The Other Famous Deaths That Day

Simon Usborne doesn’t want us to forget that two literary giants also left us on November 22, 1963:

[Aldous] Huxley died [of cancer] at 5:20pm, London time, on 22 November 1963. About ten minutes later, CS Lewis died [of renal failure]. Just under an hour after that, of course, JFK was shot and killed in Dallas. There may never have been a deadlier 70 minutes for celebrity….

I interviewed CS Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham, for a story in today’s Independent. He recalled touchingly discovering that his only parent at the time had died just hours after he and his classmates had huddled around a TV to absorb the shock of JFK’s assassination. But for him, there was no sadness in being consumed by the President’s long shadow. If anything, Gresham said, Lewis would have enjoyed the posthumous privacy. It also made dealing with grief easier away from public glare – it took weeks for the world to realise the Narnia author was no more.

Steffie Nelson pens an appreciation of the Brave New World author:

[I]t wasn’t until Huxley moved to America — specifically, to Los Angeles — that the seeds of his lifelong fascinations with technology, pharmacology, the media, mysticism and spiritual enlightenment fully blossomed and bore fruit.

It’s often said “The Sixties” officially began with the death of JFK and America’s “loss of innocence.” But without the dedicated and well-documented cosmic explorations of Aldous Huxley and his cohorts, the decade would have looked very different. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, without Huxley, Timothy Leary might never have tuned in and turned on, and Jim Morrison might never have broken on through. …

On a now-legendary May morning, Huxley ingested mescaline for the first time, with [psychiatrist Dr. Humphry] Osmond and [wife] Maria as his guides. He admitted that he was “convinced in advance that the drug would admit me, at least for a few hours, into the kind of inner world described by [William] Blake.” He found the “door” in an unexpected place: the casual arrangement of a pink rose, a magenta-and-cream carnation and a pale purple iris on the kitchen table. As he recalled the moment in his 1954 book The Doors of Perception:

Fortuitous and provisional, the little nosegay broke all the rules of traditional good taste. At breakfast that morning I had been struck by the lively dissonance of its colors. But that was no longer the point. I was not looking now at an unusual flower arrangement. I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation — the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence […]