In World War II, he served in the Navy but was expelled for severe personality problems that may have been symptoms of mental illness. He became a merchant seaman. In the late 1940s, he wandered the U.S. and Mexico and wrote his first novel, The Town and the City. It was not until 1957, when he published On the Road, an autobiographical tale of his wanderings, that he became famous as a seminal figure of the Beat Generation. His tale of a subculture of poets, folk singers, and eccentrics who smoked marijuana and rejected conformist society was written in just three weeks. The book is filled with other Beat figures, including Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs.
Kerouac wrote five more books before his death in 1967 in St. Petersburg, Florida. However, none gained the mythic status of On the Road.