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Beat Icon William S. Burroughs Dies at 83

Literature: A co-founder of the pivotal movement, the 'Naked Lunch' author wrote frankly about addiction and sex.

August 03, 1997|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1981, he moved to Lawrence at the suggestion of James Brauerholz, who became his secretary and encouraged him to do readings in this country and Europe. With the resurgence of the Beat Generation writers, Burroughs became popular with a new generation.

Musicians such as David Bowie, Lou Reed and Patti Smith cited Burroughs as an important influence. Burroughs also hung out with the Rolling Stones.

Though he occasionally seemed to revel in his celebrity and his infamous reputation--one biography was titled "Literary Outlaw"--Burroughs admitted that notoriety could drain a writer's imagination.

"Involvement with his own image can be fatal to a writer," Burroughs told Bockris. "Was it Yeats who said every man must choose at some point between his life and his work? Artists usually choose the work, and compromises are usually unfortunate. Hemingway's life posed a deadly threat to Hemingway as a writer, moving in a wildebeest at a time."

In some of his books, Burroughs used a jumbled style called cut-ups, with quotations and anecdotes seemingly pieced together randomly. This technique was used more prominently in "The Soft Machine" (1961), "The Ticket That Exploded" (1962) and "Nova Express" (1964).

After moving to Kansas, he wrote screenplays, appeared in movies (including "Drugstore Cowboy" and "Twister") and wrote a comic opera text.

He reported talking to Timothy Leary just before Leary's death and being reassured that Leary faced death calmly because of his belief in an afterlife.

In one of his last books, "Ghost of a Chance," Burroughs was sorrowful over the demise of the rain forest and pessimistic that humans live in "a vast mudslide of soulless sludge."

Times staff writer Hugo Martin and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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