Letters

"Too weird to live, and too rare to die." Salon readers reflect on Hunter S. Thompson's life, death and legacy.


Salon Staff
February 23, 2005 1:51AM (UTC)

[Read "The Duke of Hazard," by Cintra Wilson, and "Gonzo Gone," by Dana Cook.]

There have to be a million ways of saying it: The bell has tolled, the curtain has fallen, the bats have swooped and picked their prey clean, the weasels have won. We lost a legend. In the cold hollows of early Sunday/Monday, the crisp, silent Aspen air was shattered, as Hunter Thompson, The Shark, apparently killed himself. Not a single person reading this can say they weren't in some way inspired by the man, the myth, the madness. He is called the father of gonzo journalism, but alas, that is untrue. He was gonzo journalism, and that may be just as sad as the loss of the man himself. There is no one out there in the view scope with the nuts and brains to carry the flame, to stomp and sneer for the downtrodden, the counterculture, the anti-status quo. He stood in the face of a president who played on fears of attacks and peril to lure us into sacrificing our freedoms so his regime could watchdog the "unsavory" types -- the doomed, as the good doctor would call them -- and he lashed out at the president, Nixon, with all the fury of a warrior poet.

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Who will do that now?

If ever there were a time when we as a society needed a counterweight to the overwhelming burden of apathy and apprehension that exist today, it is now. We are standing at the line ready to do battle, ready for the command so that we could begin it again, recreate the positive energies that Hunter and the nation yearned for, for so long. And our leader left us.

I want to know why, but I don't. I'm saddened but enraged. Full of so much feeling and yet totally hollow. Today and for several days to come, I feel we may all have the fear. The realization we may now be alone, our recognized voice silenced -- no one to speak for us now. It is bleak, my friends. But perhaps we can learn one final chapter from the good doctor. Perhaps it's time we stand for ourselves, and write, and speak out, stand out from the shadow of our fallen hero and be counted. That the silent minority shall be recognized and we will not sacrifice our principles of creativity, of satire, of individuality -- and let everyone from the FCC to the president himself know, now more than ever, that we are mad as hell and we aren't going to take it anymore. A great line from a great movie ("Network") that eerily revolved around a suicide.

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In the end perhaps Hunter in fact described himself best, when he described his friend Lazlo: "There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die."

If only the latter were true as well.

Farewell, my good doctor. You will be sorely missed

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-- Bryan Prior

Where have all the brave and fearful gone?

The social critic and clown of the last half of the 20th century is gone -- snatched from us by the only beast capable of tracking such an animal.

In the blaze of Vietnam he danced and spat at the lizards who fixed the fights. Now as the storms once again amass against all rational thinkers, when we are again fearful of the future, our brave warrior of letters has left the battlefield.

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Maybe he knew the coming war would outlast him. Maybe he didn't want to leave halfway through the campaign -- better to leave at the opening salvo.

Who can say and who really cares?

Thompson has chosen the time of his departure and I am left to toast him and thank him for documenting the wave that came before. It must have been quite a ride.

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In "The Fight," Norman Mailer characterized Thompson as nerves stacked upon nerves stacked upon nerves. That truly is what it took and that is who I toast.

-- Cole Drumb

I'd sorta hoped he'd do the deed in a white '71 Eldorado convertible with black interior, rushing, doom-spent, video-blanking, into a red, red cliff. Not off one. Into one. Like a cartoon coyote. Springing back, telling us it was all one long, horrible joke on us.

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It was one long, horrible joke, which I think is what he knew.

Goodbye, Hunter. Goodbye.

-- Rob Oakley

So he is gone....
A blind pig in a world of fern bars,
A spew of truth, in a world of spin,
A confrontation with a reality unacknowledged,
A thoughtful wildness, sometimes without purpose,
Final deadlines met in ways undreamed.

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-- Bob Patterson

February 21, 2005
Dispatch from a cold, bleak day in the middle of the flatlands.

It was announced today that Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide with a bullet to the head at his fortified compound in Woody Creek, Colorado.

Tonight the banshee will scream a long, mournful, soul-wrenching cry. It will echo from the craggy mountaintops of Colorado to the morally diseased swamps of Washington, D.C., where some of the most hideous creatures ever to prowl the halls of power will no doubt take delight in the fact that gonzo is gone.

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I had the fortune to see HST speak in person back in the late '80s. This was sometime after the release of the movie "Where the Buffalo Roam" with Bill Murray. I couldn't decide if Bill Murray had nailed his imitation of HST or if HST was doing Murray doing him.

Why did he do it? Why now? Is it that he saw things far worse than the halcyon days of Nixon and his band of thugs coming toward us like a freight train? Did he see a train of cattle cars coming to take away all those who would dare question the neocon right?

