The Denver Post, and now other leading outlets, are reporting that Hunter S. Thompson killed himself earlier this evening. Like many college students, I found his writing years ago fresh, exciting, transgressive and indulgent. And yes, more than a little irresponsible. By so thoroughly putting himself in the middle of his own stories, he also provided us the rare opportunity to see the world from multiple and very different perspectives: A more-than-a-little odd Merry Prankster/Hell's Angel party as told in his own Hell's Angels and in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test, and coverage of the '72 campaign in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (still my favorite of his books) and in Timothy Crouse's The Boys on the Bus. Not to mention immortalized in two so-so Hollywood films and as a recurring character in Doonesbury.
Yes, he played fast and loose with the truth and cared little about properly sourcing his stories, even when he played at journalism. But if you couldn't see through his jokes and self-conscious fabrications (Muskie and ibogaine, anyone?) he didn't think you were worth his time anyway. Check out his interview a few years ago with the Paris Review in which he reflects on the Muskie incident and its aftermath, and deflects a few questions about journalistic ethics. The whole yarn hinged on an intentionally vague and suggestive "word leaked out." What more perfect send-up is there of the addiction of political journalists to highly placed anonymous sources? He despised the whole incestuous Washington social club, and said so on many an occasion. Out of his drug-induced haze, Thompson made sure it was his world and we were just living in it.
With a career as colorful as his, there many moments to choose. Here is one, for no particular reason, from Boys on the Bus:
The band was playing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and the crowd, drummed up by the Nixon advance team, was pressing against the airport fence. I looked around and suddenly spotted Hunter Thompson heading for the press enclosure in his springy lope, looking only moderately bizarre in his blue pants, white jacket, red-and-white shirt, and light blue aviator's sunglasses. I introduced him to a Secret Service man, who got him his credentials. Meanwhile, Air Force One had landed and taxied to within fifty yards of the press. The door swung open and Nixon stepped out on the ramp, grimacing and waving. "Go get 'em Dick," Thompson yelled. "Throw the Bomb!" The whine of the plane's engines drowned him out, but he got a few funny looks from immediate neighbors. "Fifty years more!" he yelled. "Thousand-year Reich!"
There will be no one else like him.