Kenny King, RIP

April 2, 2014 • 5:38 am

When I moved into the freshman Honors dormitory at William and Mary in 1967, a skinny kid from Connecticut was moving into the adjacent room. His name was Kenneth Albert King, Jr., but he was called “Kenny.” We were all amused at his saddle shoes, a Fifty-ish item that he continued to wear for a few years until that kind of clothing was supplanted by jeans, paisley shirts, and love beads.

Kenny and I soon became fast friends—inseparable, really. Although he was an English major, and I wanted to be a biologist, we shared many traits—particularly a penchant for the bizarre and grotesque aspects of life, the desire to cram as much experience as we could into our short span, and a desire to go out “on the road” (our heroes were Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy).

And we did all that, traveling extensively over the next ten years. The highlight was a marathon hitchhiking trip from Fort Worth Texas (site of a friend’s wedding), up through South Dakota, and east to Boston. That trip included a ride with four stoned G.I.s returning from Vietnam carrying several “keys” of marijuana, and driving a car with no license plates—not a wise move. It also included a ride down the freeway at 100 mph in a car containing four drunken teenagers, with “Paint it Black” cranked up full volume on the radio, and a girl in a bikini sitting in the driver’s lap. (That’s the only time I’ve ever asked to be let out of a car.) And we were busted on the Dan Ryan freeway here in Chicago for hitchhiking: a state trooper had been killed that night, and they frisked and questioned us for an hour by the interstate before letting us off. That trip was the first thing I remembered when I heard the news about Kenny yesterday.

Here’s a photo from 1972, sent to me this morning by my friend Will, another of our classmates, and one whose parents lived in Fort Wayne Indiana. (Will was in fact the guy who got married in Texas.) Halfway through our Big Hitchhiking Trip, Kenny and I sought food, a bed, and solace from Will’s parents, showing up unannounced on their doorstep. They took this picture of us. Note my Mountain Master backpack.

Screen shot 2014-04-02 at 9.35.51 AM
On the road! Neal and Jack wannabees.

That was just one of many great times we had—often the kind of times that Tolkien described as difficult in the experiencing but wonderful in the retelling.

We read the same books (Vonnegut, Thomas Wolfe, Hemingway and Fitzgerald were favorites), dated the same women, and shared many mind-altering substances—this was, after all, the late Sixties. It was with Kenny that I had the LSD experience in which I received a profound revelation, duly scrawled on a piece of paper to be read the next day. As I’ve recounted, the revelation turned out, in the morning light, to be “The walls are fucking brown.” We went to many of the antiwar demonstrations in Washington together, and I visited his home in Enfield, Connecticut, meeting his siblings and his parents, the famous “Lefty” (an ironworker) and “Phil” (for “Phyllis”).

After college, I moved to Boston for graduate school, and Kenny took a job in Washington, D.C.. Although he aspired to be a world-class writer (and I still maintain that the raw materials were there—I have his letters to prove it), he took more mundane jobs that always left him stressed and unsatisfied.  But we got together as often as we could.

Here’s a picture of Kenny and me taken in 1977 by a friend and former classmate—Clark Quin, who was (and is) a professional photographer—at his studio in Somerville, Massachusetts. Needless to say, both of us were drunk and stoned at the time. Kenny is holding a bottle of his favorite brew, Rolling Rock. (We drank so much of this beer that we memorized the motto on the bottle, something I can still recite today: “From the glass lined tanks of Old Latrobe, we tender this premium beer for your enjoyment as a tribute to your good taste. It comes from the mountain springs to you. ’33′”.) Clark wrote the lovely sentence below the photo.

I loved Kenny; for years he was my best friend and I’ll probably never be closer to any man.

Kenny and I

In Washington, Kenny met a wonderful British woman, married her, and moved to England, taking up a job at Whitbread Breweries as an IT expert and buying a house in the village of Kingsclere. We still kept in touch, and I visited him and Jane about once a year.  They had two kids, a boy and a girl, and moved to the even smaller village of Denton, where they bought a lovely renovated barn that used to belong to the vicarage.  It was a peaceful place—a place to walk, have scrumptious vegetarian meals (Jane was a vegetarian and and a great cook), and, most of all, to drink wine and chat.

