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RP McMurphy was the protagonist of Ken Kesey's 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The RP stands for Randle Patrick. Kesey made this story while participating in a paid governement study on the effects of LSD and while working as an orderly in a mental ward. The character of RP McMurphy contains echoes of Dean Moriaty and prefigures the real life Neal Cassady—who Kesey would meet later once after forming the Merry Pranksters and having Cassady drive his bus.

McMurphy is a loud, boisterous Irish-American who enjoys gambling, baseball, drinking and women. A veteran of the Korean War, McMurphy was captured by the Chinese and led an escape from a POW camp. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts but later discharged for insubordination. After a conviction of gambling and battery (as well as being charged with—but not convicted of—statutary rape), he is sentenced to a short prison term in a penal colony. By contesting that he is insane he gets sent to a mental institute where he hopes to live carefree. Instead he encounters his nemesis, Nurse Ratched. McMurphy rallies the other patients to stick up for themselves and oppose the tyranny of Nurse Ratched. For his efforts he is admintstered electro-shock therapy and worse.

In the popular 1975 film adaptation, McMurphy was played by a young Jack Nicholson. Nicholson won an Academy Award (and he has been included in this list even though RP McMurphy had no real disability!) and many consider this to be one of his greatest early roles, aside from The Shining. Were it not for Jack Nicholson's outstanding performance and his ability to bring more life to the character of RP McMurphy than Kesey's prose, I would prefer the book over the movie. As it is, the two are equal in my mind if only because the other characters (especially Chief Bromden) seem more vivid in the book than in the movie.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has also been adapted for the stage and is often done by small playhouses. The character of McMurphy has been portrayed by many notable actors on the stage, including Leonard Nimoy (wish I could have seen that), Kirk Douglas, Christian Slater (who probably did a better RP than Nicholson!), Jérôme Pradon and Gary Sinise.

 


 

Miscellany:

McMurphy's crazy plea was mimicked in real-life by a sane-yet-troubled young man who was sent to the maximum security asylum Broadmoor. You are free to listen to or read his story as you like.

The Manic Street Preachers did a song about and named for RP McMurphy on their album Generation Terrorists.

"RP McMurphy's" is also often used as the name of bars and other such establishments. There is one in Jacksonville, FL & (Google informs me that) there's one in Ohio and Holmes, PA has one that's cigar friendly and a package store.

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