[i]Note: This article originally appeared in Voices From Downtroddendom Issue 2 (March 2005)[/i]
“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half-full of cocaine and a whole galaxy of multicoloured uppers, downers, screamers, laughers … also a quart of tequila, a quart of run, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls…”
Hunter S. Thompson, [i]Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas[/i].
On the 20th of February, the high-priest of Gonzo, insane doctor of journalism Hunter S. Thompson ended his own life at his walled compound on the outskirts of Woody Creek, Colorado. He was discovered slumped in a chair, soaked in blood, by his son, Juan. The 67 year old political journalist and firearm fanatic ended his colourful, caustic and often confrontational life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face.
Since he was a small child, Hunter had always maintained a disruptive influence on those around him. After a childhood of casual delinquency he was incarcerated in Louisville Children’s Centre for Armed Robbery. Upon his release, he learnt that he was banned from sitting his school exams and promptly bought a case of beer and threw one bottle at a time through the window of the School Superintendent who had blocked his return. In 1956 he joined the Air Force and quickly became the sports writer for the Air Base newspaper. An honourable discharge gave him the freedom to pursue his writing dream. After writing for various newspapers in South America and, more specifically Puerto Rico he was well-versed in activities like banditry, smuggling, kidnapping and gang-murder. Suitably, he published ‘Hell’s Angels’ in 1966 after infiltrating the violent biker gang. However, he duly earned himself a savage beating for his troubles when they realised that he was making money out of them. He went on to write for Rolling Stone and published many books – the best known being 1972’s drug-addled, psychedelic neo-classic ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’: essentially his own narcoleptic take on the American Dream. [After being given a large advance by a magazine to cover a sporting event in Las Vegas, Thompson spectacularly blew the lot on drugs and booze.]
In his subsequent career as a political journalist he threw objectivity out of the window, and honed his own brand of fearless, acerbic savage subjectivity – sinking his teeth into an America he perceived as rotten-to-the-core. Richard Nixon, whom he described as representing “that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character” was a frequent target for Hunter’s rabid exposure of the vulgar truth. If the quotes he had at hand were boring, he invented new ones. If the settings were uninteresting, well, he was happy to rectify that, too. He pioneered “Gonzo Journalism” – a loosely factual style in which the writer was an essential part of the story, and has often been dubbed the most influential writer of his generation. As the man said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn professional.” In the seventies he narrowly missed out on being elected his local Sheriff after campaigning for the Freak Power Party.
Although feted for his liberal stance and restless idealism, Thompson’s erratic behaviour often trampled the thin line between genius and lunacy. As well as his hugely-praised ‘warped mind’, guns often played a big part. He once wounded an assistant when attempting to chase a bear off his property, and, on another occasion, he and two friends once marauded through a gay meeting-place in California brandishing firearms and set some Dobermans and an Alsatian loose on the naked homosexuals. When police had to intervene in a struggle between Thompson and ex-wife Sandra, they asked him whether or not there were any guns in the house, and he retorted: “Yes, 22 of them, and every one is loaded!”
If ever there was a man who died as he had lived – on his own terms, it was Hunter S. Thompson. So, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, join me in drinking a toast to Hunter Stockton Thompson. Grab whatever is at hand: be it tequila, rum or erm, raw ether and get absolutely fucking wasted.