The tragedy that killed Jack Kerouac grew from a terrible misunderstanding. When Kerouac's best and most famous book, On the Road, was published in 1957, most people assumed that its protagonist, the exuberant, irresponsible, fast-talking hipster Dean Moriarty, was Kerouac himself. In fact, Moriarty was modelled on Kerouac's friend, the juvenile car thief and proto-bohemian Neal Cassady, a man, as the book has it, in whom 'every muscle twitched to live and go'.
Kerouac, an altogether more passive man, one of life's observers, just wanted to follow. Propelled into the public eye by the success of On the Road, and obliged to live out the role of 'King of the Beats', he lapsed into a crude caricature of the boozing, hedonistic free spirit,