Burroughs was a primary figure of the beat generation and a major postmodernist author who affected popular culture as well as literature. He is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the twentieth century.
In 1943 while living in New York City, he befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the mutually influential foundation of what became the countercultural movement of the Beat Generation, while becoming involved in the drug addiction that affected him for the rest of his life.
Much of Burroughs's work is semi-autobiographical, primarily drawn from his experiences as a heroin addict, as he lived throughout Mexico City, London, Paris, Berlin, the South American Amazon and Tangier in Morocco. Finding success with his confessional first novel, Junkie (1953), Burroughs is perhaps best known for his third novel Naked Lunch (1959), a work fraught with controversy that underwent a court case under the sodomy laws
Burroughs had one child in 1947, William Seward Burroughs III, with his second wife Joan Vollmer, who died in 1951 in Mexico City after Burroughs's accidental manslaughter, an event that deeply permeated all of his writings. Burroughs died at his home in Lawrence, Kansas after suffering a heart attack in 1997.