Writer, philosopher, artist, and co-founder of the Beat Generation, William S. Burroughs — who died in 1997 at the age of 83 — continues to be a vital cultural force today. The author of books like Junky, Queer, and Naked Lunch, Burroughs forged the cornerstone of a modern American cultural movement with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and other visionary writers and artists. His buttoned-up, three-piece exterior cloaked a dark genius that hungered for hustlers and heroin — way back in the 1940s. On February 5, William S. Burroughs would have been 97, but his spirit undoubtedly lives on, with more about him still coming out.
Yony Leyser’s documentary William Burroughs: A Man Within is due on DVD February 15, filled with Burroughs rarities and interviews with everyone from John Waters, Laurie Anderson, and Patti Smith to Gus Van Sant, Iggy Pop, and Thurston Moore. Slated to be published this summer, Ah Pook Is Here is a collaboration between William S. Burroughs and artist Malcolm McNeill. The “word/image novel” predicted the emergence of the ever-popular modern literary genre, the graphic novel. So if you have $260,000 laying around, you could do worse than invest in the William S. Burroughs Word Horde 2.0, considering the potential publishing rights. But for the rest of us, we’ll just celebrate by pulling out a big, sweet, flaming sheet-cake of love with words instead of candles, each representing one small piece of Burroughs’ life before he finally succumbed to his biggest obsession: death.
1. William S. Burroughs’ uncle was Ivy Lee, the godfather of modern public relations and a publicist for the Rockefellers.
2. His mother, Laura Lee Burroughs, came from a prominent Southern family, and claimed to be related to Robert E. Lee.
3. William S. Burroughs’ dad’s first name was Mortimer. He was the owner of a plate-glass company.
4. Their family fortune came from the Burroughs Adding Machine.
5. Burroughs’ parents sold their stock for $200,000 in 1929 — right before the stock market crash.
6. Burroughs used his first gun at age eight.
7. The same year, he wrote his first short story, “The Autobiography of a Wolf.”
8. Burroughs was introduced to opium by his family’s housekeeper.
9. Later in life, he thought he might have been sexually abused by a family relative.
10. From age 12 to 15, William S. Burroughs went to John Burroughs School in St. Louis. John and William were not related.