Later Career: 1957–1969
In July 1957, Kerouac moved to a small house at 1418½ Clouser Avenue in the College Park section of Orlando, Florida, to await the release of On the Road. Weeks later, a review of the book by Gilbert Millstein appeared in The New York Times proclaiming Kerouac the voice of a new generation. Kerouac was hailed as a major American writer. His friendship with Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Gregory Corso, among others, became a notorious representation of the Beat Generation. The term “Beat Generation” was invented by Kerouac during a conversation held with fellow novelist Herbert Huncke. Huncke used the term "beat" to describe a person with little money and few prospects. "I'm beat to my socks", he had said. Kerouac's fame came as an unmanageable surge that would ultimately be his undoing.
Kerouac's novel is often described as the defining work of the post-World War II Beat Generation and Kerouac came to be called "the king of the beat generation," a term that he never felt comfortable with. He once observed, "I'm not a beatnik, I'm a Catholic", showing the reporter a painting of Pope Paul VI and saying, "You know who painted that? Me."
The success of On the Road brought Kerouac instant fame. His celebrity status brought publishers desiring unwanted manuscripts which were previously rejected before its publication. After nine months, he no longer felt safe in public. He was badly beaten by three men outside the San Remo Bar at 189 Bleecker Street in New York City one night. Neal Cassady, possibly as a result of his new notoriety as the central character of the book, was set up and arrested for selling marijuana.
In response, Kerouac chronicled parts of his own experience with Buddhism, as well as some of his adventures with Gary Snyder and other San Francisco-area poets, in The Dharma Bums, set in California and Washington and published in 1958. It was written in Orlando between November 26 and December 7, 1957. To begin writing Dharma Bums, Kerouac typed onto a ten-foot length of teleprinter paper, to avoid interrupting his flow for paper changes, as he had done six years previously for On the Road.
Kerouac was demoralized by criticism of Dharma Bums from such respected figures in the American field of Buddhism as Zen teachers Ruth Fuller Sasaki and Alan Watts. He wrote to Snyder, referring to a meeting with D. T. Suzuki, that "even Suzuki was looking at me through slitted eyes as though I was a monstrous imposter." He passed up the opportunity to reunite with Snyder in California, and explained to Whalen, "I'd be ashamed to confront you and Gary now I've become so decadent and drunk and don't give a shit. I'm not a Buddhist any more." In further reaction to their criticism, he quoted part of Abe Green's cafe recitation, Thrasonical Yawning in the Abattoir of the Soul.
"A gaping,rabid congregation, eager to bathe,are washed over by the Font of Euphoria, and bask like protozoans in the celebrated light."
Many consider that this clearly indicated Kerouac's journey on an emotional rollercoaster of unprecedented adulation and spiritual demoralization.
Kerouac also wrote and narrated a "Beat" movie titled Pull My Daisy (1959), directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie. Originally to be called The Beat Generation, the title was changed at the last moment when MGM released a film by the same name in July 1959 which sensationalized "beatnik" culture.
The CBS Television series Route 66 (1960–64), featuring two untethered young men "on the road" in a Corvette seeking adventure and fueling their travels by apparently plentiful temporary jobs in the various U.S. locales framing the anthology styled stories, gave the impression of being a commercially sanitized misappropriation of Kerouac's "On The Road" story model. Even the leads, Buz and Todd, bore a resemblance to the dark, athletic Kerouac and the blonde Cassady/Moriarty, respectively. Kerouac felt he'd been conspicuously ripped off by Route 66 creator Stirling Silliphant and sought to sue him, CBS, the Screen Gems TV production company, and sponsor Chevrolet, but was somehow counseled against proceeding with what looked like a very potent cause of action.
John Antonelli's 1985 documentary Kerouac, the Movie begins and ends with footage of Kerouac reading from On the Road and Visions of Cody on Tonight Starring Steve Allen in 1957. Kerouac appears intelligent but shy. "Are you nervous?" asks Steve Allen. "Naw," says Kerouac, sweating and fidgeting.
Kerouac developed something of a friendship with the scholar Alan Watts (renamed Dave Wayne in Kerouac's novel Big Sur, and Alex Aums in Desolation Angels). Kerouac moved to Northport, New York in March 1958, six months after releasing On the Road., to care for his aging mother Gabrielle and to hide from his new-found celebrity status.
In the following years, Kerouac suffered the loss of his older sister to a heart attack in 1964 and his mother suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1966. In 1968, Neal Cassady also died while in Mexico.
Also in 1968, he appeared on the television show Firing Line produced and hosted by William F. Buckley. The visibly drunk Kerouac talked about the 1960s counterculture in what would be his last appearance on television.