Among the legacies that Kenny left is my love of wine. He was an oenophile, a collector far more serious than I, and introduced me to good wine. On my many visits to Denton, he’d break out some great bottles and we’d do blind, comparative tastings: say, four bottles of Hermitage with dinner. Needless to say, we’d polish them off and fall insensate into bed. The next day we’d walk it off through the neighboring fields.

The photo below is the way I’ll remember Kenny in the last years—proffering a great bottle. He was full of warmth and friendship—the kind of guy who would dig through his collection to offer me his special rarities. We bought cases and bottles together—I still have a few bottles of Maury from 1939 sitting in Denton.


Once every couple of months, a big manila envelope would arrive in Chicago from Denton. It contained newspaper clippings that Kenny had collected for me. Many of them were Jancis Robinson’s columns on wine, but others were about rock and roll (we shared the same passions there, too: Steely Dan; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Laura Nyro; Joni Mitchell, and the Beatles), literature, and all of our joint enthusiasms. I got one of these packets about three weeks ago, and haven’t yet finished going through it.

Yesterday, when I woke up at 4:30, I had an email from Kenny’s wife with the header, “Very sad news.” My heart sank: what could have happened? It couldn’t be! And then I opened the email, which began:

I am very sorry to send you bad news by email. Kenny died very suddenly on Sunday while we were staying with friends in Kingsclere.

All I could absorb was “Kenny died.” It went on, but the details are irrelevant. I stumbled to work, and what filled my mind was that big hitchhiking trip we took in 1972, and how the person who went with me no longer existed. Yes, those are the trite but human thoughts that strike us when this happens: the person is gone for good. Where did he go? As an atheist, I know he’s gone for good. We were planning a big wine-tasting trip together next year: an epic journey by car from England through France and down to Jerez in Spain. The person I would have gone with is no more. The only mercy is that he had an end that was sudden, rather than withering slowly and painfully into decrepitude. But it was way too soon: he was allotted another two decades!

We will all lose loved ones, and experience the horrible pain when that happens, and such is the curse of Homo sapiens.  But who is to say that a lioness doesn’t experience the same grief when they lose a cub? The difference is that we know it will happen; we are the only species aware of our own mortality. We pretend that we’re immortal but know we’re not, and we know too that if we live long enough we’ll experience these losses over and over. One day there is a happy, wine-drinking human, and then he is no more. At such moments every word and phrase seems trite: he had a good life, the grief will abate over time, he did not suffer, and so on.  There is no consolation for his wife and children save their mutual support; our love and sympathy are not anodyne, though we hope otherwise.

There is nothing to add except that I loved him, that my heart goes out to his family, and that we had many good times together on this planet. Without Kenny my life would have been immensely poorer. He will be buried Tuesday in Kingsclere, but I will not be there, for I have unbreakable commitments in California.

Kenny leaves behind his wife Jane, two children, Adam and Charlotte, and a recently born grandchild, Thomas, as well as his sister Pam and brother Peter (you may know Peter King from reading Sports Illustrated or watching football on television, where he’s a commentator).

I lifted a glass to my late friend last night, and it was a good one: a Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Riserva from 2004. He would have liked it. It was full and rich—like his life.


109 thoughts on “Kenny King, RIP

  1. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful friendship.

    Pain is the inevitable price we pay for loving someone. There is no real consolation for losing them, nothing mutes the pain except, to a limited and ineffectual extent, time. The only thing one can say about the pain of loss is that if there had been no love, there could be no pain at its passing. In that way, it is a small marker of how much that person meant.

  2. Thanks for everyone’s sympathies. I’m not really asking for that here; I’m just trying to work out my grief by writing something, however inadequate. The real sympathies should go to his family.

    1. Why not later post videos of some of your mutually favorite music? I would love to see the Laura Nyro videos here!!

    2. The real sympathies should go to his family.

      True enough, but many of us are experienced enough to realize that you’ve also experienced real loss here.

    3. “The real sympathies should go to his family.”

      There’s more than enough to go around.

      In any case, as you were voluntarily brothers for decades, that you shared no genetic connection does not make you any less a part of his family.

      I am so sorry for your loss.

