Hunter S. Thompson, Gunzo Journalist

The tributes have poured in and some of his works have been reprinted since Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide Sunday, although one could easily say he killed himself in bits and pieces years ago.

It seems few writers at the moment are willing to voice anything but adulation for Thompson. Paul Krassner says: “It was hard to say sometimes whether he was being provocative for its own sake or if he was just being drunk and stoned and irresponsible.

“But every editor that I know, myself included, was willing to accept a certain prima donna journalism in the demands he would make to cover a particular story — demanding that we send him to Hawaii with three beautiful maidens he could dictate his stories to, for example. They were willing to risk all of his irresponsible behavior in order to share his talent with their readers.”

I prefer the comments of Larry B. Thoreson, the sales tax administrator for the city government of Aspen, who told the New York Times: “I heard him speak once, and he was totally incomprehensible, to be honest.”

If it weren’t for the notorious byline, how far would any reader get in something like this, published in 1997 by Time:

I have always hated astrologers, and I like to have sport with them. They are harmless quacks in the main, but some of them get ambitious and turn predatory, especially in Hollywood. In Venice Beach I ran into a man who claimed to be Johnny Depp’s astrologer. “I consult with him constantly,” he told me. “We are never far away. I have many famous clients.” He produced a yellow business card and gave it to me. “I can do things for you,” he said. “I am a player.”

I took his card and examined it carefully for a moment, as if I couldn’t quite read the small print. But I knew he was lying, so I leaned toward him and slapped him sharply in the nuts. Not hard, but very quickly, using the back of my hand and my fingers like a bullwhip, yet very discreetly.

He let out a hiss and went limp, unable to speak or breathe. I smiled casually and kept on talking to him as if nothing had happened. “You filthy little creep,” I said to him. “I am Johnny Depp!”

Outside on the boulevard I saw a half-naked young girl on roller skates being mauled by two huge dogs. They were Great Danes, apparently running loose. Both had their paws on her shoulder, and the gray one had her head in its mouth. But there was no noise, and nobody seemed to notice.

I grabbed a fork off the bar and rushed outside to help her, giving the bogus astrologer another slap in the nuts on my way out. When I got to the street, the dogs were still mauling the girl. I stabbed the big one in the ribs with my fork, which sank deep into the tissue. The beast yelped crazily and ran off with its tail between its legs. The other one quickly released its grip on the girl’s head and snarled at me. I slashed at it with the fork, and that was enough for the brute. It backed off and slunk away toward Muscle Beach.

For that matter, go to Amazon and read the opening of “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail”

The truth is that Thompson had gone from self-indulgence and self-destruction to self-parody. He wanted to be cremated and have his ashes shot from a cannon? I suppose it figures.

To give the devil his due (and I believe in that) I looked over his 1966 book “Hell’s Angels.” Parts of it seem almost readable:

The Labor Day run is the outlaws’ answer to New Year’s Eve; it is a time for sharing the wine jug, pummeling old friends, random fornication and general full-dress madness. Depending on the weather and how many long-distance calls are made the week before, anywhere from two hundred to a thousand outlaws will show up, half of them already drunk by the time they get there.
By nine o’clock that morning both Terry and Scraggs were on their feet. Vengeance on the Diablos could wait. Today, the run. Terry lit a cigarette, examined the bumps and welts on his body, then pulled on a pair of crusty Levi’s, heavy black boots, no underwear and a red sweatshirt smelling of old wine and human grease. Scraggs drank a beer while his wife heated water for instant coffee. The children had been put with relatives the night before. The sun was hot outside. Across the Bay, San Francisco was still covered in a late-lifting fog. The bikes were gassed and polished. All that remained was the gathering of any loose money or marijuana that might be lying around, lashing the sleeping bags to the bikes and donning the infamous “colors.”

Compare that writing to what he was doing 30 years later in the Time excerpt and you’ll see what I mean. Writing is difficult and it’s a shame to see someone squander his obvious gifts.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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