#136 Gonzo is Dead, Long Live Gonzo (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

"Doctor" Hunter S. Thompson, the King of Gonzo Journalism, died by his own hand this week.  The eulogies and anthems and homilies began the moment Thompson's son discovered the body and reported it to the Aspen City Police.  This rant has been a bitch for me to write.  I've written it, posted it, removed it, rewritten it, and re-posted it at least four times.  I usually don't rethink my thoughts all that often.  The Doctor made me rethink my thoughts often throughout my life. 

One of the best reviews of Hunter Thompson in life was an article written for, of all places, the Wall Street Journal by Tom Wolfe.  Wolfe and Thompson attracted major league attention to their writing through books about the same general crowd; the Hell's Angels and the freaks who ran with Ken Kesey's Cool Aid Acid Tests.  Wolfe went mainstream almost as soon as he recovered from his Acid Test hangover.  Thompson couldn't find a mainstream with a map and a guide and GPS and a well-marked path.  Hunter Thompson was so completely polarized to oppose the mainstream that he was magnetically drawn off the worn trail, away from conventional wisdom and "common sense," and into the middle of tributaries that ordinary men considered too ferocious and uncivilized to be useful. 

Even in death, Thompson went his own way.  At 67, he apparently shot himself with one of his many weapons.  "Thompson took his life with a gunshot to the head," was his son's statement to the local press.  The Doctor had a long history with guns, explosives, fast motor vehicles, drugs and alcohol, and life on the edge of a long, deep, dark precipice.  Recent portraits show a man who put a lot of miles into those 67 years.  Some photos illustrate a man who looked nearly twice his actual age.  He was recovering from complications of a fall, including back pain and a broken leg, which would be enough to make a lot of 67-year-old folks cash it in.  His friends and family saw a collection of warning signs that Thompson was depressed and considering a final exit.  Still, part of me wants to believe that Thompson wasn't as selfish and egocentric as his final moments appear.

Part of me wants to be convinced that The Doctor was something better than human.  This is the age of paranoia and I have yet to see a depth that the neo-Nazi-conservatives won't fall.  Maybe I'm seeing the Gestapo under every unhappy event, but I think the Bushies would torture and kill Christ, Santa Claus, Mother Theresa, Ray Charles, and the Easter Bunny to fatten their portfolios and increase their power.  So far, there hasn't been a report of a suicide note, which seems a bit odd for someone so chronically inclined to write about everything that crossed his mind.  If you do a web search on Hunter Thompson, you'll find articles on everything from politics to the XFL to assassinating rabbits that dared to venture into his "compound" to an in-depth analysis of the Bushies and their sycophants; Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness.  Thompson was eternally interested in practically everything that happened in his world.  And he wrote about those things constantly.  Why he wouldn't choose to put down a few notes about his final thoughts is, at least, curious.  That's what I'd like to believe.

Whatever the final story of this benchmark in American literature, I'm going to miss him as much as I miss George Harrison, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, Bertrand Russell, and the growing hoard of people who have changed my world and left it with increased knowledge and wisdom.  Because of Hunter Thompson, I have a different definition of "evil" and "terrible" than the simple concept my father provided for me.  I don't know who has the true fix on those values and terms, but I know which one works for me and I have my experiences enhanced by Hunter Thompson's words to thank for that.

But, man, the thought that the great Hunter Thompson could blow his brains out so that his son and six-year-old grandson would hear the shot and find him and his residue splattered all over the room is beyond distain.  Thompson tended toward egomania more often than not.  He spent most of his life posing as a little boy waving his arms, yelling "Hey, look at me!" He was one of the few people who could control the center of attraction by claiming that he didn't want to be the center of attraction.  Like many dope-inspired artists, Thompson had delusions of worlds revolving around his center of gravity.  At the end of his life, he gave up wrestling with the devil and became one to the family members who cared the most for him. 

For a man who hoped to be so familiar with courage and honor, he failed to die to his own standards.  I have a lot of respect for those who go down in flames, but you have to drag demons into the fire not the people who love you.  Gonzo may have just been ego and that may be the legacy that Hunter Thompson leaves us when all the weights and measures are balanced.

Killing yourself is a bitch, though.  Anyone can talk about doing it, only the truly desperate can do it.  I doubt that Thompson had any fantasies of "crossing over to a better world," so he was giving up on life.  I suspect, that when life becomes so painful that he could make all of the moves necessary to end his life, he had to seize the moment regardless of how inconvenient the moment was for those around him.  Thompson's life was all about seizing moments of all sorts and his death was probably just another such moment.

June 2005

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