  3. Very sad news, indeed. Condolences to you, his family, and all his friends. Writing is therapy, however inadequate, so I’m glad you could share this wonderful remembrance of a great friend.

  4. Sorry to hear of your loss. I lost my best buddy just over a year ago, and it still smarts.
    Tiny consolation : it sounds like it was quick.

    1. Condolences to both you and Jerry.

      Losing a really good friend is a tough thing. I lost mine 6 years ago (he was 28) and often the emotion is still as intense as it was then. I can feel the sobs starting now.

      It is therapeutic to share.

    1. I’m sure it’s gotta be one of the worst things to do in life.

      Yet the obituary Jerry wrote caused me to admire, appreciate, and like this man, Kenny King, about whom I knew nothing until after his death.

      There is, of course, nothing that can make up for the loss of Kenny’s life; all that comes after is hopelessly pale in comparison.

      Yet, out of all that is inadequate, an obituary such as the one Jerry wrote fills as much of the impossible-to-fill void as anything.

      So sorry you’ll not share any more bottles with your friend, Jerry. I’ll have a glass of whatever I have with lunch…nowhere in the same league as the vintages Kenny luxuriated in, but a pale shadow is better than nothing.

      So, cheers! L’chaim! Even for the life lost.


      1. I’ll trust you’ll allow a friendly amendment, Ben… one of the hardest things to do in live, but not one of the worst.

  5. I’m often struck by the inadequacies of most religious responses to loss like this. According to the heaven-believing types we aren’t really supposed to be sad, because the person is now in a “better place” where we’ll join them eventually (if we’re really good). Even Buddhism, which comes closer to the mark by understanding death as an integral part of life, suggests that we shouldn’t be too attached to people and things, which to me goes against what I think is our natural inclination as social animals. Judaism, maybe, has a better idea–lament the loss profoundly and do the best we can to keep the memory alive without false assurances of a world to come (well, mostly).

    For me, though, the best way of dealing with losing someone very important is to write about them. It doesn’t make the sadness any less or easier to take, but the extent to which anyone “lives on” is only through our memories of that person, which words can keep more vivid. And you’ve done so very movingly here. I hope it helps you confront your grief, and I appreciate you sharing it with us.

  6. Jerry,
    This was a life well lived as indeed it should because its all we have. Our friends live on in our memories. Loss is part of our human condition. Thank you for sharing this.

  7. I’m so sorry. I have suffered quite a few losses over the past few years and know how painful they are. You have written a moving, lively tribute to your friend and I thank you so much for doing so. It echoes.

  8. My sympathies, Jerry. I know all of those recounted experiences well. They are, like beauty, always best keenly shared–and shared, too, in memory. And that’s where they, and Kenny, will endure.

  9. Living on the other end of campus, I didn’t know Kenny quite as well, but did briefly visit the Enfield house once, and spent a couple lovely days in Kingsclere with him and Jane after a protein meeting in Cambridge. Jane made a ratatouille that still lingers in my mind. That was in the early days of good beer, and the UK was far ahead of the US and Sweden at that time, so he was delighted to introduce me to some of his favorites there, too.

    The one thing that Jerry didn’t mention is that his nickname was The Beaker, or just Beak. I never knew the origin of that – I have a dim memory that it may have followed him from highschool – but that’s how we knew him.

    RIP, amigo. Sigh.

  10. A beautiful recounting of an enviable friendship. I’m sad for you and all who loved him.

  11. All I can say is I know a bit bout loss of a spouse and it is the hardest thing you will ever do……The deeper the love….The harder the loss.

  12. The thoughts, emotions, and passion that you express are why I read your blog EVERY day, before any of the other detritus that otherwise informs me. Thanks for this wonderful enlightening message, and may you in return find peace. And thanks for all that you do to support the secular cause.

  13. The best we can hope for is life well lived. Kenny clearly did that. Congratulations on having a great friend.

  14. Thank you for sharing this treasure of memories of your friend and kindred spirit. What a remarkable journey you two had together. I’m sorry it came to such an abrupt end.

