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So Long, Mistah Thompson
A tribute to the great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
“The man who hungers for truth should expect no mercy and give none.”
(Hunter S. Thompson)
On February 16, 2003, Hunter S. Thompson appeared on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” As he takes a seat next to Conan, Thompson jerks and mutters out some curse- for he had sat on his balls. Sure, this kind of thing happens to most men from time to time...but a few minutes later, Thompson did it again, as he tried to lean back in his chair whilst reminiscing about a visit from Johnny Depp.
Thompson had a gargantuan pair of balls, and national television was not the only place they showed up. Throughout his writing and his life, Dr. Thompson flaunted a raw and fierce moxie, an unrelenting scoff at Fear for anything, be it public figures or the standards of conventional writing. He didn’t even let Life give him The Fear; instead, he simply chose to embrace it, for all it’s worth. Against whatever odds that faced him, Thompson strove for Truth, bravely wielding his prose like a jagged knife at the throat of any injustice he came across.
“On Feb. 20,  Dr. Hunter S. Thompson took his life with a gunshot to the head at his fortified compound in Woody Creek, Colorado. One of the very finest writers in America’s history, [he] died as he lived, on his own terms. It is entirely fitting that Hunter, as a master of politics and control, chose to take his own life on his schedule and by his own hand, rather than submitting to fate, genetics or chance. Though we will miss him bitterly, we understand and support his decision. Let the world know that Dr. Hunter S. Thompson died with his glass full, a fearless man, a warrior. He stomped terra.” (Anita & Juan Thompson, Hunter’s wife & son)
The news sent strange vibrations across the globe. He had left his elegant hoof prints upon the lives of countless people, and now he’s gone. For many, it is difficult to fathom how someone could kill themselves not out of desperation, but with a clear and upbeat frame of mind. For others, it was a fitting exit for a man who epitomized free will, and although it’s nevertheless sad that he’s gone, his roar is just as loud and potent as it ever was. He was at the top of his game, and left this earth as one of the most talented writers to ever grace the planet.
People are bound to spout all sorts of bogus, half-wit gibberish now that he is dead in the corporeal sense. They will say that he killed himself because he got writer’s block. They will say that he killed himself because he was a Left-wing nut job who took “the coward’s way out.” They might even go so far as to say that he couldn’t tolerate his own madness any longer.
Well, fuck them all straight to Hell. Because those of us who know what Thompson is truly all about know better than to lend any credence to the hogwash that his detractors are accustomed to uttering. Hunter is better than all that. He was Gonzo. He is Lono. And he knew what he was doing before he did it.
“Hunter’s work is timeless, he’ll have fans until the earth crashes into the sun. I don’t know if there’s another American author who has written something that keeps trickling down to new generations like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The thing is, he was about so much more than drugs and weirdness- he was desperately pained by the loss of freedom in America, and THAT’S why people keep reading him. He was a true patriot, a lifelong friend of liberty and a great man.
“The world will never see another man- let alone writer- like him. The world is poorer now.”
(Marty Beckerman, author)
“Now I will be expected to build a monstrous cannon in Woody Creek, a 100ft-high column of steel tubes, with a big red fist on its top and his ashes placed in a fire bomb in its palm.”
(Ralph Steadman, artist & friend of Thompson)
“If people had just one ounce of Hunter’s attitude they would rise up! They wouldn’t take this miserable farce of a government we have!”
(David Felton, former writer & editor at Rolling Stone, as quoted in Hunter)
“The world is a darker place with Hunter’s absence. As writers and journalists, we should all light a torch and carry it forward in the darkness, chasing the rats out of the corners and bringing light to our readers. His death should be a rallying call to write with diligence as we seek the Truth.”
(Eric, moderator of the hsthompson Yahoo! Group)
Indeed, Thompson taught many of us not only to write from our hearts, in our own individual ways, he furthermore taught us that the Truth needs to be told, in whatever way, shape or form we see it.
The balls-out unorthodox style of journalism that Thompson created was to be admired, but never attempted, lest the would-be writer fail miserably in the process. His poison pen dripped with feverish accuracy and stained each page with something more visceral and honest than anything else one is likely to find in the annals of American literature.
