RIP Dr. Gonzo

It was two years ago today that Hunter S. Thompson took his life. “Football season is over.” his suicide note stated matter of factly. In repect I am posting a note from his son:

It has been two years since my father, Hunter S. Thompson, ended his life. I still miss him very much. I have thought a lot about him over the past two years as I’ve written about him, talked about him, read old letters, and gone through a significant portion of his papers. I’ve been trying to understand him more clearly, as my father, a writer, and a man. Though there are many things about him I miss, there are three qualities especially: his idealism, his sense of fun, and the warmth of his love.

It may seem strange to many people to think of Hunter as an idealist, but that was one of his defining characteristics. He had strong and clear ideas about the promise of our political system, about the need to act rather than be a passive victim of the greedy and power-hungry, and about the need to vigorously defend individual freedom. The disparity between the ideal and reality made him angry, and he was a man of action, a warrior and a leader. In an earlier age perhaps he would have been taken up arms, but in this age he chose the written word as both his weapon and his art. It was part of Hunter’s gift to distort the actual facts of a situation to reveal its essential truth. He had the talent, skill and convictions to draw you into his moral vision, and that vision was stark and uncompromising. There was good and there was evil, and there were no bystanders. To those that agreed with him, he gave the chance to be part of something important, to do something meaningful with their time, money and talents. That kind of clear moral vision has tremendous power and appeal in our time of great moral confusion. When he called on his friends and acquaintances to help him with the Lisl Auman case, he was calling them to battle a great wrong. Lisl was not just an unfortunate legal mishap; what happened to her was Wrong, and we had the chance to make it Right. Nixon was not just one more crooked politician; he was the apotheosis of the arrogant, ruthless tyrant and the flagrant betrayer of the hope of the American political experiment. Our society in the age of so-called global terrorism is not a society somewhat more concerned with security than with civil rights; he called it ‘The Kingdom of Fear.”

And he was right. I miss his vision, and the boldness, humor and conviction with which he described it to us. There are never enough such people, and now there is one less.

I miss his sense of fun. Hunter liked to have fun. Having fun was serious business, because for him life without fun was no life at all. I remember the folder of fake fax forms which included insect extermination notices, international stock transactions, court summonses, lingerie order confirmations, and fake fax error sheets. Late at night he would fill out one of the forms and fax it to the home or office of a friend or acquaintance, and laugh as he imagined how they would explain it to their wives, bosses, or lawyers. I remember the story of a practical joke gone horribly wrong, that of Jack Nicholson and the bleeding Elk Heart, in which Jack cowered in the darkened house with his children, his phone cut off by awful coincidence, listening to the gunshots and the screams of a wounded pig played over and over through a megaphone outside the house. I remember the story of the time his Japanese publishers came to visit and were given a demonstration one night of what Hunter said were nuclear-tipped bullets. A friend secretly ignited a stick of dynamite under the target, a large aluminum beer keg, at the same moment Hunter fired the stainless-steel, scope-mounted, .454 Casull pistol at it. There was a tremendous explosion and the beer keg flew several hundred feet in the air, over the heads of the awestruck visitors who had never seen a gun before, much less nuclear-tipped bullets. He was a fine storyteller, and enjoyed recounting the tale as much as he enjoyed the prank itself. There are stories of fireworks, of bullets fired through the ceiling of the kitchen, of shotguns fired across the room. He loved masks, fireworks, fire, smoke bombs, hammers that screamed or made the sound of breaking glass when struck. Just about everyone who ever met Hunter has a story about his sense of fun, though not all of them laughed at the time.

I think for Hunter fun was also political, and therefore about more than just fun. His sense of humor often exceeded the boundaries of law, convention, and good taste, and his enjoyment came as much from breaking boundaries as from the reaction of his victims. It was fun for the hell of it, but it was also to shake people up, rock the boat, wake people from their routines, and make them uncomfortable or scared for a moment. That kind of fun requires a larger vision. He was a kind of mad trickster whose madness conveys wisdom. I think at bottom fun was a kind of practice for him that kept him in touch with the real and vibrant pulse of life, and to be in proximity to him was to be in proximity to that pulse. I miss that.

Finally and foremost I miss the warmth of his love. I miss sitting in the kitchen at Owl Farm watching a football game or an old Bogart movie, or talking to him on the phone about the latest political insanity, or driving up the Lenado road for a late-night swim. We didn’t talk about our relationship, we simply enjoyed being together. It took a long time to get to that point, a lot of hard and unspoken work on both our parts over many years, but we got there, so that by the time he died we knew where we stood with each other and we were satisfied.

He was a complex man with many, many facets. One of those aspects was his great tenderness. He had the capacity for tremendous generosity, compassion, and personal loyalty when it cost something to be loyal. When he gave his love it was intense and pure, and I felt blessed. God knows he was no saint, but his love was the real thing, not the cheap watered-down imitation most of us are familiar with. I miss the warmth of his love.

But these are just my recollections and opinions. Fortunately, Hunter S. Thompson was first a writer, and that is what how he wanted to be remembered — as a Great American Writer. He left a substantial body of work. Whatever you might think of the preceding paragraphs, I ask you to read what he wrote — start with Hell’s Angels — and decide for yourselves who he was, what was significant about his work, and what is worth emulating and carrying on. In my opinion his achievement and talent were considerable, but you will have to make up your own mind. He certainly did.

-Juan Thompson

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