  15. A wonderful tribute, one that brought back my own memories of the 60’s, particularly hitchhiking from Indiana to Aspen and having some adventures similar to Jerry’s. I too lost my best friend a couple of years ago and decided to begin writing tributes to dear friends before they pass away to let them know how much I care for them. Oh, they probably know, but often we do not put our thoughts in to words

    1. “A wonderful tribute, one that brought back my own memories of the 60′s…”

      I know, right? It was harder for me and my best friend Carol, being female, but we still hitched when we could,; toked & danced, peace-marched, “struck” the university, made love not war…(and somehow got our degrees on schedule!, then more of the same in grad school).

      Jerry’s pictures evoke such visceral memories. Time it was, and what a time it was, it was a time…

  16. It hurts to lose one’s best friend. Thanks for being so open and honest about your loss and pain, Jerry. Your obituary is very moving and raw and sad, but helps to prepare each of us for similar losses that will inevitably enter our lives. It’s a real privilege that you’ve chosen to share this with us.

    Condolences to you and Kenny’s family and friends. (Big bear hug)

      1. Yeah, those hirsute dudes looked great! I suspect that at least one of them has lots of hair under the shirt too. 😉

        I used to wear my hair straight and very long with the head band thing goin’ on, much like Yoko Ono. Ahh, the hippie days…. and how we’ve changed….

        To friendships! Can’t do without my friends.

  17. Sincere condolences, Jerry. I recognise that quote underneath the photo: it’s the opening line of the theme song from the film O Lucky Man! By Alan Price. My brother bought me the sheet music to try and play because he liked the film.

  18. As another freshman denizen of Taliaferro Hall at William & Mary, I have nothing but wonderful memories of Kenny. What a great joie de vivre he had. Like him, I’m a new grandfather. I’m hoping I have many more years to watch my grandkids grow up, and I’m heartsick to think that he won’t have that. Life is so unfair.

  19. Kenny’s death carves a huge hole in the hearts of all of us who knew him. The sorrow is all the more deep for me because to my now everlasting regret I had lost touch with him in recent years. Jerry — you do such a wonderful job bringing the Beaker to life for those who did not know him. Kenny was the most alive person one could ever meet. Enormous vitality, exuberance, and enthusiasm suffused all things that Kenny did or took an interest in. He routinely cajoled his companions into also sharing his enthusiasm of the moment. And, as Jerry notes, Rolling Rock was frequently the enthusiasm of the moment. Among my scores of memories of Kenny, let me share this one. This involves a road trip in the late sixties. I had borrowed my father’s Oldsmobile (literally) and driven from Tennessee to Thompsonville, Connecticut, Kenny’s family’s home. On the way I picked up a couple of friends – Chris Bland and John Hempel, if I recall. We stayed at Kenny’s home for one night, making a visit to what Kenny insisted was the “very best pizzeria in the world!” The next morning the four of us set off on an adventure to points unknown. As we pulled away in Dad’s Cutlass, Kenny said, “Now, we’ve got to make a plan!!!” I demurred, in good sixties’ style. “Kenny, what do we need a plan for? Let’s just see what happens.” Kenny insisted, “We’ve got to have a plan!” Chris asked, “Why? What good will a plan do us?” Kenny thought for a moment and then nailed the case shut, “If we don’t have a plan, how will we know what we didn’t do?” Oh, Kenny, you will be missed, my friend.

  20. I hope I am remembered as fondly by my friends.

    (Although rather than outlive them, or vice-versa, it would be nice if those of us at the same age went at about the same time, many many years from now)

  21. Beautiful tribute. Makes us all miss him.

    That part of our lives in the late sixties has come to be quite private for me. My new wife and everybody around me are so much younger, and they listen with (I think!) a yawn and a little embarrassment, at my tales of flying to Boston or NY, and hitching towards Chicago, picking-up the Route 66 down through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, NM, Arizona, and to LA to meet my Californian girlfriend. I did it, there and back about six times; met many fine people, and faced the same hazards; getting into a hippie car and realising that it was full of drugs, and the driver so very stoned. Further trips across deserts and down to Central America. But on return through El Paso, being trapped by a paranoid immigration official with poor English, who slapped and punched me repeatedly because he did not believe there was a country called ‘England’ and my passport was a fake, because if I came from New England I would have an American passport! And so I signed a ‘confession’ at gunpoint, and hurried back to San Francisco to a friendly official who ripped up the confession.
    And then I bought mountain land near Santa Cruz, and we built our ranch house, and lived on artichokes (12 for a dollar!) and boxes of fruit. Slowly I edged towards my career, directing Shakespeare, then radio and TV presenter, and making my first documentaries.
    It has all slipped through my fingers like sand, and left the younger generation envious at what we could do on a few dollars, before you had to have real money in order to do anything.

