Hunter S. Thompson, 1937-2005

I’m mad at Hunter S. Thompson. I’m mad at the way he lived his life, whacked out of his gourd, so to speak, on any chemical you can think of, and how he met his death, apparently a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Either way, it was a waste. After becoming a counterculture icon in the 60s and 70s, Thompson faded into obscurity, where he has remained, locked away in a “compound” in Aspen, Colorado, for most of my lifetime. Reading his “Hey Rube” columns occasionally in the past few years, it was reasonably clear to me that Thompson was insane, and the most obvious culprit was drugs. It is literally impossible for most people to believe the amount of junk Thompson did in his adult life. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson writes:

The sporting editors had also given me $300 in cash, most of which was already spent on extremely dangerous drugs. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, seventy – five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high – powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi – colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.

Often during this book, Thompson and his partner have consumed a smorgasbord of these chemicals, and Thompson describes himself sweating buckets of water as his heart pounds relentlessly, blood pressure no doubt topping off the scale as never before seen in a human being. Awake the whole 2 weeks in Vegas (to my recollection), one seriously wonders how Thompson could have survived years of gruesome, punishing self-abuse this long.
When I first read FALILV, I was amused by Thompson’s caustic observations about American culture, and his ability to stand outside himself and observe as a sober individual might, Raul Duke’s stoned adventures.
In particular, the line “Do they understand we have Magnums?” sent me howling for literally hours, and still makes me laugh hard when I read it. The first line of the book, when I first picked it up a few years ago in a store, made me laugh embarassingly hard;

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. . . .” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

I had to cover my mouth with my hand and point my head towards the floor, as muffled sounds struggled to emerge. I must have looked as though I was having a stroke. The problem is, its never going to be as funny again. In fact, the whole book is going to be more sad than funny now, knowing how the whole thing has ended.
I’ve never taken drugs of any kind, and I never will, so Thompson wasn’t some kind of hero in that sense, as he seems to be to so many stoners. What I admired was his writing style, which was brilliant and inventive, and his one-time relevance as a counter-culture journalist. His left-libertarian writings could have had a much bigger impact in the last 30 years or so, if he hadn’t taken himself out of the game. His biggest admirer was Matt Drudge, and I once saw Drudge say that Thompson should “come down off the mountain and stop acting like a nut”. Too true, but Thompson wasn’t acting anymore. He had become the sort of character he used to skewer, back in the Rolling Stone days. And that’s why I’m mad at him; no, I can’t be mad at him. It’s just such a waste.

2 thoughts on “Hunter S. Thompson, 1937-2005”

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