“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”
Hunter S. Thompson. Just his name will immediately garner a response. Genius? Madman? Freedom Fighter? Selfish Bastard? I think all of these terms are correct. The New Beverly Cinema recently played a double feature of Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” starring Johnny Depp and the documentary “Gonzo: the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson”. Two of the several films made about the same man – a writer, no less – in the last 20 years —not usual Hollywood fodder. What was it about the infamous Dr. Gonzo that made him so appealing in just about every medium?
Before he became the drug-addled, cigarette holder-chomping, Hawaiian shirt-wearing weirdo he was known to be, Hunter was a member of the United States Air Force. Not surprisingly, he was discharged, and they noted that “he will not be guided by policy.” The military and the complete lack of respect for authority do not go hand in hand. He found his niche after shadowing the Hell’s Angels for a year and writing an expose about them (promptly getting “stomped” by the Angels after its release).
From there, Hunter’s “gonzo” writing style blew up his stories, and they appeared in Esquire and The New York Times, among others. I really admire Hunter, along with his contemporaries Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey, for completely marching to his own drum and being completely true to himself. While working, Thompson was more often than not on a variety of drugs and alcohol. He was known to carry a loaded gun with him at all times, and of course he was famously associated with a 300-pound, Samoan attorney. He refused to live by any of society’s rules, and became not only a fantastic writer, but also a pop culture icon and a character within his own stories.
As with any talented artist, the line between genius and insanity is thin. Hunter rode that line better than any artist before or since. He ran for sheriff in Aspen, Colorado, in 1970, under the Freak Power ticket, and shaved his head so he could call the Republican candidate “my long-haired opponent.”
He almost won, garnering 44% of the votes. I sure as hell would have voted for him.
As he predicted to all throughout his life, Thompson shot and killed himself in 2005, and his ashes were shot out of a cannon to Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”. His death, like his life, was strange and ridiculous.
I long for journalism to regain the courage and individuality that Hunter S. Thompson brought to the field. I want to read stories by reporters stoned out of their mind, getting paid to destroy hotel rooms and cover events they may not even make it to. The thought of there never being another writer like him makes me sad, and makes me yearn for an era where being a little bit out of control was mysterious and supported.