    I look to the world my children face, and know that they have my genes and will do well, and climb the vertical, and find water and food where there is only sand, and find the steering wheel of life, as easily as I did in my time.

    And so to the wisdom of life; there is no such thing as too much sex; and the love of a great partner is nearly everything.

    If you have been busy, and had an active life; been everywhere, seen anything, been held in prisons, and ducked the bombs, then there are no regrets when you want to slow down and slide into agreeable senility, and quite enjoying the prospect of a little sleep to round it all off.

  22. We grow rich with our friends, and the closest friends many of us have were from high school or college. I am reminded by this of my closest friends from that time, and there was one particular friendship that I had that seems similar to your friendship (including the chemically enhanced parts). What makes yours extra special, though, is that you stayed in touch.

  23. Jerry,

    Thank you for your memories and thoughts about Kenny. Even those of us who did not know him as well as you did were so saddened by the news Will sent. I have a clear memory of Kenny in college wearing his yellow “CAT” (Caterpillar) ball cap– at a time when peace symbols were so much more common. I also remember his prodigious knowledge of baseball trivia. His personality was big and unique. Your tribute is touching and brings those days back with a smile and a tear. Thank you.

  24. In vino veritas, there are few things better in life than sharing a great glass of wine with your best friend. My condolences, Jerry.

  25. Deeply saddened by your loss… an amazing tribute. It also triggered some pangs of nostalgia for 1972, though I was only 8 — having four older brothers, I tended to socialize with “hippies” – people a few years older than me. Alaska, not being yet infiltrated by the mountains of Okies and Texans who would change its laws and social mores, was a great place to grow up in.

    Am only now reconnecting with many I have lost touch with – even after some 35-40 years, at least those who are still with us. In any case, an excellent tribute to a great friendship.

  26. I spend my live in pleasure
    Without sorrow and disease.
    I glamorized my days with wine and myrrh,
    And for my heart, I kept leisure.
    Knowing ahead was the dark valley
    And it’s not foolish, to follow your heart.

    From an ancient Egyptian tomb. It’s a coincidence that also yesterday I came across this. It seems fitting here now.

  27. This is a wonderful tribute to your friend and your friendship. You were lucky to have found each other. Sincerest condolences to Kenny’s family and friends.

  28. You are right, brother. Too soon.

    Kenny was a fountain of warmth, amiability, and the non-judgmental acceptance of others that is the quintessence of true friendship. We will not see his like again.

    Of the flood of many memories, I recall vividly the night before the beginning of junior year term, a rare night of no immediate responsibilities (rare for you and Kenny, not so much for me). A very long night of various episodes and vignettes, waiting for the sun. With wisdom or the illusion of it perhaps as the goal.

    This hour is indeed hard, yet was made even in those days…the choice to bond in friendship and not to be separate or apart. So we take the bitter with the sweet.

  29. Wow, very touching sir. My sincere condolences. And R.I.P. Kenny (not that he has any choice.)

    He sounded like a great friend. A parting glass to you Kenny.

  30. Jerry, thanks for writing this. Kenny was truly one of a kind. He was a really good darts player and could do the arithmetic involved faster than anybody else on our team. I can still see him licking his fingers before each throw. And, he alphabetized his t-shirts.

    1. Kenny WAS really good at darts. Lyle, Kenny, Steve Mapp and I played on a local darts team in DC. Shortly after he and Jane moved to England, I visited them and he and I had great fun one night standing all comers at darts in the local pub (with Kenny pretty much carrying our two-man team.) The locals were quite flummoxed by two Americans beating them at their own game, much to Kenny’s and my amusement.

  31. One can only hope that we leave such an impact on someone in our lives. To be remembered with such sincerity, and affection, is the best each of us can do in this life.

    Brilliant post. I have to admit wiping a tear from eye, for a man I never met. My sympathies to all.

