Dr. Hunter S. Thompson-
Another Hero and Inspiration Gone

A commentary by Preston Peet

Posted at DrugWar.com
Feb. 21, 2005

"I'd hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me." -
Dr. Hunter Stockton Thompson- born July 18, 1937; died Feb. 20, 2005

When eighteen years old, embodying the life of a bohemian druggie in the streets of Paris, I was living in the Hotel de' Nesle, a cheap hotel overrun with hippies, heads and freaks in the center of the city, selling (and using) lots and lots of LSD and hashish to supplement my meager cash flow. A voracious reader, I would scour the hotel for books in English that other travelers may have finished reading or have forgotten when they'd continued on their roads. It was like this I found a tattered copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by the man who would become my driving inspiration, the main, number one source for my desire to pick up a pen and write and publish, Dr. Hunter Stockton Thompson.

The first time I picked it up, I wasn't sure what I'd found or what I thought of it. So utterly different than anything I'd ever even imagined being published, much less my reading it, I was soon enrapt, in complete awe that someone had managed to make a living doing what this man had been doing. I soon discovered this wasn't even the first book by Hunter S. Thompson I'd read, as just the summer before moving to Europe, in 1984, freshly kicked out of my parents' home, I'd recovered a cover-less copy of Thompson's first book, 1966's Hell's Angels, from the dumpster behind Charlie's Books on Main St. in my hometown of Sarasota, where it had been dumped as overstock. I didn't immediately make the connection between the two books due to that missing cover but it didn't take me long to not only make that connection but to search out and read every single thing by Thompson I could get my hands on.

I went from Paris to Spain to live in the tiny mountain village of Las Navos, outside Barcelona, for the month of August, 1985, carrying Thompson's heavy but brilliant 700 page anthology of articles and essays, 1979's Great Shark Hunt with me as my bible, picking it up and reading, then reading again and re-reading some more, paragraph by paragraph, essay by essay. It was on this trip that the bright white light bulb exploded in my mind: "If he can not only do this many drugs but get paid to travel and report on the world's inner and outer spaces too," I thought to myself, "then by god so can I!" I picked up an inexpensive little spiral notebook and began scribbling in it non-stop, soon filling it and moving on to the next, spending the next few years always carrying a spiral with me everywhere I went. No matter if I was living easy and employed or strung out homeless on the streets, I was writing.

Born July 18, 1937, in Louisville, Kentucky, Thompson went on to serve two years in the US Air Force, learning the basics of journalism while covering sports for a service paper at Eglin Air Force base in Florida in the late 1950s. Once back in civilian life, he first took on a position with the New York Herald Tribune covering the Caribbean, then spent two years traveling and writing as the South American correspondent for the National Observer, where he once described a brief spell spent on an island with bloodthirsty bandits and smugglers, a foreshadowing of topics and stories to come. Moving to San Francisco in 1963, he began researching and writing his seminal breakthrough book, Hell's Angels, a Strange and Terrible Saga. Thompson then moved to Rolling Stone magazine in 1970, for which he turned two articles into the classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (published in 1972), and for which he covered the 1972 Richard Nixon-George McGovern US Presidential Race, which produced his Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 (published in 1973), thereby giving birth to Gonzo Journalism. And inadvertently, without my ever getting the honor and privilege to tell him so unfortunately, to my own journalism too.

Years later, a working writer and editor, finally published and still writing my skinny ass off, writing about those things that matter most to me, chronicling my own many drug-fueled misadventures and outraged rantings as often as possible in writing, I came across another connection I had to Thompson I hadn't previously known about- serious back pain. Thompson wrote in 2003 about how he'd been replacing his spine with titanium, and how it was such a relief to be finished with the pain he'd been dealing with for so long. A chronic pain patient myself, I could empathize completely with what he was saying, and now find myself wondering if his surgery was not really that successful after all, and whether he realized he wasn't actually finished with the surgery and never ending pain. It's exhausting living in such unrelenting pain day in, night out, not to mention depressing and extremely difficult to deal with. One can only take so many drugs until the tolerance to the drugs is so high nothing can really break through the pain. I wonder about Thompson's drug tolerance levels, and his resistance to never ending pain. His friend and drinking buddy, George Stranahan, a former owner of the Woody Creek Tavern, Thompson's old watering hole, was quoted in the Associated Press (Feb. 21, 2005) as saying he wasn't surprised to hear about the suicide, making note of Thompson's bad year medically, and how he couldn't imagine Thompson dying in a hospital bed with "tubes coming out of him." I guess I never did either really. Pain is a terrible thing and doesn't leave much room for negotiation, especially in this opiophobic, prohibition-crazed world we inhabit today.

I tried contacting Thompson last year (2004) while putting together my own first book, Under the Influence- the Disinformation Guide to Drugs, but couldn't ever get anyone to pick up the phone at his Colorado home. It would have been a real honor to have published anything by him in a book I put together, but now it will never be. I can only hope I am one day portrayed by two brilliant film stars (Bill Murray in Where the Buffalo Roam and Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and have a comic character based on me (Uncle Duke in Doonesbury), not to mention found a new school of journalism like Gonzo. Thompson was sharp, wicked, irreverent, brilliant, mad, self-absorbed, a drunk, a stoner, a head, a punk rocker, a sports columnist (ESPN's Hey Rube) a gun and motorcycle loving rebel without peer and genuine living legend who will be missed by many of those who love freedom and the lure of something dangerous, out of bounds and licentious, by all who will gladly give the finger to a "treacherous little freak" (to quote the good doctor), like George W. Bush and all his ilk.

Thompson was found by his son Juan Thompson on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2005, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, apparently committed with a .45 handgun, in the kitchen of his Owl Farm ranch outside of Aspen, Colorado.

Dr. Thompson, I am sorry I never made your personal acquaintance, but I want to make clear that even more than Gary Webb, another hero and inspiration of mine who shot himself to death this year, I, along with many others out here still, will miss you and your work, and more importantly, your play.

Peace and love,
Preston Peet


Editor http://www.drugwar.com
Editor "Under the Influence- the Disinformation Guide to Drugs"
Editor "Underground- The Disinformation Guide to Ancient Civilizations, Astonishing Archeology and Hidden History" (due out Sept. 2005)