Literary Outlaw

BY Advocate Contributors

February 08 2011 5:00 AM ET

 The cult author of such seminal works as Junkie and Naked Lunch is the subject of director Yony Leyser’s William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, a probing look at the writer who lived to tell about the extremes of drug and queer cultures. Leyser incorporates rare archival photos and interviews as well as new ones with luminaries like punk poet–singer Patti Smith (who admits to borrowing lyrics from him) and director Gus Van Sant (who cast Burroughs in Drugstore Cowboy for authenticity). His later-in-life boyfriend, Marcus Ewert, reveals a surprising nugget: Despite having accidentally killed his wife, Joan, in a notorious shooting stunt gone wrong, Burroughs continued to sleep with a loaded gun in his bed for the rest of his life. Naturally it’s fellow iconoclast John Waters who best sums up Burroughs’s complicated appeal: “He was the first person who was famous for the things you were supposed to hide — he was gay, a junkie, he didn’t look handsome, he shot his wife, and he wrote poetry about assholes and heroin.” The documentary will be shown on the PBS series Independent Lens February 22.

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