February 22, 2005

Hunter Thompson

Take some sex, drugs and rock and roll, add guns, lots of alcohol and a ground-breaking, profanity-laden mind-bending prose style, and you were off on a wild ride with Hunter Thompson at the wheel on "a savage journey into the heart of the American Dream"

Those who first read him in the early 70's saw a striking prose talent and felt the frisson of listening to an outlaw tell his outrageous stories in the back of a smokey bar.  A colleague Paul Krassner  said

It was hard to say sometimes whether he was being provocative for its own sake or if he was just being drunk and stoned and irresponsible," We were willing to risk all of his irresponsible behavior in order to share his talent with readers.

But unlike his model Jack Kerouac, Hunter Thompson never grappled with larger questions of meaning and purpose.  He never grew up or grew larger, he grew cartoonish, the model for Uncle Duke in Garry Trudeau's comic strip Doonesbury.

James Lileks writes

A great writer in his prime, but the DVD of his career would have the last two decades on the disc reserved for outtakes and bloopers. It was all bile and spittle at the end, and it was hard to read the work without smelling the dank sweat of someone consumed by confusion, anger, sudden drunken certainties and the horrible fear that when he sat down to write, he could only muster a pale parody of someone else’s satirical version of his infamous middle period. I feel sorry for him, but I’ve felt sorry for him for years. File under Capote, Truman – meaning, whatever you thought of the latter-day persona, don’t forget that there was a reason he had a reputation. right

To some, like Ken Layne who met him once, he was kind

Even though we’d met only once—one long, sunny San Diego poolside afternoon that affected me deeply and permanently—and even though I was just another young punk writer wanting a little wisdom from the Good Doctor, Hunter S. Thompson was kind and generous to me, and he will always be one of the great pillars of my life....    Hunter Thompson was a great American writer, and the finest wordsmith of the West since Mark Twain. His was a rare and special talent, never to be seen again.

But his life and the legacy he left behind never matched his talent. Gerald Vandeleun used to drink with him.

This morning I think even less of him. Yesterday, it would seem, he left in the same way that he lived -- gun-crazy, thoughtless, self-obsessed and selfish to the last second. A gunshot suicide at home, leaving his wife and son to discover and deal with his ruined corpse and clean up the room. What a man.

Interestingly, he had been interviewed after Ernest Hemingway killed himself in Idaho in 1961

"I think he killed himself because he couldn't write anymore," Thompson is quoted as saying in a chapter of Paul Perry's book titled Totally Unclassifiable.  "He couldn't write, he was too sick to hunt. He just didn't have it anymore, so he decided to end it."

UPDATE:  An unserious man, he could be very funny.

One of Mr. Thompson's more colorful antics occurred in 1970, when he ran unsuccessfully for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colo., on the "Freak Power" ticket. The gonzo candidate " whose platform included changing the name of Aspen to "Fat City" and decriminalizing drugs " decided to shave his head, so he could denounce his crew-cut Republican rival as "my long-haired opponent."


Posted by Jill Fallon at February 22, 2005 2:25 PM | Permalink