Monday, February 21, 2005

The Strange and Terrible Saga Ends

This morning brings the sad news that Hunter S. Thompson, the sage of Gonzo Journalism, has died at 67, of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Woody Creek, Colorado.

I never had the chance to meet Thompson, and haven't paid much attention to his writings since the early 1980s, but at his peak, he was without peer as a improvisational writer on subjects ranging from politics to drugs to pro football, to--well, to nearly every subject touching on his tortured vision of the American Dream. Any blogger who hasn't read Thompson is arguably missing the originator of the medium's distinctive style, long before the internet. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, his brilliant account of the 1972 presidential campaign, reads a lot more like a long series of blog posts than any kind of print journalism report. And all his earlier books, from Hell's Angels through The Curse of Lono, are worth reading and re-reading.

Thompson's career also represents a cautionary tale about the cost of celebrity--a celebrity he seemed to endure rather than pursue. At one point Thompson was planning another Fear and Loathing book about the 1976 presidential campaign, but abandoned it, because, as he told an interviewer: "It's hard to cover a campaign as an Outlaw Journalist when you're getting more attention than the candidates.... I can thank friend Trudeau for that." He was referring, of course, to the Uncle Duke character in Doonesbury, based not-so-loosely on Thompson, which destroyed any sort of casual privacy for its model once and for all. And that's also probably why Thompson's later writings seemed often to read like self-parody.

But his genius is without question, and in the welter of drugs and gunplay and sexual assault charges that appear to have marked his declining years, I can only hope he never lost his touching, almost naive faith in the possibilities of America "as a monument to the human race's best instincts"--a faith that fueled his rage at the "greedheads" who betrayed those possibilities.

So: here's to Doctor Gonzo's memory, and I guess the only proper way of commemorating his passing is to hunker down somewhere, light up a King Marlboro, shrewdly rip the pop tops off a six-pack of beer, and read his remarkable prose.
-- Posted at 11:14 AM | Link to this post | Email this post

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