The cause was lung cancer, said Charles Lief, Mr. Orlovsky’s guardian. Mr. Orlovsky had diabetes and had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for much of his life, Mr. Lief said.
Mr. Orlovsky was just 21, recently discharged from the Army and working as an artist’s model when he met Ginsberg in the San Francisco studio of the painter Robert LaVigne in December 1954.
The famous story of their meeting, the Ginsberg biographer Bill Morgan said in an interview, was that Ginsberg saw Mr. LaVigne’s portrait of Mr. Orlovsky and had already fallen in love with the subject when Mr. Orlovsky walked in.
They moved to a North Beach apartment shortly thereafter, and within two years Ginsberg had published “Howl and Other Poems”, the jazzed-up song of a vibrant, raucous, alienated American spirit that established his place in the poetry canon. That work’s open celebration of eroticism and homosexuality caused Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who published it, to be tried on obscenity charges. (He was acquitted.)
Ginsberg and Mr. Orlovsky wrote and spoke openly about their relationship, which they deemed a marriage. Because of Ginsberg’s prominence, the two men were social pioneers, the first gay “married” couple that many people had ever heard of. They traveled to Paris and North Africa together and spent two years in India, where they absorbed the Eastern philosophy that showed up in Ginsberg’s poems and influenced Mr. Orlovsky, who became a Buddhist, for the rest of his life.
Ginsberg and Mr. Orlovsky also lived together on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and, for a time, on a farm in Cherry Valley in upstate New York.
Like Ginsberg, Mr. Orlovsky became a central figure in the Beat movement, teaching at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, founded by Ginsberg and others in 1974, at the Naropa Institute (now Naropa University) in Boulder, Colo., and figuring in Kerouac’s books. Kerouac called Mr. Orlovsky George in “The Dharma Bums” and Simon Darlovsky in “Desolation Angels.”
The relationship was not without its problems: both men had other partners, and Mr. Orlovsky was interested in women as well as men. But their bond remained until Ginsberg’s death in 1997.
It was Ginsberg who encouraged Mr. Orlovsky to write poetry, and though he published only a few slim volumes, his voice was singular, and his early work was admired by the likes of William Carlos Williams and Gregory Corso. It had an outsider-ish originality (the spelling and phrasing were eccentric), a blunt, innocent earthiness, especially about bodily functions, and a Whitmanesque exuberance that communicated glee in the process of making poetry itself.
“A rainbow comes pouring into my window, I am electrified,” he began his first poem, which he titled “Frist Poem,” in 1957. It continued:
Songs burst from my breast, all my crying stops, mistory fills the air.
I look for my shues under my bed.
A fat colored woman becomes my mother.
I have no false teeth yet. Suddenly ten children sit on my lap.
I grow a beard in one day.
I drink a hole bottle of wine with my eyes shut.
I draw on paper and I feel I am two again. I want everybody to talk to me.
Peter Anton Orlovsky was born on the Lower East Side on July 8, 1933. His father, Oleg, was an immigrant from Russia who tried starting several businesses, including hand-painting and selling neckties.
The family was poor, and both parents descended into alcoholism and eventually separated. Peter’s eldest brother, Julius, who had to be institutionalized, was a schizophrenic who was intermittently catatonic. A 1969 film by Robert Frank, “Me and My Brother,” told Julius’s story at a time when he was living with his brother and Ginsberg in Manhattan.
Mr. Orlovsky attended high school in Queens, but he dropped out to help support his family and worked as an orderly at the Creedmoor state mental hospital (now Creedmoor Psychiatric Center).
He was drafted in 1953 during the Korean War but, the story goes, was ordered not to be sent to the Korean front after he told an officer, “An army with guns is an army against love.” Instead he was sent to San Francisco, where he worked as a medic.
Mr. Orlovsky’s books of poems include “Dear Allen, ship will land Jan 23, 58” (1971), “Lepers Cry” (1972) and “Straight Hearts’ Delight: Love Poems and Selected Letters” (with Allen Ginsberg) (1980). In addition to “Me and My Brother,” he appeared in “Couch,” a 1964 film by Andy Warhol and other films by Mr. Frank, including “Pull My Daisy” (1959).
Mr. Orlovsky had a sister, Marie, and three brothers, Lafcadio, Julius and Nick. Mr. Lief, his guardian, said that he could be certain only that Mr. Orlovsky is survived by Lafcadio.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Peter Orlovsky, Poet Who Inspired Allen Ginsberg, - Obituary (Obit)