Hunter Stockton Thompson, born July 18, 1937, was the father of Gonzo Journalism and one of the best American writers and patriots of all time. Gonzo is an experimental style of journalism where reporters are so involved in the story, they become a central part of it. He was known for such great books as Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1967) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971.) The internet is rife with Hunter S. Thompson trivia, so I will cherry-picked facts from the amazing Gonzo-wizard timeline that are germane to this semi-paranoid adventure. Assuming the reader will eventually look up some of the crazier ramblings below, here is a quick fast-forward through his life, in order to get to the weird and terrifying end of the story.
In November 1957, he was honorably discharged from the Air Force, by his commanding officer with these fun and prophetic words; “In summary, this Airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy or personal advice and guidance. Sometimes his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen staff members.”
In 1964, he visited Ketchum, Idaho, to investigate Ernest Hemingway’s suicide (ironic, but maybe not) and stole a gigantic pair of antlers as a trophy from a fellow writing deity, in what was probably a fun time. 52 years later, his widow returned them.
He used a $6,000 advance from Random House to attend the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago for research purposes. From his hotel room in Chicago, Thompson saw Democracy and the Democratic party dying, as journalists were silenced until the very moment the shit hit the fan. Clashes between police and protesters about the sensless war in Vietnam and the draft probably had a great effect on his political views and writing. In early 1969, after receiving a $15,000 royalty check for the paperback sales of Hell’s Angels, two-thirds of the money was used to secure his Colorado home that would be his dwelling for the rest of his life. Owl Farm, his “fortified compound” is where his last books were written, and there are plenty of wonderfully descriptive scenes of it. He describes the home and his beautiful, young wife with loving and fond details. Not at all the musings of a suicidal person.
He ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado in 1970, on the Freak Power ticket, with drug decriminalization and the demolition of future tall buildings that would block the view of the majestic mountains of downtown Aspen, Colorado, as a party platform. In this race, he only lost because the Republican candidate dropped out, so that the Democrat could defeat Hunter, and so the Republicans could gain a political seat in another race by having that Democrat drop out. This political shuffling to disenfranchise an outside threat should be familiar to modern readers. Ah hem, Bernie… ‘Scuse me, moving on.
His hatred for Richard Nixon was well known, and even entertaining in the book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. His inspiration on future writers, journalists, activists and freaks is immeasurable. In the movie Where the Buffalo Roam, Bill Murray plays Hunter and while on a University stage famously proclaims, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” Not many people can be successful using this formula, but Hunter was not like many people.
A new wave of popularity was gained with the release of Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” in which Johnny Depp plays the freak hero himself. Sadly, Hunter did not get to see the release of “Rum Diaries,” another film adaptation. He supposedly killed himself before the movie came out. Wikipedia states; “After a bout of health problems, Thompson committed suicide at the age of 67. In accordance with his wishes, his ashes were fired out of a cannon in a ceremony funded by his friend Depp and attended by friends including then-Senator John Kerry and Jack Nicholson.” It is true that he died on February 20, 2005, that his funeral went as planned and was attended by some really great people. However, there is a mystery that will perhaps never be solved about his death. Was it suicide? After reading his final book, it seems at least plausible that he was murdered for the same thing Socrates was forced to drink hemlock for; the anti-authoritarian influence of the populace and the fragile notion that we are all in need of a big brother to keep us safe.
After Nixon’s death in 1994, Thompson described him in Rolling Stone as a man who “could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time” and said “his casket [should] have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. [He] was an evil man – evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it.”
The November 2000 issue of Rolling Stone contained his article, “The Fun-Hogs in the Passing Lane: Fear and Loathing, Campaign 2004.” In the account of the 2004 presidential election, he compared the Bush v. Gore outcome to the Reichstag fire, and formally endorsed is long-time friend John Kerry.
The various publishers lucky enough to be graced with his freak genius included Rolling Stone, Time, Vanity Fair, The New York Slimes, Esquire, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and Playboy. Thompson owned a vast gun collection, as well as numerous forms of gaseous crowd control and homemade devices. He was a loud protector of the 2nd and 4th Amendments, while living a life that proved the 1st Amendment’s merits. Although he offered up no evidence, he made several speculations as to the U.S. Governments direct role in the September 11 attacks.
