When Wilhelm Reich died in prison in 1957, he was a scientist disgraced. Remembered, if at all, as the inventor of the orgone accumulator ( William S. Burroughs and William Steig, among others, were devotees), Reich was once an associate of Sigmund Freud in Vienna, and immigrated to the United States in 1939. By the 1950s, however, he found himself the target of government persecution, largely for his theory of Orgonomy , which posited that diseases such as cancer and mental illness were the result of repressed orgone energy. Such energy, Reich believed, was a kind of life force, although his detractors framed it in more prurient, even sexualized, terms. Eventually, he was jailed and much of his research materials, including copies of his own books, were destroyed.
Reich was a key influence upon the work of William S. Burroughs.