Thompson wrote that he would not believe that Nixon was through until he could chew on his skull. He lived to see that day, but in place of the tragic, Shakespearean figure that was Nixon, Thompson also lived to see the rise of the neocon Reich. Maybe it was too much to see Orwell come to life on the world stage, writ large by small venal men whose only claims to greatness arise from familial linage and the manipulation of fear.

Fear is something Thompson could relate to. Not the little fears that plague the common man's everyday life -- like if a car payment can be made, or will my team get in the playoffs? -- but the big fears that all of us know but are too afraid to even mention. The big fears that cause fear to be written in capital letters. Fears of the dark, deep worm-infested places of the soul, where lies the banality of evil. The place where the likes of Goebbels, Himmler, Mengele, Pol-Pot, Pinochet and Rove live, breathe and wait for their time.

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Unfortunately time is something that we are granted too little of, and it seems that the time of the great gonzo is over, even when our need for it is the greatest it has ever been. So here we are, fresh into the 21st century with the voices that carried us through the latter half of the previous century fading into the distance, while the shrill bleating of the dark voices rise to new levels.

Amidst the cacophony of the religious right purporting to espouse New Testament Christian values while pummeling all with the sword of the Old Testament, and the neocon neo-empire right shouting down all who question or disagree with their agenda, I think I can still hear the banshee. Somewhere in the distance that lone voice wails on, sad and lonely. Here's hoping that others will hear it, answer and join the chorus.

-- Greg Bowzer

Why, Hunter?

I know why he did it. The man who said it all. I know why he's gone. Because he could no longer see that high-water mark in the Vegas hills, that faint but lofty stratum of independent thought that we lost as the '60s tumbled from grace and into the clutches of nostalgia. That mark is invisible today, obscured by the heat waves of pop fascism. No room left for a thinker in this world of dictators. The known is lost to the wise, inherited by the mindless majority; the unknown is all that is left. Why not move on to the next adventure? And so he did.

He carried his load across the decades, shouldering for us the duty to call bullshit and scream foul and put fire to the fuse that burns its way through gray oppression to the light. He was the Original Gangster, unrepentant and unafraid, in a world where the only rebellion we can muster today is hubcaps that spin at red lights. His was a hilarious, stinging song of self-indulgence, a song most of us never had the guts or talent to sing for ourselves.

So, thanks, Hunter. We understand. And we'll do our best along the way to sting in your unholy name.

-- Bob Lambie

We were somewhere around Barstow, somewhere around Lodi, somewhere around Atlanta, Augusta, Lackawanna, on the edge of the desert, on the edge of insanity, on the verge of being discovered, on the verge of discovering the truth, waking to find ourselves in a dark wood, waking into dream, waking not at all, when the word went out among the hipsters and bopsters and mobsters and creeps and kooks and guttersnakes that the great Gonzo was gone.

NRA to the end, Hunter S. Thompson took a bullet, took his life, stopped the world and got off, flipped the bird, and gasped his final critique. He lived large, wrote long, piled insult on injury, and lived to die in Aspen. High in the mountains, in the clean snow, he waited like a craven until his wife went out to do the shopping, to visit the library, take in a movie, window-shop. He waited and hid his secret desire for one last spurting climax, never going gentle into that good night, but still leaving the mess for someone to step into on the way back from a Sunday walk.

Leave them laughing when you go, or dancing, or singing, or even leave them screaming when you go, and wanting to burn you in effigy. But don't leave them puking because your blood and brains are on the floor, on the walls, on the headboard of your everyday, common normal bed.

I will miss you, old raucous curmudgeon, crank and outrageous hoodoo. But I will not stand for the order of your going. You blew it. The way of your going should be the capstone of life's edifice, an epigram, a metaphor for all that went before, and going is gone for ever more. There are no second chances, no rewrites, no cosmic editor with blue pencil in hand to cut this badly written blunder from your last page. Goodbye, old man. You leave us to the contemplation of this work, your last true fiction.

-- Helen York

In Memoriam

Hunter S. Thompson

Born July 18, 1937
Died February 20, 2005

The Outlaw Journalist, Res ipsa loquitor

Hunter S. Thompson has fatally shot himself tonight; this is terrible news for the world. I never knew the man but I have read anything he wrote that I could get. At one time I almost had all of his books (even "The Curse of Lono"). But this is not about me. It is about a man who wrote about real life and in doing so illustrated to the world that real life was more bizarre than fiction. I admire him because he was all about justice. He was not a liberal or conservative (in my mind), he was just himself. He was a believer in the American system of democracy, which he showed in his campaign for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, on the Freak Power ticket.