Besides contributing a hell broth of incredible, biting satire and sharp political & sociological dissertations to the world of New Journalism, Thompson also made every effort he could to bring Justice to the unscrupulous and Freedom to the wrongfully accused. In and out of prison for parts of his youth, Thompson had a keen grasp of the legal system and tried, in every way he could, to utilize that grasp of the law to save the life of Lisl Ellen Auman, a Denver woman who was arrested in 1997 and accused of handing a gun to Mattheus Reinhart Jaehnig, the man who killed Police Officer Bruce Vanderjagt.
When he got wind of the corrupt constabulary trying to pin Officer Vanderjagt’s death on a woman who was handcuffed in a backseat at the time of the shooting, Thompson pulled out all the stops, calling friends, colleagues and law enforcement types together to come to the woman’s aid. He even headed up a new organization designed to emancipate the accused.
Yes, Hunter S. Thompson never suffered fools gladly. In fact, he attacked them on their own turf and sent them running off into the wilderness like a tarred and feathered fowl with bad genes and serious blood on their hands. Lisl is just one example of this Spartan determination to right the wrongs.
In the BBC documentary Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood (1978), Thompson was asked if he felt that one person, “shooting in the right direction against someone as big as Nixon, as big as the State,” can make a difference.
Thompson smiled, and replied, “I think so. I have to think so. If I didn’t think so, I’d be dumb. I’d have to look in the mirror and think, ‘Wait a minute, if this is all totally useless, then why are you doing it?’
“I have to think that a person can do some good.”
And that’s what he did. In the course of his career- over a dozen books and hundreds of articles, appearing in sundry publications from Playboy to Rolling Stone to Vanity Fair- he held his bright candle to many caverns of darkness, bringing to light things like the corruption of the Nixon and Bush administrations, the ugliness of modern media, police brutality, and so on.
“Hunter was a patriot. But he thought in universal terms. He was not a jingoist. He hated that war in Vietnam with a passion. And he hated the hypocrisy of the establishment. Basically, I think he wanted to see this country live up to his ideals. And he wanted us to do better.”
(Senator George McGovern, as quoted in Hunter)
“Hunter did to me in literature what Rage Against the Machine did to me in music. Transformed my entire existence. Fucked up everything I thought I knew what was real, pissed all over it, and regurgitated the raw material into a form that, although was less palatable, sure as fuck seemed more real...more visceral.
“The emotion and energy displayed were the closest things to the righteous human soul. He could be chided as a drug-crazed maniac, but his substance abuse wasn’t nearly as bad as our abuse of substance. This leaves him and his ways as pure ironical genius. As difficult as they were for some to digest, they were necessary embodiments of what we, as a species, have become. This shit not only filled our stomachs, but satiated our parched spirits. So easy to love, so easy to hate. He was the rebel posterboy for free speech and expression, exploiting it for the good of raw reality. He just didn’t give a fuck. He was bellowing, ‘This is who I am, this is what I’ve become, this is what you’ve led me to be, so if you don’t like it, fuck you, you created me!’ before letting out a righteous laugh and a shotgun blast to a golfball...and eventually, to his head. Hunter, we will miss you, we will never forget you, and we will do all we can to accommodate the survival of your spirit...if only we can keep up. Damnit, finally Hunter, you can rest in peace.”
(Wasim Muklashy, Editor in Chief of Get Underground and WAV Magazine)
The following is Bob (co-author of this article) Freville’s description of how the Good Doctor impacted his life:
You can get a pretty good idea about a person from their writing, especially if what they write happens to be full throttle subjective rant material. From reading, re-reading and re-re-reading books like Generation of Swine and Songs of the Doomed, I had amassed quite a collection of thoughts on the Author with the Cruella DeVille cigarette holder.
The intensity of Thompson’s every sentence smacks of violence, love and gut instincts. A romantic. A pugilist. An outlaw. An outcast. A rugged man of strange swaggers and tremendous passionate ire.
The abovementioned Thompson qualities came out full force in the week following his suicide, and I hoped that the well wouldn’t run dry. Keep it coming, man. Play it again, Sam.