2003 saw the release of Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child In the Final Days of the American Century. This was a collection of new material, selected newspaper and digital clippings, and some older works, and was perceived by critics to be “an angry, vitriolic commentary on the passing of the American Century, and the state of affairs after the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”
In mid-2004, shortly before his death, a book hit the shelves that I will never forget. I was working as a wage-slave for Border’s Books, when I helped shelve copies of Hey Rube. After wiping the drool of my face, I started planning which bill would go unpaid to be able to pay for it. We never received another shipment, and it sold out before I could get my hands on a copy. Several years after his death shocked all of freakdom, I finally found a copy at a used bookstore. It didn’t occur to me in 2004, just why we didn’t receive another shipment of this what-should-have-been-a VERY infamous book. But, upon ripping through it’s pages and re-reading it, I understood why we only got one measly, limited run. Inside it’s page are not only his “writings from the sports desk” for ESPN (more like hilarious tips on gambling and swine politics,) but some of the most amazing tirades and word slaughters of the Bush family I have ever seen. G dubya gets his arse fully raped and thrown into the lions den for his foul treason to this country. The words inside this book were written by a brave and true patriot, who had taken shit off of Nixon, saw the 1968 Dems Convention riots and beatings, and for his entire life had seen first-hand the struggle of the freak to find true freedom. These pages are filled with passion, not depression. Rage, not apathy. But, most of all, they are filled with new-found love (Anita) by a writer with high-profile friends and movie coming out around the corner that starred one of the biggest Hollywood heartthrobs in the world at the time. Who in the hell would off themselves before at least watching the damn movie? Hunter never got to see the film adaptation of The Rum Diary, which was released posthumously in October 2011, and which was inspired by Thompson’s own experiences in Puerto Rico.
Thompson married his assistant, Anita Bejmuk, on April 23, 2003. He supposedly shot himself in the head on February 20, 2005, in Woody Creek, Colorado (Owl Farm), at 5:42 p.m., while his son Juan, daughter-in-law Jennifer, and grandson Will were visiting for the weekend.
According to the Aspen Daily News, “His wife Anita, who was at the Aspen Club, was on the phone with him as he cocked the gun.” “Thompson asked her to come home to help him write his ESPN column, then set the receiver on the counter. Anita said she mistook the cocking of the gun for the sound of his typewriter keys and hung up as he fired. Will and Jennifer were in the next room when they heard the gunshot, but mistook the sound for a book falling and did not check on Thompson immediately. Juan Thompson found his father’s body. According to the police report and Anita’s cell phone records, he called the sheriff’s department half an hour later, then walked outside and fired three shotgun blasts into the air to “mark the passing of his father”. The police report stated that in Thompson’s typewriter was a piece of paper with the date and a single word, “counselor”. Gun community folks took a deeper look at this hard-to-find police report, and the results are pretty damning for the suicide narrative.
(Thank you Digital Journal and Smoking Gun for doing a great service to the weirdos and the doomed.)
In other words, he chose the time his closest family was visiting to kill himself, while on the phone with his wife, who suspected nothing. His family didn’t hear a gunshot echo throughout the house, but his son did go outside and fire off a few rounds after discovering his dead father’s body. Maybe.
This is not to say that events didn’t happen exactly as most media outlets described, and certainly is not meant to disrespect any of his beautiful friends and family. So, for the sake of neutrality, let’s move on with the story. Thompson’s inner circle told the press that he had been depressed and always found February a “gloomy” month, with football season over and the harsh Colorado winter weather. He was also upset over his advancing age and chronic medical problems, including a hip replacement; he would frequently mutter “This kid is getting old.” Rolling Stone published what Doug Brinkley described as a suicide note written by Thompson to his wife, titled “Football Season Is Over“. It read:
“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun ó for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your (old) age. Relax – This won’t hurt.”
Thompson’s collaborator and friend Ralph Steadman wrote:
“… He told me 25 years ago that he would feel real trapped if he didn’t know that he could commit suicide at any moment. I don’t know if that is brave or stupid or what, but it was inevitable. I think that the truth of what rings through all his writing is that he meant what he said. If that is entertainment to you, well, that’s OK. If you think that it enlightened you, well, that’s even better. If you wonder if he’s gone to Heaven or Hell, rest assured he will check out them both, find out which one Richard Milhous Nixon went to – and go there. He could never stand being bored. But there must be Football too – and Peacocks …”
On August 20, 2005, in a private funeral, Thompson’s ashes were fired from a double-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button, a symbol originally used in his 1970 campaign for Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado.
