Hunter S. Thompson, R.I.P.K. A. LaityThis past weekend, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson shot himself in his Coloradohome, which he often referred to as his “well-armed compound,” although he also claimedthat his reputation was enough to keep people away. We may never know if it was terminaldisgust with the direction of this country or the simple attrition of age. After all, he was 67,had a hip replacement and recently broke a leg. Pain might be the one drug he decided todo without. But as an outspoken critic of the “W” vision of America and the precipitousdecline of civil rights, he may at last have given into despair.Thompson will be remembered best for his self-proclaimed "gonzo" journalism, the notionthat not only was objectivity not possible, but it was probably not all that desirable. Toinhabit the world you studied—whether it was the Kentucky Derby, the Nixon presidentialcampaign, or the Hell's Angels—came with risks as well as rewards.In a culture where paid mouthpieces help push the current administration's agenda in secret,Thompson has long been admired for being up front about his own beliefs and prejudices.While he was lionized by the 60s counterculture for the drug-fueled odyssey of
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
, his own views were distinctly libertarian. A lifetime member of the NRA, he was unabashedly proud of his guns as well as his notorious drug habits.Thompson has said, "I do not advocate the use of dangerous drugs, wild amounts of alcoholand violence and weirdness... but they've always worked for me."Thompson understood the inevitability of remaining the outsider if you want to tell thetruth. Yet it was this outsider status that made many celebrate him. He was immortalizedas Uncle Duke in Gary Trudeau's comic strip
. His thinly veiled alter-egoRaoul Duke has inspired two cinematic portraits; first, in the lamentable
Where the Buffalo Roam
(1980), a toothless party piece that had a lot more to do with Animal House thanwith the man himself, starring Bill Murray before he really became an actor. Moresuccessfully, the spirit of
Fear and Loathing
(1998) was captured in the film by TerryGilliam, himself no slouch in the gonzo approach to creation. Ably supported by a stellar supporting cast including Benicio Del Toro and Christina Ricci, Johnny Depp eerilyconjured the spirit of Thompson down to his bow-legged walk, a mimicry that the manhimself admired. Gilliam’s film proved successful not just because he captured the drug-fueled chaos, but because he also caught Thompson’s despair at the death of the AmericanDream.In more recent times, Thompson spoke out against what he saw as the descent towardfascism taken by the current administration since 9/11. Two years ago, in an interviewwith Salon, he characterized the Bush government caustically: “I believe the Republicanshave seen what they've believed all along, which is that this democracy stuff is bull, andthat people don't want to be burdened by political affairs. That people would rather just betaken care of. The oligarchy doesn't need an educated public. And maybe the nation does prefer tyranny. I think that's what worries me. It goes back to Fourth Amendment issues.