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xmag.com : April 2005 : hunter s. thompson

“[Hunter S. Thompson] fought for his America in the best way he could: by writing about its collapse. He railed against corrupt politicos, bad cops, incompetent judges and poor sports of every kind.”

Once upon a time there was an age when sex was only terrifying in the hellfire and brimstone religious sense, when drugs were still a mystery to the police and the government was, as far as anyone knew, trustworthy. An age when people spoke out for what was right, the wars we fought made sense, LSD was legal and smoking a cigarette didn’t make you a leper. Like all epic ages it gave birth to a hero, someone who not only spoke for the age, but defined it and personified it. Hunter S. Thompson, the King of Gonzo journalism, was that hero.
Hunter Stockton Thompson was born July 18, 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky. He spent his twenties honing his skills as a writer during the gleaming American 1950s. Then came the Sixties, Nixon, Viet Nam and the disintegration of all that was glorified by the decade he had loved in his younger years. He watched and wrote as the America he loved so dearly ripped apart at the seams, spreading its innards all over the pavement it was laying down from sea to shining sea.
He didn’t shrink from the collapse. He stood his ground and froze himself there, immovable in every sense, even continuing to dress like a 1950’s cabana boy, never shedding his trademark cigarette holder, boat shoes and Acapulco shirts unless it was to change into a leisure suit.
He fought for his America in the best way he could: by writing about its collapse. He railed against corrupt politicos, bad cops, incompetent judges and poor sports of every kind. He began his own political party, the Freak Power Party, and just when the hippies thought he was one of them he proudly joined the National Rifle Association and then ran for sheriff.
Through all of the changes around him from the Fifties to the new millennium he stuck to his guns. Literally. He carried a .44 magnum with him whenever he was able. He yearned for the return of an America that was free and tolerant and got angrier and angrier as his wish drifted further out of sight. Seeing the retreat of the sterilized Fifties and then the turbulent Sixties, he felt less and less hope and more like a stranger in a strange land. In one of his most famous passages in the 1971 classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas he wrote:
"You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail….we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke."
As the era ended and its Freaks and champions ran to hide in the woods, Thompson retreated to the outskirts of Aspen, Colorado, and tucked himself away in his private compound at Owl Creek. Withdrawing from the ugliness that was taking over, he still made periodic forays into the changed landscape of his lost America to write about it. And, like his golden era, he himself aged and was left with only memories and a typewriter, remaining however a hero and mentor to anyone with a drop of ink in their veins.
There have been many reactions to Dr. Thompson’s death. Mostly they fall into two categories: those who think it’s really cool that he blew himself away with a shotgun and that that was the only fitting end for him, and those who feel a tragic sense of loss. I tend to think that in some ways both are right. Thompson’s suicide was a bit like Che Guevara being assassinated by the CIA. Everyone expected it to happen, but it still feels like a victory for the forces of Old and Evil. Thompson’s latest book was titled: Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness. I guess that about tells you where his mind was at.
Friends of his have expressed shock and dismay, saying that he was never the kind of man to take his own life. He was too busy stomping the terra. He was too wildly alive. He was a man with more lust for life than any corporate-sponsored rockstar alive today. But others say that at 67 years old, he had terrible and constant pain from his broken leg and hip surgeries and suicide was his way of ending that pain. Medication may have been useless for a man of his, well, appetites.
Whatever his motivation, whatever his intent, Hunter S. Thompson spoke for those not yet mired in apathy, those who cannot live in a cubicle, those who reserve the right to abuse themselves in ways they see fit, those who pray for a change in the whims of the Great Magnet, and those who still rail against the forces of Old and Evil. With him went the loudest voice of the fugitive bunch. We will miss him very much.





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