Hunter S. Thompson kills himself

By Robert Lusetich in Los Angeles

From: The Australian


HUNTER S. Thompson, an iconic contrarian who gave birth to an entertaining, anarchic form of journalism he called gonzo, committed suicide yesterday at his compound outside the exclusive ski resort of Aspen, Colorado.
Like one of his great literary heroes, Ernest Hemingway, Thompson, who had a lifelong fascination with guns, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to police. He was discovered by his son Juan in the kitchen just before 6pm.

A self-styled eccentric and maverick, Thompson favoured Ray Ban aviator sunglasses, a cigarette holder and a cowboy hat that gave him the appearance of a modern-day confederate general.

Aged either 65 or 67, he was an American original: a drug-hazed, counter-culture Ishmael who wrote passionately about what he saw as the demise of modern US society.

“For the whole point on this picaresque is that the American-style rogue-hero must not merely tease or insult the Silent Majority, but abuse it, outrage it, twist it, hurt it, smash it,” he once wrote.

Born in Kentucky to alcoholic parents, Thompson toiled as a mainstream journalist before stumbling across the genre he called gonzo while covering the Kentucky Derby horse race for a sports magazine.

“I’d blown my mind, couldn’t work,” he told Playboy. “So finally I just started jerking pages out of my notebook and numbering them and sending them to the printer. I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to do for anybody.”

Instead, it made him famous, leading to seminal works such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which began as a 300-word magazine piece about a race in Las Vegas and turned into a best-selling account of a drug-induced road trip to the gambling capital. Published in 1972, it was made into a movie in 1998, starring Johnny Depp.

Not everyone was enamoured with Thompson’s style of mythologising, essentially, himself.

Critic Joseph Nocera, in 1981’s How Hunter Thompson Killed New Journalism wrote: “But more than anyone else, Hunter Thompson has damaged and discredited New Journalism’s promise. Instead of being exhilarated by his freedom, he was corrupted by it. Instead of using it in the search for truth, he used it for trivial self-promotion.”

Thompson himself was once asked what made a gonzo journalist. He replied: “The true gonzo reporter needs the talent of a master journalist, the eye of an artist/photographer and the heavy balls of an actor.”

Thompson wrote almost a dozen books, including Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, The Great Shark Hunt, Generation of Swine and Songs for the Doomed, and scores of newspaper and magazine articles. Thompson – on whom Gary Trudeau based his character Uncle Duke in the comic strip Doonesbury – particularly enjoyed writing about politics and sports, and intertwined the familiar themes of violence, sex and drugs.

He could be quite liberal with the truth, as his friend John Burton once noted.

“Lying was the thing he did best,” Burton said, “He did it with total cool and confidence.” Thompson defended his controversial approach by saying that fiction “is based on reality unless you’re a fairytale artist”.

“You have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you’re writing about before you alter it,” he said.

His groundbreaking coverage of the 1972 presidential election race between Richard Nixon – who Thompson loathed – and George McGovern was once recalled by a Democrat campaign aide as being the “least accurate yet most truthful” account of that campaign.

Nixon, who Thompson had called a “walking embarrassment to the human race”, once said Thompson represented “that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character”.

It was an insult Thompson would wear as a badge of honour.

The stories about him are almost as legendary as the ones he wrote.

Perhaps one of the most amusing centred on his coverage of the “Rumble in the Jungle”, the 1974 heavyweight fight between Mohammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire.

Days before the fight, Thompson was last seen asking a bell boy at his hotel whether he could lead him to a cannibal tribe.

Thompson, who took to attaching leeches to his head because the blood sucking gave him a “real buzz”, did not see the fight but was instead found floating in the hotel pool, face down, afterwards.

When he was fished out, he looked up and asked, “Who won?”

He may have lost some of his relevance in later years, but he continued to insert himself into the national conversation.

He was said regularly to fax advice to Democrats seeking office, and was distraught when Bill Clinton announced he had not inhaled a marijuana cigarette once handed to him.

“It’s just a disgrace to an entire generation,” he exclaimed.


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