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INDEPENDENT LENS: William S. Burroughs: A Man Within

Airs Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: William S. Burroughs

"William S. Burroughs: A Man Within" investigates the life of the legendary beat author and American icon. Born the heir of the Burroughs Adding Machine estate, he struggled throughout his life with addiction, control systems, and self.

Burroughs Quiz

William S. Burroughs is known as a prominent member of the Beat Generation, a prolific and peculiar writer, a dope addict, an inspiration to punk bands and performance artists, and a staunch defender of personal freedom. But his epic and fascinating personal story didn't always make splashy headlines. How much do you really know about the man and his work? Take the quiz

William S. Burroughs shooting heroin.
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Above: William S. Burroughs shooting heroin.

"William S. Burroughs: A Man Within" is on Facebook

He was forced to deal with the tragedy of killing his wife and the repercussions of neglecting his son. His novel, "Naked Lunch," was one of the last books to be banned by the U.S. government. Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer testified on behalf of the book. The courts eventually overturned the 1966 decision, ruling that the book had important social value. It remains one of the most recognized literary works of the 20th century.

The film features never-before-seen footage of William S. Burroughs, as well as exclusive interviews with his closest friends and colleagues including John Waters, Genesis P-Orridge, Laurie Anderson, Peter Weller, David Cronenberg, Iggy Pop, Gus Van Sant, Sonic Youth, Anne Waldman, Hal Willner, James Grauerholz, Amiri Baraka, Jello Biafra, V. Vale, Wayne Propst, Diane DiPrima, Dean Ripa (the world's largest poisonous snake collector), and many others, with narration by actor Peter Weller, and soundtrack by Sonic Youth.

William Burroughs was one of the first to cross the dangerous boundaries of queer and drug culture in the 1950s, and write about his experiences. Eventually he was hailed the godfather of the beat generation and influenced artists for generations to come. But his friends were left wondering if he had ever found contentment or happiness. This extremely personal documentary pierces the surface of the troubled and brilliant world of one of the greatest authors of all time.

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Video Excerpt: Independent Lens: William S. Burroughs

Above: Burroughs didn't feel at home unless he had a loaded gun by his side. An iconoclast who himself became an icon, William Burroughs explored the outer boundaries of culture and identity in the 1950s. His work was vilified by conservatives and banned by the U.S. government, but emerged to influence artists for generations to come. Burroughs's friends and colleagues remember the public persona and the private man. Find out more about "William S. Burroughs: A Man Within."

Video

Video Excerpt: William S. Burroughs: A Man Within

Above: In this clip, Publisher V. Vale describes how Burroughs became a role model on the punk rock scene. An iconoclast who himself became an icon, William Burroughs explored the outer boundaries of culture and identity in the 1950s. His work was vilified by conservatives and banned by the U.S. government, but emerged to influence artists for generations to come. Burroughs's friends and colleagues remember the public persona and the private man. Find out more about "William S. Burroughs: A Man Within."

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