Hunter S. Thompson and George W. Bush

Published February 21, 2005 7:36PM (EST)

We awoke this morning expecting to hear the latest White House equivocation on whether George W. Bush lied about his drug use during the 2000 presidential race. Instead, we learned that Hunter S. Thompson had killed himself at home in Woody Creek, Colo.

We can only imagine what Thompson would be writing today, as the mainstream press begins to digest the president's audiotaped confession of past drug use. In conversations recorded in the late 1990s by author and former Bush advisor Doug Wead, Bush admits that he used marijuana and comes awfully close to acknowledging that he used cocaine as well. Bush tells Wead that he won't answer reporters' questions about marijuana use because he doesn't want to set a bad example -- by telling the truth. "Do you want your little kid to say, 'Hey daddy, President Bush tried marijuana; I think I will?'" Bush says on the tapes. "That's the message we've been sending out. I wouldn't answer the marijuana question." Bush tells Wead that he never denied using cocaine, then explains his plan for dealing with the question. "The cocaine thing, let me tell you my strategy on that," Bush said. "Rather than saying no . . . I think it's time for someone to draw the line and look people in the eye and say, you know, 'I'm not going to participate in ugly rumors about me and blame my opponent,' and hold the line. Stand up for a system that will not allow this kind of crap to go on."

Thompson claimed to know a thing or two about the president's partying past. In an interview with The Independent in 2004, Thompson said he remembered meeting Bush at Thompson's Super Bowl party in Houston in 1974. He said that Bush was "with a guy who had come to sell . . . " but then cut himself off. "Look, I'm not going to put this next sentence on the record. Let's just say that 'a friend of mine' was buying cocaine. I have friends in Houston from all walks of life. Lawyers. Professional men. Bush was hanging around with this crowd of what you might call gilded coke dilettantes."

Thompson's memory wasn't always the most reliable, and his story about his Houston encounter with Bush evolved over time. But in the 2004 telling of it, at least, Thompson said the future president had left an indelible impression on him. "He knew who I was, at that time, because I had a reputation as a writer," Thompson said. "I knew he was part of the Bush dynasty. But he was nothing, he offered nothing, and he promised nothing. He had no humor. He was insignificant in every way and consequently I didn't pay much attention to him. But when he passed out in my bathtub, then I noticed him. I'd been in another room, talking to the bright people. I had to have him taken away."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room