off-limits to Catholics. The dispiriting process is illustrated by footage of Kerouac reading his work on TV's Steve Allen Show in 1959, but reduced to impersonations of bleary bigotry a few years later on Buckley's 'Firing Line'. The Snyder and Burroughs interviews reveal sealed systems leaking no emotion, but Ginsberg gushes like a man in need of a washer. Biographer Ann Charters is reliable, but Corso, sounding like Mel Blanc reading from Slim Gaillard's Dictionary of Vouteroonie, is easily the best turn. Those who cling to the image of the handsome young writer toting 40 pounds of on-the-hoof manuscript in a doctor's bag will be pierced by the last twilight photos of the knock-nutty Marciano face.