According to his widow, Anita, the funeral was funded by actor Johnny Depp, who was a close friend of Thompson. Depp told the Associated Press, “All I’m doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out.” An estimated 280 people attended, including U.S. Senators John Kerry and George McGovern; 60 Minutes correspondents Ed Bradley and Charlie Rose; actors Jack Nicholson, John Cusack, Bill Murray, Benicio del Toro, Sean Penn, and Josh Hartnett; musicians Lyle Lovett, John Oates and David Amram, and artist and long-time friend Ralph Steadman.
One thing is certain, Hunter loved Anita, and it shows in his last book. Now for some strange reading from Hey Rube:
“It has already shot damaging holes in our national confidence and made dangerous Fools of whoever is running the Pentagon — not to mention the stunning $1,000,000,000 we are squandering every 24 hours to bomb Iraq back to the stone Age and starve millions of helpless, un-armed, terrorized civilians to death, in the name of some hateful, ill-advised, ill-fated military Crusade on the other side of the world. How long, O lord, how long? We used to be smarter than that.
Indeed, we are truly the squanderers of what was once the American Dream, and our own dreams, for that matter. In two disastrous years, this Waterhead son of Texas has taken this country from a prosperous nation at peace to a dead-broke nation at War, and that is a very long fall.
How could it happen? you ask — and I’m damned if I can give you a sane answer in anything close to the average nine-second time of a hard-hitting, high-tech marketing message of today’s average sound-byte. Anything over nine seconds is wasted energy, they say in the White House these days.
That is pure chickens—, of course. That gang of born-again geeks wouldn’t know a Message from a poison meat-whistle, on the sum of all the ignorant, wrong-headed evidence thus far in this dismal conflict. It is hard to ignore the prima facie dumbness that got us bogged down in this nasty war in the first place. This is not going to be like Daddy’s War, old sport. He actually won, and he still got run out of the White House nine months later.
That is the dark silver lining in this blood-spattered cloud we have brought down on ourselves, and it leaves a lot to be desired. It is almost impossibly morbid to brood on how many young Americans will have to come home in bodybags before the great American voter catches on to the fact that it’s the same greed-crazed yo-yo who slit the throat of the U.S. economy in the name of Tax Cuts, who is responsible for all the feverish war-mongering gone wrong. The whole thing sucks. It was wrong from the start, and it is getting wronger by the hour. George W. Bush is doomed to the same cruel fate his papa suffered only 10 years ago.
Whoops! Dawn is up in the Rockies, and I am late again for my deadline. The bell is ringing, and I must end this thing at once. My beautiful fiancè is wandering around in a champagne hangover, and I have to put her to bed. I am still hypnotized by the flash and glow of her elegant diamond ring. I have never paid much attention to diamonds, until now, but this one is very different. I am utterly fascinated by it.
Right. I am wildly high on everything I see or touch. We laugh a lot, and we fondle each other constantly, even in front of the Sheriff, who recently got married himself, so he should be familiar with this kind of madness. True Romance is always exhilarating for us addicts, and I like it.
Bang! And that’s it, for now. There is no more. Aloha.
Love in a time of war
By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist (ESPN.COM)
“True Romance is always exhilarating for us addicts, and I like it.” Are these the words of a suicidal man?
“Three journalists have died in Baghdad so far, and not one of them was killed by Enemy Fire. They were shot down like dogs by U.S. military personnel, killed and wounded and mangled by Americans, who drive American M1 Abrahms battle tanks and eat all-American pie, just like the rest of us. American troops are killing journalists in a profoundly foreign country, under cover of a war being fought for savage, greed-crazed reasons that most of them couldn’t explain or even understand.
What the hell is going on here? How could this once-proud nation have changed so much, so drastically, in only a little more than two years. In what seems like the blink of an eye, this George Bush has brought us from a prosperous nation at peace to a broke nation at war. And why are we killing innocent people at point-blank range on the other side of the world — with big guns and big bombs that kill everything in reach?
Indeed, there is something going on here, Mr. Jones, and you don’t know what it is, do you?
Bob Dylan said that, and he is still right, now more than ever. Hell, there is nothing really new about American enforcers — especially cops — killing and brutalizing innocent American citizens. It happens with depressing regularity. But at least the bastards used to have the decency to deny it.
That is a big difference, sports fans, and that is why I feel so savagely depressed tonight. When the Pentagon feels free — and even gleeful — about killing anybody and Everybody who gets in the way of their vicious crusade for oil, the public soul of this country has changed forever, and professional sports is only a serenade for the death of the American dream.”
A sad week in America
By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist (ESPN.COM)
“Why are we seeing George Bush on TV every two hours for nine or ten days at a time, like some kind of mutated Mr. Rogers clone? Something is dangerously wrong in any country where a monumentally-Failed backwoods politician can scare our national TV networks so totally that they will give him anything he wants.
