Prior to his death, the writer Jack Kerouac sustained a violent beating in the Cactus Bar, a local tavern located in a black neighborhood in St. Petersburg, Florida. This event is of some significance, as the accounts of Kerouac’s last year in Florida are often sketchy. In all of the biographies written about Jack Kerouac thus far, this incident is depicted as a barroom brawl with racial overtones. A closer look at this particular incident may shed some new light on the cause of Jack Kerouac’s death.
In an interview with Frankie Edith Parker, Kerouac’s first wife, which appeared in the Detroit News in 1979, staff writer William Dunn, in revealing the contents of a letter Ms. Parker had received from Kerouac shortly before his death, related the circumstances surrounding the beating as follows: “Kerouac went to a bar for a drink and to hear jazz. He had taken a disabled Air Force lieutenant with him. During the evening, the airman casually put his arm around a musician as the band was practicing. The musician resented this and punched the soldier. Kerouac then came to his aid but was badly beaten up.” Later in the article, Dunn states that “Miss Parker offers provocative new thoughts on Kerouac’s death on October 21, 1969, from massive abdominal bleeding. The reports of his death at the time…tie the abdominal bleeding to a hernia. His public assumed his death was the result of his life of boozing and dissipation. But Miss Parker believes the bleeding stemmed from a barroom fight Kerouac had been involved in six weeks before. A letter from Kerouac, dated September 8, 1969, tells of his getting ‘mauled’ in a Florida bar. Miss Parker calls it ‘the death letter’.”
It is significant to note that, in practically every account of Kerouac’s death, there is scant attention paid to the fact that a few weeks prior to his death Kerouac complained to several people that he was suffering from a hernia and was not feeling well. In the last interview he ever granted, Kerouac told Jack McClintock of the St. Petersburg Times, “I’ve got a goddamn hernia, you know that? My goddamn belly button is popping out.” Richard Hill, one of Kerouac’s friends in his later years in Florida, states that Kerouac “…was almost persuaded to undergo surgery for the hernia, but settled instead for taping a Kennedy half dollar to his navel to hold it in.”
Sometime during the afternoon on Monday, October 20, 1969, several veins in Kerouac’s stomach ruptured and he began to hemorrhage. His wife, Stella, rushed Jack to nearby St. Anthony’s Hospital, where she remained with him while a team of surgeons labored to save his life. Over the course of the night, the doctors pumped thirty units of blood into Kerouac’s failing body. This action depleted the hospital’s blood bank and a call went out for Type A Positive blood donors. Shortly after midnight, after three hours of surgery, Kerouac was wheeled into the recovery room. At 5:30 AM on Tuesday, October 21, 1969, Jack Kerouac died in a hospital bed in St. Petersburg, Florida.. His long journey on the road was over.