The Freak Power ticket had a nontraditional stance on many issues, including tearing up the streets and putting grass instead, allowing no cars in town and decriminalizing drugs. He didn't dismiss the notion of him and his deputies partaking in some mushrooms while on duty. All of this would seem absurd except that he almost won. He wanted to show the people that if a third party entered into a two-party race there was a huge potential for victory. He was an adamant supporter of the Bill of Rights, especially the Fourth Amendment. He never seemed to be trying to win a popularity contest or be in the photo op of the week with the hip charity of the week. He supported a woman in Colorado in her bid for a retrial, and believe me, the crime she was entangled in was one that wouldn't get you any friends at the courthouse. But he saw injustice and was outraged. Now don't get me wrong -- I am not going sit here and compare him to Gandhi because I am sure that he wasn't an angel, but he never made that claim. In fact, he recommended that you probably shouldn't do a lot of the things he did. But he always had the balls to tell it like it is, or how he saw it, and he did so with a razor wit, a sense of humor and a keen eye for what was really going on. I, for one, am sorry that I never had the honor of meeting the man, but if he is in a better place, then I feel nothing but happiness for him.

He pulled no punches and lived a life that reminds me of an old Chinese curse that he talked about in his writings, "may you live in interesting times," and he did. I do not think he viewed it has a curse, and neither do I. A cursed life, in my opinion and what I imagine HST would think, would be one that was mired in a soulless existence, scared to speak your mind and willing to accept injustice and mediocrity from your so-called leaders and your fellow man.

I give my sincerest condolences to his surviving family and I thank him for giving us all a glimpse of himself and the life he lead. I am most certain that some of the best stories he had probably never made it to the printing press. Quaere verum, "Seek the truth." Sit tibi terra levitas, "May the earth rest lightly on you."

-- Jeremy John Harwood

I'm a great admirer of Hunter S. Thompson's from way back -- when "Hells Angels" first came out -- and I've read and reread everything else of his I could lay my hands on since then. And now I've just read that he has committed suicide -- a huge loss, especially with the moronish Bushites dominating the U.S. media. We will miss his savaging of the loony right -- and his wild anarchic view on everything else.

-- Gary Baigent

I will miss him ... Big hug for [his son] Juan, [daughter-in-law] Jen, [grandson] William and [wife] Anita, who will never be able to fill the hole left in their lives by the man, in spite of the myth and legend attached to his life. I am a longtime friend of Juan's. We went to the Aspen Community School together.

Let's see if we can get the word out ...
He was first the man.
He became the myth and legend
To me he was several people.
He was my best friend's dad although Juan always called his dad Hunter.
(At Juan's wedding he said to a friend about me, "Look there's another little bastard I raised that turned out OK.")
He was Hunter S. Thompson, retiring shy Southerner who loved guns and his freedom
And
He was the Dr. Gonzo who we all know who would be in your face and try to kill you if you attempted to try to take away his guns, drugs, freedom, privacy and the God-given right to go into an explosive tirade about it.

To be such a person required him to have a unique emotional support structure. These people now need our support, love and understanding in this time of grief.

-- Bradley Laboe

"What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum?" an early article of Hunter S. Thompson's reprinted in "The Great Shark Hunt," seems like as apt an epitaph for Hunter as any. The last line gave me chills when I reread it after I heard the news:

"So finally, and for what he must have thought the best of reasons, he ended it with a shotgun."

-- Stephen

I am sorry to see him go.

I do not know if it is morally right or wrong to end one's own suffering. But let's not be coquettish about it -- Hunter S. Thompson was a profoundly gifted, and profoundly disturbed, man. Suicide is the final, selfish act of a person who is gravely disturbed by outcomes that have always been beyond their ability, as well as everyone else's ability, to control.

Welcome to human experience, Hunt. I am sorry you chose to go just as the party was starting to get real.

Life's unspilling is more than I can bare to watch, too, but sometimes it's just not about me. Sometimes it's about us and whether or not we can be so mundane as to become the hero other people always thought we were.

-- Greg Mucha

Cintra Wilson is a sharp and hilarious writer, and I will concede that the recently departed have earned the benefit of the doubt. But I don't understand how she finds this a "befitting" end to the man. Sure, Hunter S. Thompson dealt with more demons, did more drugs and lived more lives than most anyone can be expected to. But that's exactly what's so galling about him exiting in this typical and, yes, cowardly fashion. Hunter was no coward in life. He was this unkillable, doggedly determined presence, beaten and ruined over and over again yet surviving just the same. If his goal was to avoid being remembered as a sad, spent fossil, his suicide for me only reinforces that description. And I say that as someone who loved the guy. "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" was an all-time classic for me in college, and I still go around calling people "bastards" in his honor. The least the son-of-a-bitch could have done was leave a note. Cintra should've nailed him on that, at least.

-- Matthew Cooke

On Sunday, Feb. 20, 2005, the '60s finally officially died. It put a bullet into its head. And in these sad, violent, foreboding times, was there a more appropriate way for the vision of peace and love to die than that?

-- Jim Houser


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