Hunter S. Thompson is dead. He died from a self-inflicted gun shot wound at his legendary Owl Farm compound in Woody Creek, Colorado yesterday and I am bracing myself for all the pseudo-analysis and psycho-babble that we are sure to hear from hacks with half his skill in the days to come. I remember like it was yesterday the first time that I discovered Thompson. I was at a bookstore in Montreal sometime in the late ’70s with a mission to buy a guitar tab book for my hated guitar lessons. Instead I stumbled across “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and proceeded to spend the next hour propped up against the store bookshelves reading the first 50 pages or so of this novel that was so….different from anything else I had ever read. I bought it naturally, the guitar tab book quickly forgotten and from that moment on I became an unabashed fan. I purchased as much as I could find and even this past weekend before I heard of his death I was randomly reading from “The Great Shark Hunt” with as much enjoyment as usual, not realizing what depths of despair the author must have found himself in at that very moment. In the days to come, much will be written about Hunter’s “gonzo” lifestyle, about the booze, drugs, guns and fast convertibles. It’s a shame that stories of his lifestyle will sidetrack people from appreciating the real legacy of Hunter S. Thompson. Hunter S. Thompson was responsible for some of the finest literature in the second half of the twentieth century and it is imperative that this legacy, rather than his drugs of choice become his true epitaph. Hunter was the first author that wrote in a way that was not only entertaining but was brutally incitefull, sometimes to a fault and with a depth and passion that could only come from someone with The Gift. Not only that, to me Hunter made literature “cool” something that not even my best English teacher could manage. It was through reading Hunter that I discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Conrad, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemmingway, George Plimpton and many more authors who were as far away from the gonzo style as you could possibly imagine and yet, because of Hunter’s enthusiasm for these writers his passion made me want to read them, a gift that has enriched my life ten-fold. Much like another of my favourite degenrates Keith Richards, the man who introduced me to the wonders of Muddy Waters and Chess Records, Hunter had an eloquent way of encouraging readers to investigate the classics of literature through the use of a well-placed quote or a brief passage in one of his pieces describing for example a scene from “The Great Gatsby” with a passion that betrayed his true intelligence. Through Hunter I have learned and enjoyed the written word perhaps more than through any other person and to that I give him thanks. Sure I tried to emulate him to a modest degree. I had my fair share of attempts at getting to meet him, hastily scribbled fan letters sent to the Woody Creek Tavern and a completely unsuccessful attempt at a “Hunter breakfast” where I discovered that despite his example, Wild Turkey and grapefruit do not mix. But reading Thompson encouraged me to write. Not for publication or for any kind of career but just to write for the joy and art of writing. Hunter S. Thomspson showed me and to those of us who admired him the power of the written word. If you are not so much a fan of his “Gonzo” writing read his pieces for the National Observer or Scanlans from the early to mid-sixties and you will read the work of an incredibly talented observational writer. The man could paint a picture with words that was of such power and eloquence that you sometimes just shook your head in awe at his masterfull wordplay.
As I write this I sit here with mixed emotions. I am angry that a man so talented felt that he had gotten to a point where he had to kill himself, something I don’t think that I will ever truly understand but I also sit here with an incredible sense of thanks for the joy that he has brought to my world and the inspiration that he has infused me with, something that has strangely redoubled even as I type these words now. In the last couple of years I think that Hunter was unfairly slagged by both his fans and enemies as having nothing new to say and of suggesting that he should just put up or shut up. I have always held the thought that he has given enough of his talent to more than reward those of us who read his works and that perhaps we were unfair in pressuring him to do more when maybe he would have much preferred to retire his Gonzo persona and relax to enjoy the fruits of his success with the odd “Hey Rube!” thrown in for good measure. At the very least, he will no longer have to put up with the slings and arrows and will perhaps finally be at peace with himself and his legacy. To his family I express my most sincere condolences. Hunter S. Thompson was a legend in his own time. He was perhaps the first “rock star” author and journalist but most of all, he was just damn good at what he did. I will miss your screed but I will forever treasure your words. Thank you Doc for everything you have given us. You will not be forgotten.
UPDATE! The Guardian has a nice piece on Hunter’s career, legacy and reactions to his death. In addition, Salon has a retrospective of articles on Hunter called Remembering Hunter S. Thompson that you should check out. Finally (for now) This is London has an obituary that would do the Doc proud in Hunter S. Thompson takes his final trip. The NME has an obituary that briefly mentions Hunter’s love of music:
A passionate music fan, Thompson drew early inspiration from his hero Bob Dylan, the author had co-written several songs including ‘You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared’ with his friend, the late Warren Zevon, while an audio sample of him reading his scathing Richard Nixon obituary appeared on Paul Oakenfold’s album ’Bunkka’.
However he retained a healthy disrespect for the music industry, famously calling it “a cruel and shallow trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men lie like dogs. There is also a negative side”.
That reminds me of a video I have somewhere in my house of Hunter meeting up with Keith Richards. Kind of anti-climactic when you see it but it still is a lot of fun to watch.
Thompson played by his own rules to the end
New Journalism’s Dark Prince (Los Angeles Times)
Largehearted Boy has a link to two Bittorrent files of recordings of Hunter’s lectures, one from Boulder in 1977 and one from Washington and Lee University in 1991.
Fear, Loathing, and Great Reporting (Editor & Publisher)
Spokesman: Thompson likely planned suicide far in advance (ABC News)
According to Hunter S. Thompson Wanted Remains Fired From Cannon- Friends Plan Private, Public Ceremonies there will be a private commemoration for family and friends on March 5th with a public event likely in April. Apparently Hunter wants his ashes fired out of a cannon as he often joked that he was “cannon fodder.” Only Hunter could have come up with this plan!
Believer (a great retrospective commentary on Thompson by Lousi Menand in The New Yorker)
Son’s shotgun tribute- HST’s final word: Counselor (Rocky Mountain News)
Thompson’s family memorializes writer in private gathering (Rocky Mountain News)
I will update the site with details about funeral arrangements and memorials, etc. but until then I think I will lay low a little bit and read some of Hunter’s writing and return to my regular posting schedule on Wednesday or Thursday. I welcome any and all contributions if you have thoughts to share on Hunter’s passing.
UPDATE 2! I will be continuously updating this post as new news becomes available although the post itself will remain fixed on this date for the forseeable future.