The way I gestured, the way I moved my hands and arms around while engaging in debate. It was all indicative of a life mired in Thompson’s writing and his attitude. And it felt good to know that some of his extraordinary traits had rubbed off on me.
The first book I ever read by the Good Doctor was The Great Shark Hunt. It was a sprawling conglomeration of Radical thought on every subject from bartering to bribing to crooked-as-fuck political bureaucracy. It was a tome that still stood out in my mind when, more than a year later, Universal announced the release of “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: The Movie.”
The Fear & Loathing poster first caught my eye on the way to a book store and by the time I reached the check out counter, I had found my first copy of the book. When I finished reading it, I was in love in a way that I hadn’t been since the first time I saw Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio or heard Jim Morrison singing gravely about “walking across the floor with a flower in your hand.”
For the next several years I read nothing but Thompson, braking only for an exclusive group of other writers (see: William S. Burroughs, Darcey Steinke, John Steinbeck, Charles Bukowski, Chuck Palahniuk, etc.).
The thought of Thompson’s presence really surrounding me worked wonders toward making me feel better, as did the drunken debauchery of the days following the news of his death. I had done good by my only living (or dead) idol. I had been celebrating Hunter’s life, rather than mourning his death. The spirit of Gonzo was tripping over cardboard boxes above a garage full of spray cans and deer antlers.
With madness comes certain clarities. That phrase alone could be used to justify or sum up Thompson’s entire approach to storytelling…and living. I realized that Thompson was trying to show me the way from the Heavens of the Eternal Question Mark. He was speaking to me as I stewed on the ground, slumped against a car in a total stranger’s driveway. And he was struggling to admonish me about leading his same over-indulgent life. Or, in the very least, sending out a very strong message about the importance of taking caution on the rugged road of excess.
I always admired that about him. Thompson wasn’t afraid to eat anything that came his way. He even wrote about the detrimental effect he inflicted upon himself when he made the mistake of mixing too many herbal vitamin supplements. But beneath all the bingeing there beat the heart of a highly-ethical American man of letters who would never think to push his vices on anyone else.
Jake (co-author of this article) McGee had a similar influence from Thompson, part of which prompted him to write several letters to the legendary author. Here’s part of one, dated August 15, 2000:
Dear Mr. Thompson:
To start with, I want to thank you for your collaboration with Terry Gilliam. You see, I’ve been writing since I was eight, but I’d given up reading by the time high school rolled around. My writing continued, but its development was fairly minimal.
Then last summer I got my hands on a video titled Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. As I witnessed a mayhem all too familiar to me, I was amazed at the vivid accuracy of this movie. This performance was beyond pure acting talent or directional ability, although both were delivered with outstanding potency. No, this film was powered by something more- the fuel of description. I came to this conclusion after watching the tape for nearly a month straight, when I found your name listed in the credits. I went out, bought the book, and plowed through it in no time at all.
I then began to realize how ignorant to literature I’ve become. The terrible truth is that I know nothing about Poe, Shakespeare, Coleridge, and all the others who paved the road that I had been taking advantage of. So now, at the age of 22, I’ve embarked on a journey to make up for lost time. After Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I read a book my grandfather recommended, then came Generation of Swine.
I then produced the best piece of work I’ve written in years.
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson had balls of steel, and his spirit and influence will live on through all eternity. To read Thompson’s work is to buy the ticket and take the ride. To reach the end of his books is to have taken a journey from which there is no return. Once you’ve been touched by Thompson there is no U-turn either. All you can do is keep on trucking and hope to experience 1/8 of the craziness Hunter enjoyed and, usually, created. Gonzo- Esto Perpetua
"Hunter always said that he was a road man for the Lords of Karma, that he had been here before and that he would return. Most of all, according to Hunter, the trick was 'to get enough rest between gigs.' I truly hope he's resting well, because there is a lot of work left to do for a great man who made us recognize how far we have failed to reach the American dream."
(Wayne Ewing, filmmaker & friend of Thompson)
©Bob Freville & Jake McGee - Get Underground
For more information, click on the words in RED, or ckeck out the Great Thompson Hunt at: http://www.gonzo.org/