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Sunday, February 20, 2005
HST: 1937 - 2005
"Author Hunter S. Thompson Kills Himself" is the last headline I expected to read when I clicked on Yahoo news a few minutes ago.
Sure, he idolized Hemingway but how could a man like Thompson, who epitomized the term "free spirit," go out like this? While his career has waned in recent years, he was married to a woman over 20 years younger than him, he had a cavalcade of celebrity friends and a huge, loving fanbase. I've never met the man, always hoped to and I'm ill-equipped to speculate on "why."
For two generations of journalists, wannabe journalists and imitators he was a living god. He's one reason, if not the reason, that many college kids pursue journalism degrees. Prior to Thompson, journalists were men in rumbled suits that wrote in tiny notebooks and hunted for "scoops."
I remember sitting at a friend's house one forgotten high school night. Around 3 AM someone went to the bookshelf and dug out a dog-eared copy of his most famous work. He read aloud the chapter about Dr. Gonzo and his attorney drag racing a car full of cops and their terrified wives on the Vegas strip. Two months later I enrolled in a journalism class.
HST spent two decades riding a crest of a high and beautiful wave that lead him past the Hells Angels into the belly of Haight Ashbury; to the fall of Saigon, to the edge of hell in Las Vegas and back again to a 'Frisco porn palace. He partied with Muhammad Ali, butted heads with Tim Leary, got his doctorate from a mail-order church, interviewed Nixon in a bathroom, hunted sharks, routinely shot his typewriter, created a new form of journalism and was a cartoon character in Doonesbury. HST was a 67 year old man who (supposedly) spent this past New Years Eve at a party with Johnny Depp. Together, at midnight, they fired rifles at a case of dynamite.
A case of dynamite. Anyone else and this anecdote could be immediately written off as bogus. In the case of Thompson there's no telling.
He was the coolest son of a bitch to be born in the 20th century. There will never be another one like him. In the words of Chunk, "Oh, God am I depressed."