  32. My deepest sympathies to the family, and you JC. I too have often used writing as a vehicle to process grief.

    Wishing all that knew him solace.

  33. A touching tribute beautifully written, Jerry.

    Just the other day, I’d coincidentally just discovered and read “On the Road” for the first time. You and your friend look just like the kind of hitchhikers Kerouac would have encountered!

    I’ve arrived at the age where I lose old friends practically every year, and it’s a sad shock when it happens. On two occasions I wrote a few notes of my memories of the person; you then find the others in your “group” of mates hotly disputing your version of long-ago events!

  34. I can add nothing of much value not already said, and said well by your friends who comment regularly on your website. You have given us a small example of what knowing Kenny was like, and through that perhaps we feel a small amount of your pain. I am very sorry for your loss. Friends like that are very rare and one of life’s greatest treasures. I am glad you had such a friendship in Kenny, and am grateful you have shared it with us today.

  35. Edna St. Vincent Millay
    ….one of my favorite poems…

    I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
    So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
    Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
    With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
    Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
    Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
    A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
    A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.

    The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
    They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
    Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
    More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

    Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
    Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
    Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
    I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

  36. This tribute is very moving and very human, all the more so for being absent of any magical thinking. Sorry for your loss, Jerry.

    Also, I love the 70s photos of Jerry with crazy hair and full beard.

  37. I’m so sorry for your loss, Jerry. I’m about your age, and so much of what you said about your experiences in those times with your friend called powerfully forth my own memories of that time. The photos of you and Kenny brought so powerfully to me the men I knew and loved then. The music you loved I heard playing in my head; I laughed, too, at your recounting of the seeming profundity of your LSD fueled realization–I remember being outside near a busy road in Denver, coming down from a trip, and thinking that the phrase “the cars keep coming” was an insight on the world without peer. Perhaps it’s selfish of me to have been drawn into my own past, but you captured the age so beautifully in your moving tribute to your friend in the times and events in which your forged your friendship. You have written a powerful and moving account of your friend and of your friendship. Again, my condolences.

  38. This was an extraordinarily well written tribute to a man I never knew. I only hope that when I go, someone thinks this highly of me.

    I’ve never been to a nonreligious funeral and the focus there is never on the person’s life, but on the hereafter. Even in my most religious days, I cringed, even if only inwardly, when someone (usually the clergy man) inevitably referred to the person being in a better place. I always wanted to shout,”If it’s so much better, why don’t we all off each other right now!?” Surely, this is a clear cut loophole, what better sacrifice that to commit oneself to eternal torture in order to send a more righteous person to eternal paradise? When Jesus compares his 3 days to this infinite suffering, surely he’ll grant forgiveness and we’ll all party for eternity.

    In all seriousness though, this is how someone’s life should be honored and remembered,

    1. Chris – your comment reminded me of the old song lyrics, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” Church dogma has a great work-around with proscriptions against killing yourself, or others for that matter.

      1. Yes, naturally I’m well aware of these. But, in practice there are many loopholes, depending on the specific religion, where the outcome is far from clear. For example, there’s the thought experiment about whether it would be prudent to kill all kids before they reach the age of reason, given a consistent religious worldview (or at least as close as one can approximate).

        There’s no doctrine within most branches of Christianity that would punish these children so sacrificing your own eternal paradise to guarantee theirs would seem to be the ultimate act of selflessness. Andrea Yates infamously murdered her children on this very premise. Needless to say, most people, no matter how religious, operate on this level of thinking and that’s a very good thing! But, before we go massively off topic here, I appreciate that secular tributes to an individual have no need to bring in cognitive dissonance and diametrically opposed ideas of these sorts.

  39. This was a lovely tribute. Your postings, in fun, in righteous indignation, in scholarly instruction, and in sorrow are wonderful to read. I think you a good person.

  40. Your eloquent tribute to your beloved friend Kenny seems to have poured directly from your heart to the page. I’ve never met you or Kenny, but what you wrote touched something deep within about connection and the best of being human. Listening to Laura Nyro after reading about Kenny and you brought me to tears—-for your immense loss, and also for the beauty and fragility of life, which is all we have and the best we could possibly have.