The answer to that one comes in two parts. One is that Bush will have to run for re-election next year, which three months ago seemed like a harmless waltz — but which is now looking like a dangerous gang-fight that Bush might not win because his overall game plan for Iraq was so hopelessly flawed that it could never have been successful. It was arrogant and ignorant and stupid, and now the vultures are coming home to roost.
Tragic, eh? No. In fact, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I believe very strongly that George Bush can and shall be beaten like a gong in next year’s extremely-important election, where he won’t be the only jackass politician running for his life.
Who gave George Bush permission to pre-empt and butt into NFL football games and turn pre-game ceremonies into a half-bright rave about rebuilding a nation that we just bombed back into the Stone Age? What kind of cowardly swine would freely give $25 million (?) worth of commercial time to any political candidate in a presidential election year?
How about the greed-blind Commissioner of the National Football League? Does that sound right? You bet it does, bubba. It was Paul Taglibue who let the egg-sucking weasel from Texas into the hen-house, because he thought it was necessary at the time.
My darkest fear right now is that we will be seeing George W. Bush on NFL TV every Sunday for the rest of this year, and far into the winter and maybe all next year until election day rolls around, constantly jabbering about how his jackass war on the nation of Islam is joined at the hip with the nature of football in America and especially the NFL. If you love to watch anything that looks like professional American football, you will also love the brutal culture of War and all the murderous violence that goes right along with it. Right. In war, you do 200 pushups a day; and in pro football, you do about 50. In war, you carry a nine-pound, full-auto assault rifle at all times; and in football, you carry a pointed leather ball.
They are both profoundly violent and cruel and utterly unforgiving, and they both require public brutality by people wearing elaborate uniforms. I have tried them both for long periods of time, and I frankly see no basic similarity at all beyond the powerful desire to hurt people.”
By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist (ESPN.COM)
“The real shocker of the week, for me, was and remains the stunning collapse of the evil Bush administration, which I view with mixed feelings.
In truth, I could be a lot happier about the collapse of Bush and his people and his whole house of cards and everything he stands for, if it didn’t also mean the certain collapse of the U.S. economy, and the vital infrastructure, and, indeed, the whole “American way of life.”
It will not be anything like the collapse and Impeachment of Richard Nixon, which had little or no impact on day-to-day life in this country. Nothing really changed, except Some people went to prison, of course, but that was to be expected, considering the crimes they committed and the shameful damage they caused … They were criminals, and the righteous American people punished them for it. Our system worked, and we were all heroes.
Ah, but that was twenty-nine (29) years ago, bubba, and many things have changed. The utter collapse of this Profoundly criminal Bush conspiracy will come none too soon for people like me, or it may already be too late. The massive plundering of the U.S. Treasury and all its resources has been almost on a scale that is criminally insane, and has literally destroyed the lives of millions of American people and American families. Exactly. You and me, sport — we are the ones who are going to suffer, and suffer massively. This is going to be just like the Book of Revelation said it was going to be — the end of the world as we knew it.
Okay, Okay, don’t get away from yourself, Doc. That was an extremely heavy riff. Not all sports fans are in perfect agreement with your aggressive political opinions, so let’s try to tread lightly for a while. You are, after all, a professional sportswriter, and you have work to do. Ho ho ho.
The Nation’s Capital
By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist (ESPN.COM)
Did Hunter S. Thompson get suicided or did he kill himself? With words like these proving his hate for the 2nd Bush administration, and his eternal love for Anita, it seems like a dubious ending to such a passionate hero’s amazing life. May the freak-power live forever.
“I say then to you, O Athenians, who have condemned me to death, that immediately after my death a punishment will overtake you, far more severe, by Jupiter, than that which you have inflicted on me. For you have done this thinking you should be freed from the necessity of giving an account of your life. The very contrary however, as I affirm, will happen to you. Your accusers will be more numerous, whom I have now restrained, tho you did not perceive it; and they will be more severe, inasmuch as they are younger and you will be more indignant. For, if you think that by putting men to death you will restrain any one from upbraiding you because you do not live well, you are much mistaken; for this method of escape is neither possible nor honorable, but that other is most honorable and most easy, not to put a check upon others, but for a man to take heed to himself, how he may be most perfect. Having predicted thus much to those of you who have condemned me, I take my leave of you.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts? This man was a true patriot, and one of the best American writers of the modern age. Feel free to share and comment.