Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac was an American writer of French Canadian descent. He is best known for his role in the Beat Generation of poets and writers.
Kerouac grew up speaking French in Massachusetts. His mother was devoutly Catholic and his father was a violent alcoholic. Kerouac shared his mother’s religious fervour and his father’s drinking. He excelled at sports and earned an athletic scholarship playing football. During his first year, he broke his leg and dropped out of university the next year.
After his sports career was cut short, he continued to live in New York, where he met the other figures of the Beat Generation. In 1942, he joined the Merchant Marine. In 1943, he joined the US Navy and served eight days of active duty. He was then diagnosed with dementia praecox (modernly schizophrenia) and honourably discharged.
He wrote his first novel, The Sea is My Brother, during his time in the Merchant Marines. It was not published during his lifetime.
In 1944, he was arrested as a material witness in the murder of David Kammerer, who had been stalking his friend. Kerouac had helped dispose of the murder weapon. He met William S. Burroughs during the same time as the crime was perpetrated, and they later collaborated on writings about the killing.
Hi first book was published in 1950 to little notoriety. Kerouac wrote continuously for the next few years, eventually resulting in On the Road. He had difficulty publishing the book due to the content, but it was eventually published with major revisions. The book brought him instant fame. Many of his previously rejected manuscripts were published, and he worked on a screenplay about the beatniks.
Kerouac had been an alcoholic for decades by the time of his death. He documented his binge drinking in his works. In 1969, he died of an internal hemorrhage caused by cirrhosis of the liver — the end result of a lifetime of alcoholism.