    It’s very sad that you can’t be at Kenny’s burial, but the giant sequoias are waiting for you here in California.

  41. My sympathies to you, Jerry. I lost my greatest friend – Alan Booth, who walked through Japan and wrote a wonderful book about it (‘The Roads to Sata’)- a little over 20 years ago. We performed together throughout Japan. One doesn’t get over it. I don’t know if you know Henry King’s ‘Exequy’ for his wife, or Ben Jonson’s ‘On my first sonne’, but they are the most honest grapplings with grief I know in English poetry.

  42. What a wonderful tribute to your friend. I’m glad you had many good years together and I’m sorry the journey had to end.

  43. Referring back to letter 38, I have had some contact from people who know me, and want to know the nature of the ‘confession’ you had to make to be admitted back into the US at El Paso. Just to let you know of the life and times, and what hippies had to endure in the late sixties; I confessed (I remember) to being Russian, having been trained in Cuba, was a spy, and doing drug-runs from South America to the USA.

    The immigration official could barely speak English, and had not heard of Europe, nor the UK, nor England, and held a gun to my temple asking what country I came from and saying that he had the authority to shoot me dead if I said ‘England’, once more. He held me four hours, took my passport and posted it to Immigration in San Francisco where a kindly hippie official smiled and tore-up the confession.
    It is well to remember that the USA was once suspicious of hippies and strangers. The professor’s photos hide the courage it took to look like that. If you ever wondered what goes on in Guantanamo, it is all about extracting false confessions.

  44. I’m sorry for your loss, Jerry. I know how difficult it is to lose a close friend. I hope the coming years find you well, and that time you shared with Kenny shines on in your mind, despite the sadness of his passing.

  45. A great tribute to a great man. Kenny and I used to work together at Whitbread and shared a passion for naughtiness. We would meet twice a year with our “arch enemies” from Bass (Terry Critchley & Bill Crockett)and had so much fun. RIP Kenny.

  46. I would like to finish Jerry’s story of the infamous 1972 summer travel with Kenny King by recounting its beginnings. Kenny and Jerry started this odyssey with us—my husband, Tim Groves— and me, in Fries, Va. Tim and I were married a month previous to this trip; Kenny was our best man and Jerry was also in the wedding. [Readers, if you go to Jerry’s Blog post of July 1, 2012, you will find a picture of our wedding party, including Kenny and Jerry.] We were now headed to Fort Worth, Texas to the wedding of another pair of William and Mary classmates.

    Fries, my hometown, is a small (population 900) conservative hill town in Southwest Virginia. Jerry and Kenny’s visit was noted by the residents as a matter of some curiosity, to say the least. My 13 year-old brother was enthralled. His main memory is at the family dinner when Jerry and Kenny got so excited that they spewed food out of their mouths as they talked. The subject of the excitement is long forgotten, but not the memory of the food. My father’s memory is coming downstairs one morning to the sight of Jerry sitting on the floor, outside of the bathroom, with a newspaper. The door was cracked; Jerry was loudly reading baseball scores to Kenny, who was inside, on the toilet.

    We set out in our Dodge Colt, with the goal of reaching Fort Worth in two days. Kenny announced two goals for this trip: to spend as little money as possible in transit by “scoring a free sleep”, and to arrange our itinerary so that he could stop at every possible town or city that had a college, in order to buy t-shirts to add to his collection.

    To give you a social/political context for this trip, it took place 2 years after the release of the movie, “Easy Rider”, described by Wikipedia as “a landmark counterculture film…that explores the societal landscape, issues, and tensions in the United States during the 1960s, such as the rise and fall of the hippie movement, drug use, and communal lifestyle.” This movie and these images of hippie travelers loomed large in those days. We got strange looks everywhere we stopped and actually ended up leaving a steakhouse in Jackson, Tennessee, because we felt uncomfortable.

