New Kesey film examines more than the psychedelic prankster

By Kelsey Thalhofer / The (Eugene) Register-Guard

Published Jan 16, 2014 at 12:01AM

EUGENE — When Oregon Public Broadcasting television producer Eric Cain set out to tell the story of Ken Kesey for the station’s “Oregon Experience” series, he wasn’t sure what he would find.

But he knew what parts of the story already had been told.

“I didn’t want to just tell ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ all over again,” Cain said, referring to the 1968 book by Tom Wolfe that chronicled Kesey and his followers.

So last May, he dug past the story of the Oregon writer, past the prankster with a wild bus and discovered a husband, father, grandfather and friend who was loved “fiercely” by those who knew him.

“It’s a whole different look at Ken Kesey,” Cain said of the hourlong documentary, simply titled “Ken Kesey.”

The film’s Eugene screening, to be held tonight at downtown’s McDonald Theatre, already has filled up its 400 free RSVP spots and will be able to accommodate about half of the 200 people who signed up on a waiting list. No more seats are available.

A second screening is slated for Friday in Portland, and residents across the state can see it in the comfort of their own homes when the documentary airs on KOPB-TV Monday. The show also can be streamed on OPB’s website starting Tuesday afternoon.

The film covers what made Kesey, a Springfield High School graduate, so iconic in the first place — namely, his most famous books. But it also delves into the lesser-known side of Kesey’s life, which began after he relocated to his family farm in Pleasant Hill.