Requiem For a Gonzo
March 4, 2005
In Gonzo We Trust: Hunter S. Thompson 1937-2005
By Spyder Darling
Ye Gods. Hunter S. Thompson, the audacious author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is dead. Laid low by his own trigger finger while on the phone with his wife Anita in the kitchen of his compound in Woody Creek, Colorado. To make matters even more perverse, Hunter’s son Juan, daughter in law and 6-year-old grandson were home when the infamous author performed his final edit. And in the parlance of the Good Doctor himself, that is some very bad craziness.
And now the literary world is much lesser for it. Thompson was a true original, an outlaw reporter straight out of Kentucky, who despite his cynicism was a fierce friend of the American Dream and an outspoken enemy to the Godless greed heads in Washington who would gladly tax free speech so heavily that only the rich could afford it. Thompson was also no stranger to Wild Turkey, his home state’s finest sipping whiskey, gobbled down by the tanker full as he perfected the gonzo journalistic style in which the reporter himself becomes as much a part of the story as the subject matter. The lines between fact, fiction and the rapid beating heart of the matter in Hunter’s pieces were as thin as the wire frames of his trademark aviator sunglasses and tinted a similar shade of jimson weed green.
Though best known for his over the top journalistic style, Thompson’s screams of consciousness ran miles deeper than the bottom of a rocks glass and included interests in wildlife conservation as well as doing his part to correct social injustices, most recently in defense of Lisl Auman, a young woman appealing her life sentence at the Colorado State Prison for a murder that occurred while she was in police custody. Hunter brought Auman’s plight to light in the June 2004 issue of Vanity Fair, like a modern day Tom Joad, but tragically Thompson now will never taste the fruits of his over-proof Grapes of Wrath.
Thompson’s list of admirers began forming (to the left of course) with the mid-60s success of Hells Angels a first person no punches pulled account of a year spent riding with California’s notorious motorcycle enthusiasts. Since then, except Hells Angels leader Sonny Barger, whose tentative relationship with Hunter came to a sudden and unfortunately for Hunter, violent end, the author’s fan base has included such counter cultural heavy hitters as Gary Trudeau, Sean Penn, Bill Murray and Johnny Depp, who played Thompson in the movie version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas an ambitious but ultimately failed attempt at capturing the acid and ether flavored end of the hippie era at a drug enforcement convention in Sin City.
Even Hunter’s arch nemesis, late President Richard M. Nixon, whose 1972 election Thompson chronicled in Fear and Loathing On the Campaign Trail ‘72 held Thompson in high regard, if only for the reporter’s willingness to indulge Nixon’s addiction to talking pro football. Never one to budge an inch when it came to the truth, Thompson later went on to de-sanctify Nixon in the scathing obituary He Was a Crook when many die hard democrats were praising the disgraced president who chose to resign following the Watergate scandal.
Like many of Hunter’s legion of whiskey and smoke fuelled readers, my relationship with Hunter’s work began in college when a roommate turned me on to the hallucinogenic odyssey Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas and its now iconic opening paragraph, the most culturally significant since Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”
Thus began the book that launched a thousand imitators, and captured the imagination of an army of appreciators eager to live vicariously through Thompson’s bloodshot eyes. Admirers who tragically now will never know the thrill of a new Thompson manuscript nor on-line edition of Hey Rube the occasional column he’d dispatch from his home based gambling den for ESPN.com. In an all too creepy twist of fate, Thompson’s last column before shooting himself was entitled Shotgun Golf With Bill Murray. If only he’d written Celebrity Pillow Fights With Anna Kournikova what a different article this could have been.
Considering the war in Iraq, natural disasters and the breakup of Brad and Jenn, the world is still a fearsome and loath worthy place, but without Hunter S. Thompson’s to put it in improper perspective, it’s just not as much fun any more.
Aloha Hunter. The Kahuna has left the building.
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