    Kenny purchased at least 4 t-shirts on Day 1. We voted the top acquisition to be a t-shirt from Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. At the end of day, we decided to stop in Memphis, and thus began the quest for a “free sleep.” Kenny’s idea was to go to a college campus, where he was sure we could find kindred spirits to host us. We wandered on to the campus of Memphis State University, and found no kindred spirits nor any hint of an invitation to stay the night. The next try was the YMCA. They did not accept women and fortunately my 3 soul brothers decided that staying with me might be more important than scoring a free sleep there. The YMCA staff suggested that the only spot that might work was the Highland House—a drug halfway house that apparently accepted a broad range of lost souls and wandering travelers. The warning from the staff person was that sometimes people came to stay and never left. Apparently, the approach to drug treatment at this place was to save souls.

    Despite this warning, and because Kenny would not yield to spending even a few dollars for lodging, we headed to the Highland House. We were greeted by a burly man who said we could stay there as long as we abided by two ground rules: “Stash your dope off the grounds,” and “The chicks and the dudes have to split.” This made me a little nervous, but I acquiesced to the will of my fellow travelers, and we split for the night. As it turned out, I was the only “chick” in the house that night and had a large, sweltering room to myself—a good distance from the “dudes’” quarters. I was a bit scared and did not sleep at all. We left the next morning before there were any efforts initiated to save our souls. We made it to Fort Worth by the afternoon of the 2nd day. I brought our Dodge Colt to rest outside of the bride’s family home, while Jerry and Kenny threw open the door and rolled out onto the front lawn. The rest is history.

    This trip has become a legendary part of Tim’s and my collective lives together. Kenny and Jerry egged each other on for the entire trip. Tim and I willingly gave ourselves over to the exhilaration and the insanity of this adventure. My father never saw Kenny again, but still tells the story of Jerry reading him baseball scores through the bathroom door. Our lives are all the richer for the larger-than-life character of Kenny King, and these are some of the memories about him that I will carry with me forever.

    1. Thanks for the story, Betsy. I especially appreciate how this post of Jerry’s is turning into such a dynamic memorial of a man I had the misfortune of never meeting.


    2. Wonderful history, Betsy. It explains a lot about why things were as they were at Will and Pat’s wedding. Ask Tim to tell you one day how it came to pass that all of Kenny’s neckties appeared one morning tied end to end hanging form the ceiling in the hall on Talliaferro C. The memories of Kenny are endless, and all good. The world is a poorer place.

  47. That was so beautiful, and so sad to read. I am so sorry for your loss, Jerry. What an outstanding eulogy!

  48. Such a sad loss. I knew Kenny at Whitbread, he used to organise Friday night wine tastings which were marvelous. He introduced me to Viognier, for which I shall forever be grateful. Such an interesting man, RIP Kenny.

  49. Fantastic memories and thoughts of a great man and friend. Kenny was an amazing man and one that was always there for you.

    As a young man building my career at Whitbread he was always there to support, advise and at times give a few ‘words of advice’ when i needed them. I have so many great memories of him from clay pidgeon shooting to singing ‘she wore blue velvet’ at 3am after a long wine tasting session at an IT Directors working session!

    It is very hard to think he is not with us and the world has lost one of its truly great men.

    I will miss you Kenny!


  50. Jerry
    Thanks for your wonderful memories of Kenny. We have known Kenny for many years having met at Whitbread.
    We have been fortunate to have had a couple of wine-tasting trips to France with Kenny & Jane, memorable both in terms of the company and the wine.
    A few of us have gathered tonight befor going to the funeral tomorrow. We’ll take your thoughts and memories with us tomorrow.
    Best wishes
    Alex, Annie, Corinne, Geoff, Pam

  51. My brother died shortly after I lost my faith. It made the experience far harder than it would have been otherwise, up until then I always imagined I’d see loved ones again. After being an atheist for a while, I now look back with joy for the time I had to spend with him. He lives on in the memories of the people who loved him and in the lives of his children.

  52. I missed this eulogy the first time round and looked it up after today’s fresh posting. Jerry, thanks for sharing so much of your life with us – feel grateful to have an inkling of the young man, and your friendship with Kenny.

  53. The night before I moved to Colorado in 1976, I shot a few baskets with Kenny, a fellow high school classmate who lived across the street on Indian Run and who was about to head to D.C.
    As we finished, Kenny stuck out his hand and said ” have a good life”. I shook it and said “you too”……sounds like he did.
    It’s been 38 years since I spoke to Kenny. Why did I decide to google him today?

    Glad he had a good life!

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