(July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005)
Immortality. To live forever. To have a part of ourselves carry on after we are long gone. To cheat death, to look that soul-thief square in the eye and give him the finger. To not die.
People have different concepts on immortality. Procreation is one of them. Fusing your DNA with another just to preserve a few thousand metres of chromosomal combinations so your ears or your grandfather’s bad temper gets the chance to be resurrected in a whole new life form from the whorling eddies of the human gene-pool. The ancients held a strong belief of ‘ambrosia’ or the ‘mana’ of life, which turned ordinary humans into gods and rendered them invincible. Today celeb-culture has got the ordinary folks worrying about getting old. You see people walking around with puffer-fish lips and expressionless faces, trying to preserve their youth through plastic surgery and Botox.
If Hunter were alive today, he’d find the idea of willingly injecting oneself with a deadly poison (just to look pretty) absolutely unacceptable. After all, he was a firm believer that one mustn’t tamper with the natural decaying process of the human body. Hunter was all for speeding it up and did so in a number of different ways; but making yourself younger than you really are? That’s just plain deceit. He believed that if you aren’t happy with it, then you know that ‘football season is over’.
“Hunter hated it all, and this body hate , I suspect, made him the bard of choice for looky-no-touchy, “Less than Zero” America—the era of Post-Sex-Global-Fury—the age of AIDS and herpes, silicone and botox. This makes Thompson prescient, I guess, Jeff Skilling, avant le lettre, arrogant, wasted, drooling and snarling at the waiter.”
Dave Hickey (Fellow journalist and friend of HST)
Maybe it wasn’t such a big surprise that Hunter took his own life at the end, when he realised there really was nothing left to live for. He had bought the ticket and taken the ride to the end of a decade of psychedelic rainbows. For a brief scintillating moment he had found the mythical pot of gold (or maybe just the ‘pot’ itself, or even just plain ‘pot’). But old age happens to everyone, and it happened to creep up on him, restricting his imagination by reminding him that he just couldn’t do any of those wild and wonderful things anymore.
Anyone who knows Thompson would realise that here was a literary loose cannon, an anarchist, a man who chose to live out his desires in the face of societies ‘norms’. Thompson’s life pretty much was one big taunting ‘up-middle-finger’ to all things considered the straight and narrow. He was a misfit, a dropout, the oddball who liked to raise hell and challenge authority just for the fun of it. Yes, Thompson had a big issue with authority; he didn’t like it. For him it often stood as a byword for restriction, containment and a strait-jacketing of the free American people. This passion for freedom, this dislocation from the general public view was in fact his most powerful trait, a blessing and a curse when it came to his most important literary achievements. When someone reads his work, it seems like Thompson’s sight was focussed on a slightly different horizon. His world was so individual, so full of the American counterculture that raised him, that Thompson became synonymous with it.
What makes Thompson so special, is that he is one of the rare literary role models that people of my generation can look up to. There aren’t many of those unfortunately. Writers of substance with work that amounts to ‘something’ is almost nonexistent. In the world of communication and lightning speed technology, the worth of the word has declined. It’s become degraded, demoted. Anybody can write these days. They don’t need to actually know how to write. They don’t even need to know how to read. Publishing has never been so easy, readerships have never been so accepting of bad literature.
HST’s press badge for the Jersey Shore Herald
The trigger for Hunter’s writing came when he decided to move to Puerto Rico in 1960 for a stint at The San Juan Star. This journey gave birth to two books, ‘The Rum Diary’ and ‘Prince Jellyfish’; the former of which was only published in 1998. His distinctive style was evident in these early works which later evolved into the fully fledged ‘Gonzo’ style of the 70’s.
Hunter was a go-getter. He didn’t believe in sitting and waiting. Always on the go, always on the move. His life looks like one big high-speed blur. All 67 years of it. 17 more than he would have liked to have had. And as it befits a man of his ilk, he decided exactly when to end his personal ride on the 20th February in that foulest year of our lord 2005. Although I’d like to continue writing about Thompsons life and works, there is something in his death that probably sums up more about the spirit of the man than anything else. His desire for control over his life, and even his demise.
After many years of fast living, Hunter had succumbed to a chronic illness that left him in constant pain. For a man who valued freedom above everything else, the debilitating condition he had symbolised the one thing that terrified him the most: indefinite suffering. I suppose Thompson didn’t see the point in prolonging the life of a person if they were just going to be trapped in their own body.
“Football season is over, no more games, no more bombs, no more walking, no more fun, no more swimming. Sixty-seven. That is seventeen years past fifty. Seventeen more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I’m always bitchy. No fun for anybody. Sixty-seven. You were getting greedy at your old age.
this wont hurt…” – HST’s Suicide Letter
Even his funeral was an event. On August 20th 2005 in a private ceremony attended by celebrities like Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro and Nick Nolte, Thompson’s ashes were hurled from a cannon on his ‘fortified compound’ known as Owl arm in Colorado. The cannon itself was a work of art designed by Ralph Steadman, fellow artist friend of Thompson who first collaborated with Thompson on ‘Fear and Loathing’. Adoring the top of the cannon was the symbol of Gonzo, a double-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button.
A unique ending, for a unique man. The final act of insanity. Now that’s what I call going out with a bang. Long live Gonzo, long live Hunter. Why live you say? Isn’t the man dead? In a physical sense maybe, but as Thompson put it, ‘some may never live, but the crazy never die’. So who’s to tell who is alive and who is truly dead? Isn’t life about making your mark on the world? About immortality? To live on after your death? I think Thompson achieved this. His work and his spirit lives on. He reminds us to challenge authority every once in a while and to stop and think about what is really going on around us.