posted on Mar, 29 2005 @ 07:51 PM
There never was any predicting what Hunter Thompson would do next.
He might interrupt a poetic rant about Nixon with a banshee wail. He might make you recite his writing like a play, coaching you all the while on your
delivery. More than likely, if you were in his inner circle, you'd find yourself in a field at some point, being made to take whiskey and shoot big
Despite this - or, more accurately, because of it - those of us who admire the man took a Level One gut punch recently as the news broke of Thompson's
suicide at his home in Woody Creek, Colorado.
This was a man who adored living, who brought more energy and action to each year of his life than I have accrued in 29. From his earliest known
works, Thompson fervently advocated the Quest - the leap into the unknown, the celebration of chance. He was to journalism what Howard Cosell was to
broadcasting; a man who re-wrote the rules to suit himself and dared those around him to object.
Both men's lives, in the end, became testaments to the side effects of that lifestyle. Cosell died a bitter, lonely man, and media reports suggest
Thompson was following suit. After all, happy, newly-married 67-year-olds don't normally commit suicide, especially those with money and an army of
friends, as he clearly had. I recently purchased the DVD "Breakfast With Hunter," and throughout the several hours of footage it is rare to see him
without company - anyone from his wife to assistants to celebrity friends like Johnny Depp.
There's a particular scene within it, though, that speaks to the inner Thompson, one that might help to explain his demise. His wife Anita points out
the droves of friends at their home, and says that for Hunter, Hell would be having to sit alone with his thoughts, and one to talk to. In his final
years, this was a situation he found himself in much more frequently. Numerous injuries stole from him the independence that was his calling card. The
embarrassment of this caused his public appearances to dwindle, and his private conversations turned more frequently to suicide.
It is easy, in these days of armchair psychology, to simply categorize him as an "elderly dope fiend," as he himself occasionally did. There seems
little doubt that he had a drinking problem, and it's likely that the pills and powders of his early adulthood were still as frequent a companion as
his many friends. It is foolish, though - and a grave injustice - to judge his life on these grounds as the media has done since his death. Wthout
exception, their eulogies described him with terms like "Gonzo," "drug-crazed," and "hard-core."
It is exactly the kind of journalism Thompson hated; the reduction of complexities to sound bites, celebrating style over substance and appearance
over reality. It is lazy, and has given birth to a staggering number of public careers, from Britney Spears to George Bush. Thompson lived to expose
the emptiness of the people who profited from this. While Richard Nixon may not have been, as Thompson inferred, a man who had marital relations with
swine, that description was much closer to the truth than you would've learned from the mainstream American press. Thompson's eye for that which lay
at the core of human beings is the soul of his greatest works. The passion he brought to the subjects he covered was evident in the flowing, musical
prose he painstakingly chose to describe them.
The press is choosing to overlook that, focusing instead on how Thompson's lifestyle took him over and became a public persona he felt he had no
choice but to live up to. This is true; but it is painfully far from the essence of the man. It is the equivalent of a eulogy for Michael Jordan which
describes him chiefly as a Washington Wizard, or a business tycoon.
Thompson was a complicated man, one who bears, for me, a marked inner resemblance to John Lennon. Both were driven by a need to express their most
personal emotions in their work. They seemed to be seeking a kind of public salvation from the pain or frustrations of a world which they saw from a
different vantage point than those around them. Both became enveloped by the hype that grew from their public personas and sought refuge in the
chemical. Lennon chose to retire, and found his way to peace through domesticity. Hunter Thompson never found that peace, and the path he took in
search of it was certainly a factor in his death.
But it is not the ONLY reason for it, and the proof of this lies in the work he left behind. One theme of his writing - and, much more so, of his life
- is that nothing great is accomplished through fear or hesitation. Thompson chose to write intimately about people who had much to lose from public
exposure, and who had the power, either financially or physically, to wreak havoc upon him for doing so.
By putting himself in that position, he was able to journalistically map out a principle of America, of its psyche, that almost none of us ever really
acknowledge - that for Americans, whether Hell's Angels or U.S. Presidents, violence is the best response to any source of discomfort. It is one of
the great contradictions in this country - we are a country of people who, for all our insistence on an afterlife, are as desperate to avoid it as we
are to take chances with the life that precedes it.
Hunter Thompson was not, on either count, and his death is as much proof of that as his life. His writing will always have at its heart his love of
the potential of the lives we're leading, of America, of everything. He saw, better than many of us, that you truly CAN take the road less
traveled by and have it make all the difference. For that reason - for the core of his life - Hunter Thompson should be hailed today for what he is;
not just one of America's greatest writers, but a testament to the very principles that America was founded on.