Kentucky author and ‘Merry Prankster’ Ed McClanahan dies

Published 6:01 am Thursday, December 2, 2021

Ed McClanahan, a Kentucky author, teacher and friend of counterculture icon Ken Kesey, died Saturday at his home in Lexington, according to his wife. He was 89.

McClanahan lived in Lexington with his wife Hilda, who remembered him as a “great man.”

“Everybody knows what an icon he was,” she said Wednesday. “I miss him.”

McClanahan was born in Brooksville in Bracken County. In 1962, he met Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and Kesey’s band of Merry Pranksters while at Stanford University as part of a creative writing fellowship, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The communal travelers’ exploits were chronicled in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 book “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” When he was with the LSD-fueled jesters, McClanahan was known as “Captain Kentucky” and would frequently wear costumes, an experience he recalled in his 1985 memoir, “Famous People I Have Known.”

McClanahan’s first book, a coming-of-age novel entitled “The Natural Man,” was published in 1983, and McClanahan was inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame in 2019. His last two books were published last year. His cause of death was not reported.

“Ed was one of the best writers of my time,” a friend of McClanahan’s, Kentucky author Wendell Berry, told the newspaper. “He was almost perfect in the way he made his sentences, the way he heard his sentences. He had a very large sense of humor and it came to rest on his language.”

McClanahan also taught writing at multiple universities, including Stanford University, Oregon State University, the University of Kentucky, Northern Kentucky University and the University of Montana.

Frank X. Walker, the director of the University of Kentucky Creative Writing Program, told the Herald-Leader that he was saddened to lose “someone who had made so many of us laugh so hard for so long.”

“Ed was a pillar in the community of writers of his generation that established Lexington and Kentucky as a legitimate literary hotbed,” Walker said. “His mentorship and support of a whole generation of younger writers will be missed.”