Associated Press International, April 5, 1997
Beat Poet Laureate Ginsberg DiesNEW YORK (AP) -- Allen Ginsberg, the poet laureate of the Beat Generation whose writing and lifestyle shaped the music, politics and protests of the next 40 years, died this morning. He was 70.
Ginsberg died in his Lower East Side apartment at 2:39 a.m. of a heart attack related to his terminal liver cancer, said Bill Morgan, his friend and archivist. The poet was surrounded by family and friends.
Ginsberg suffered from chronic hepatitis for years, which eventually led to cirrhosis of the liver. His diagnosis of terminal liver cancer was made eight days ago and made public on Thursday. He suffered a stroke Thursday night and slipped into a coma.
Ginsberg has spent several days in a hospice after the diagnosis, but then decided he wanted to return home.
"He was very energetic," Morgan said. "He wore himself out (Thursday) talking to friends and writing poems."
He wrote about a dozen short poems on Wednesday. One of the last was titled "On Fame and Death"; others ran the gamut from nursery rhymes to politics.
During the McCarthy era in the 1950s, when TV's married couples slept in separate beds, Ginsberg wrote "Howl" -- a profane, graphic poem that dealt with his own homosexuality and communist upbringing.
"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, " began the seminal "Howl." It was dedicated to Carl Solomon, a patient he met during a stay in a psychiatric ward.
Ginsberg became America's most popular and recognizable poet, his balding, bearded visage one of the enduring images of the 1950s beatnik explosion of Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Neal Cassady. The group, disillusioned with conventional society, created their own subculture.
Ginsberg's acolytes comprised a who's who of pop culture: Bob Dylan, Yoko Ono, Vaclav Havel, Patti Smith, Michael Stipe and Billy Corgan.
Irwin Allen Ginsberg was born June 3, 1926, in Newark, N.J., the second son of poet Louis Ginsberg and his wife, Naomi. The family moved to Paterson, N.J., while Ginsberg was a youngster.
Ginsberg intended to become a lawyer and enrolled at Columbia University. But while still a teen-ager, he fell in with a crowd that included Kerouac, Burroughs and Cassady -- the leaders of what became known as the Beat Generation.
"I think it was when I ran into Kerouac and Burroughs when I was 17 that I realized I was talking through an empty skull," Ginsberg once said. "I wasn't thinking my own thoughts or saying my own thoughts."
Ginsberg's first taste of notoriety came after the publication of "Howl" in 1956. Copies of the book were seized by San Francisco police and U.S. Customs officials, and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti was charged with publishing an obscene book.
Ferlinghetti was acquitted a year later, but the case generated enormous publicity for Ginsberg and his work. Ginsberg was suddenly in demand.
One of his other great works, "Kaddish," was a confessional work dealing with his mother's life and death in a mental hospital. It was written, stream of consciousness-style, in his Manhattan apartment, fueled by a combination of amphetamines and morphine.
Ginsberg experimented heavily with drugs, taking LSD under the guidance of the late Timothy Leary in the 1960s.
As he grew older, Ginsberg became a guru to the counterculture movement. He coined the term "flower power." He was arrested in 1967 for protesting against the Vietnam War in New York, and tear-gassed a year later while protesting at the Democratic convention in Chicago.
His National Book Award came in 1973 for "The Fall of America: Poems of These States, 1965-1971." He was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1995 for his book, "Cosmopolitan Greetings: Poems 1986-1992."
Ginsberg toured with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue in 1977, doing spontaneously composed blues poems. He toured Eastern Europe in 1986, receiving an award in the former Yugoslavia, recording with a Hungarian rock band and meeting a congress of young Polish poets.
"In the Eastern bloc, the people realize the governments are up to no good, whereas Americans still maintain that the government is looking after their best interest," Ginsberg said at the time.
Ginsberg remained vital and active well into his 60s, performing in Manhattan nightclubs and doing poetry readings. Last year, he recorded his poem "The Ballad of the Skeletons" with musical backing from Paul McCartney and Philip Glass.
He did a video version of the poem, a pre-election political rant. At 69, Ginsberg's video appeared in heavy rotation on MTV's "Buzz Bin."
The funeral will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations should be sent to Jewel Heart Buddhist Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.