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By Tom Crider

AUGUST 18, 1997:  He had the beat. And so do we, thanks in large part to William S. Burroughs, who died last week at age 83 with no official cause of death given. Burroughs is the seminal beat poet, beat author and junkie who, because of the controversy surrounding his 1959 novel Naked Lunch, will forever be a part of American literary history.

His battle over the work, effectively censored and eventually published in 1953 after his case was overturned, set the precedent for freedom of speech for many a future literary effort. Naked Lunch, among other things, depicted the desperate struggle of the literary underground and brought to light Burroughs' and others' displeasure with middle-class ethics, values and underpinnings. That his life exemplified the tragedy of a drug-tinged lifestyle was merely a footnote to his social commentary and judgment. Late in his life, Burroughs made records with other so-called misfits and politically militant artists including Kurt Cobain and Disposable Heroes of Hiphopracy. He also appeared in such films as Drugstore Cowboy and Twister.

As the last remaining torch carrier of the beat ethic, Burroughs leaves a legacy far more rich than the stream-of-consciousness writing style for which he is most famous. His life, work and struggle have influenced the lives, work and struggles of countless prodigies. Junkie definitely, murderer maybe and American treasure most assuredly--Burroughs, in spirit, can never die.


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