Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Let’s take another look at the enduring mystery of Ken Kesey’s LSD monkeys

Illustration for article titled Let’s take another look at the enduring mystery of Ken Kesey’s LSD monkeys
Photo: Robert Altman (Getty Images), Sebastien Bozon (Getty Images)

Author, Merry Prankster, and former MKUltra test subject Ken Kesey might have let a bunch of LSD-impaired monkeys loose in La Honda, California decades in the past. Though this sounds like folk legend, there’s enough truth to the details that it’s endured as a very real possibility. Thankfully, KQED’s Rae Alexandra refuses to let the story die, and has brought us a report on what we do and don’t know about the possible troops of simians that may, right this moment, be hanging out in the woods of La Honda, drawing dancing bears on the back of cars and putting together the most righteous psych-rock group you’ve ever heard.


Alexandra explains that Kesey moved to La Honda, which is described as a close-knit and secretive town of eccentric people, “after the success of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1962. He lived there for more than a decade, attracting musicians, authors, and people like Bill “Monkey Bill” Marquis, an alleged former Stanford LSD researcher who dosed monkeys, might’ve been friends with Kesey, and probably kept a lot of free-spirited monkeys in his backyard. Even noting discrepancies in how locals describe these stories, “no one disputes that Monkey Bill housed and regularly fed LSD to primates.” When Bill’s research was shut down by the government, the story goes, he, Kesey, and some Merry Pranksters “released the primates into the wild” rather than let them be euthanized.

Rumors followed that the monkeys kept hanging out in La Honda, eating garbage and being fed by people since “they were friendly to humans.” Alexandra’s source says he “was given the impression that Ken Kesey kept one of these monkeys.” We also learn that kids who grew up in La Honda in the 1980s claimed to see the monkeys so often that they “had a nickname for them, inspired by their patchy fur: ‘The Shaved.’”


Alexandra outlines complications to the story, which are many considering most of the sources were taking a lot of acid at the time of the alleged monkey-freeing and because both Kesey and Monkey Bill are now dead. Still, she makes a pretty good case that, yes, the spirit of the Merry Pranksters may continue to live on, carried forth by generations of Kesey monkeys who freed their minds so their bright red asses would follow.

Read the entire article over at KQED.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.

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