It wasn’t at all how I had imagined it…the passing of a 60’s icon and one of the best writers of our time…
With all that I had read and heard about Hunter driving his convertible the Great Red Shark through those twisted mountain roads near his fortified compound in Woody Creek, Colorado, and his thirst for speed, I had always thought that someday I’d turn on my computer, radio or TV to hear that he had died in a fiery car crash off of one of the cliffs. Not that I thought about his passing that often, but as he grew older, every year that passed was like an amazing gift considering his lifestyle.
As it turns out, the news of his death was much worse than I had imagined…I was out of town and when I hit the road Monday morning and turned on my cell phone, I had 5 voice mail messages from friends and family informing me that Hunter S. Thompson had committed suicide.
Hunter Thompson was 67 years old. He had written more than a dozen books, most of which spent time on the Best-Seller’s list. He is best known for his books Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. He was a regular contributor to Rolling Stone magazine and his success and popular articles helped propel the magazine to new heights in its early days.
Those who have known me awhile know that I have been a fan of HST’s writing and have been greatly influenced by his humor. Like many young aspiring writers and journalists I had to learn the hard way that you cannot be Hunter. There is no way to effectively write like him. So many people got into journalism or became writers because of Hunter, only to find out they simply could not do what he did. They couldn’t do it mentally, physically or artistically. Many tried to copy his style, or even adapt it, and I’ve yet to see anyone succeed in doing so. He created his own style of writing referred to as Gonzo journalism. It was entertaining, creative and cut to the truth and heart of the story quicker than most and he did it by inserting himself into the story in an exaggerated manner. He was the only one that could write that way; all others failed, and failed miserably… including me.
I had the opportunity to meet Hunter and spend the evening with him after a speaking engagement at the University of PA in 1994. His manager had arranged for me to interview him for a weekly paper in Nashville. I tried to set myself up for disappointment. I figured there was no way he could live up to all the hype and my expectations. I was wrong. He was everything I had imagined and much more. His persona was larger than life, and in person it was overwhelming. He showed up late and was already drinking heavily, in classic Hunter fashion. Then afterwards, he hung out for a while in a room next to the lecture hall signing autographs. Then the guy from the college hosting the event drove Hunter and I over to his hotel where I was supposed to interview him. He sat in the back and I sat in the front with the driver. I turned and looked at him in the back seat and smiled…he scowled at me and then screamed at the top of his lungs. “Why are you staring at me! You’re a cop aren’t you? I knew it! You’re a cop!” I assured him that I wasn’t a cop and he said, “Well, stop staring at me then!” But I couldn’t help it, I wanted to look at him, the man who had written so much and influenced so many. When we got to his hotel he ditched me in the hotel bar and went up to his room. There were constantly people coming and going from his room, being ushered up and down the elevator by the kid from the college. When I was finally ushered to his room he had stuff everywhere. It looked as if he had ordered one of everything from room service. He looked down at my shoes, a pair of converse low tops, just like he was wearing. He looked up at me and with a little humor behind his eyes said “Copy-cat mother f***er!” We finally talked, be it ever so briefly, about politics and the Minnesota Vikings. We were constantly interrupted by phone calls and the college kid coming in and out of the room, running errands for things that Hunter had demanded. Hunter made and received numerous phone calls. I believe one was from actor Don Johnson, and at least one was a complaint from the hotel’s night manager. I finally gave up on the interview but it was a night I’ll never forget.
Hunter has been described as a “desperate southern gentleman.” I could definitely see moments of that, but he was also belligerent and abusive while at other times he was a brilliant political or sports mind, waxing poetic about current events or the NFL. I enjoyed his biting wit the best. He was funny. But there was always an underlying sadness…in his writing, in many interviews and in person. It seemed he was often battling demons, real or imagined. It is very sad and frustrating to see a light extinguished in this way.
Vaya Con Dios Doc.
Here I am with Hunter in PA...click on the image for a larger view
My favorite works of Dr. Thompson’s:
Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas
Generation of Swine
Songs of the Doomed
Curse of Lono
Polo Is My Life (RS article and storyboards. The book was never published.)
For more information about Hunter S. Thompson, his life and his work visit: