Tie-dyed mourners see Ken Kesey off to 'Furthur'

EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) -- The mourners wore purple beads and tie-dyed shirts, crazy-quilt coats and paisley skirts; they laughed and sang and cried, saying farewell Wednesday to Ken Kesey, their friend and fellow prankster.

Out front of the McDonald Theatre in downtown Eugene sat a psychedelic bus, painted in all the colors of the rainbow, the latest version of "Furthur," the bus that crossed the United States in 1964 and sparked a cultural revolution.

Inside, center stage as was his custom, Kesey lay in a paisley-colored coffin draped in gold lame and bathed in purple light, soaking up the adoration of the 1,000 people jammed into the old theater. A hippie impresario and best-selling author, filmmaker and actor, farmer and teacher, Kesey died Saturday at age 66 from complications following a cancer operation. His multimedia memorial service included a taped benediction from the Grateful Dead, a video tribute, music from one of his plays and a rambling eulogy titled "Let's Make This Short" from his neighbor and fellow Merry Prankster, Ken Babbs. "We came of age in the time of Sputnik, but we were the astronauts of inner space," Babbs declared. "We are now and always have been the minority, but we will save the world.

"That was Kesey's goal -- to save the world," he smiled. Kesey, author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Sometimes a Great Notion" and other novels, essays and magazine articles, was buried on his farm in nearby Pleasant Hill, next to his son, Jed, who died in a van wreck in 1984.

As Babbs walked onto the stage to deliver the eulogy, he knocked twice on the lid of the coffin. Two knocks came back, causing first a stir then a laugh from the crowd, which spilled into the aisles and the lobby of the theater.

Babbs said he had known Kesey for 43 years, meeting him at a prestigious creative writing program at Stanford University. In the early 60s, Babbs went into the Marines, while Kesey worked in a mental hospital, an experience that provided the inspiration for "Cuckoo's Nest."

"I got out OK in 1964, got off the helicopter and onto the bus," Babbs said. The bus was "Furthur," so named and misspelled by LSD king Stanley Owsley, and on it went the Merry Pranksters, Kesey's friends and cohorts, for a ride across the country chronicled in Tom Wolfe's "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."

"It's important to know what a prank is," Babbs said, consulting a sheaf of crumpled notes. "Kesey defined it as something that doesn't hurt anyone. It has to be illuminating and it has to be funny.

"It's been proven that in the insane situation, the only sane response is to act crazy," he added. There were many tearful eyes at the service, held in a theater restored with the help of Kesey and his son Zane, 40, and aimed at putting some new life into the moribund downtown section of Eugene. In the crowd were several former members of the Grateful Dead, the rock band that often included Kesey on the stage; members of Kesey's family, including his wife and three children; community members, especially from his alma mater, the University of Oregon; former students, and hundreds of strangers he touched through his actions. "Kesey always said, 'It's not the destination that's important, it's the journey'," Babbs said.