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 Post subject: The Rum Diary Tidbit #1 ~ Hunter S. Thompson
PostPosted: Mon Mar 29, 2010 9:42 am 
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Welcome to the first tidbit of ONBC's discussion of The Rum Diary! :bounce: We hope you will join us as we hit the road in Puerto Rico with Paul Kemp and friends. :bluecar:

The first part of this bio is from our discussion of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The section on the memorial was added for this discussion.


DITHOT note: I have to admit that taking on the task of writing up a worthy biography of Hunter S. Thompson was quite a challenge. He life was certainly bigger than I can condense into one tidbit! I want to give credit to the great website litkicks for this article.


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Thompson has been many things to many people, which is a testament to his talent. His books have transcended social barriers and have become almost required reading for many diverse, almost diametrically opposed audiences -- law enforcement officials and restless youth, politicians and journalism students, to name a few. If this sounds a bit bold, consider the following:

His first published novel, 'The Hell's Angels', was the first detailed expose written from within the motorcycle club. It was so in-depth on the workings of the Angels that it became a training manual on dealing with motorcycle clubs for many police departments.

Probably his most famous work, 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas', became a living bible for the drug culture and rebel youth, having a similar impact as 'On The Road' did in the previous decade.

His following novel, 'Fear and Loathing on the '72 Campaign Trail', was and still is a must-read for politicians and those whose livelihoods depend on understanding the workings of the political arena.

What made these works so special is not so much the subject matter, but the way in which Thompson wrote. His form was wild and breathless, catching action as it was happening, cutting through the bullshit, fictionalizing here and there, and making sense of it all later (It's no surprise to learn that Kerouac was one of Thompson's biggest influences). Thompson's form became known as "Gonzo Journalism", a term which was coined by Thompson's good friend, occasional cohort and fellow journalist, Bill Cardoso.

While to the general public Thompson is often portrayed as a subversive, drug-addled novelist, the truth is that he is and always was a sports writer (as well as a self-proclaimed political addict). And his road to literary success, like most authors/journalists, was a crevice-filled journey to say the least.

Thompson abilities as a writer and, more importantly, as a ruthless con man were evident early in his life. He was born July 18, 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky. As a youth, he had several run-ins with the law but was regarded as brilliant by his high school English teacher. Even then he wrote in a sardonic style and constantly attacked the status quo.

After graduating (which he did while in a jail cell, serving a six-week sentence for robbery while the rest of his fellow graduates were receiving their diplomas), Thompson enlisted in the Air Force and graduated from Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois. In 1956, he was assigned to Eglin Air Proving Ground in Pensacola, Florida. Eglin was where he first began in the field of journalism.

When he arrived, he discovered that the base's newspaper, the Command Courier, was looking for a sports editor. Since he didn't really fit in with armed forces "lifestyle", Thompson conned his way into the position by claiming to have a journalistic background. As Thompson wrote at the time, "The people who hired me didn't bother to check too closely on my journalistic background ... I've managed to keep them in safe ignorance for about a month now."

A quick learner and gifted writer, Thompson soon caught on and excelled as a journalist. He began moonlighting on another competing newspaper in the area (under the pseudonym Thorne Stockton). He kept a very hectic schedule and was helped by a sergeant who respected Thompson's talent enough to overlook his numerous infractions of military protocol.

Thompson was always interested in literature and knew that his best bet was to make it as a writer. He studied the classics but was particularly taken with current writers of the time like Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Rand and an emerging group known as the Beats.

Thompson had an interesting way of studying the writers he loved. He would take and transcribe their works on his typewriter in an effort to discover each writer's particular rhythm and flow. He typed 'The Great Gatsby' and 'A Farewell To Arms' in their entirety. He also was a constant letter writer and kept thorough records of his correspondences, much as Kerouac did.

It was also during this time that Thompson discovered the writer who was to have perhaps the biggest influence on his career, H.L. Mencken.

In October of 1957, Thompson was delighted to receive an honorable discharge from the Air Force. After the service, he spent time in Pennsylvania and New York, living nearly in poverty. He was fired from one newspaper job because he kicked in a vending machine that cheated him. It was at this time that he began writing his Fitzgeraldian novel, 'Prince Jellyfish', which to this day is unpublished in its entirety.

He was tired of the climate in the east and, in 1959, became determined to find work in the Caribbean. He responded to an ad for a sports editor for the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico in typical Thompson style:

"I have given up on American journalism. The decline of the American press has long been obvious, and my time is too valuable to waste in an effort to supply the 'man on the street' with his daily quota of cliches, gossip, and erotic type. There is another concept of journalism, which you may or may not be familiar with. It's engraved on a bronze plaque on the southeast corner of the Times Tower in New York City."

He received a negative reply, just as cynical, from a young editor named William Kennedy, who went on to win the Pulitzer for the novel 'Ironweed'. Thus began a correspondence that continues today. Although Kennedy rejected him, Thompson was able to secure a job on El Sportivo, a new English-language weekly bowling publication.

He finally got his wish and, just after the new year in 1960, he moved to San Juan.

Things in San Juan did not go as smoothly as Thompson had hoped. 'Prince Jellyfish' continued to be ignored, eliciting little more than form letters from publishers; El Sportivo was bombing and his paychecks were consistently bouncing, if they came at all; and he was becoming increasingly jealous of his girlfriend, Sandy Conklin, who was living in New York.

But soon his personal life turned around as Conklin joined him in San Juan and became his common-law wife. He also was receiving the occasional infusion of cash for writing freelance articles for the New York Herald Tribune and Louisville Courier-Journal, as well as working as a male model.

Nine months later the pair returned to New York. Thompson began working on a novel called 'The Rum Diary', which detailed his time in the Caribbean. A few months later, Thompson and high school buddy Paul Semonin hitchhiked to the West Coast searching for work as writers.

Thompson settled for a time in Big Sur while Semonin moved to Denver. While in Big Sur, Thompson wrote an article on the well-known creative haven for Rogue magazine and earned his largest paycheck to date: $350. It also earned him an eviction from his Big Sur home as his landlady did not approve of his characterization of the local inhabitants.

Ever the restless writer, in mid-1962 Thompson set off abroad, this time to South America. This time he was writing for the National Observer. And it was at this time that he first gained the attention of the national media. His pieces on South America were receiving high praise throughout the journalism community. He also gained a new drinking buddy, Charles Kuralt of CBS News.

A year later he was back in the States to make his common law wife his official wife. Later in 1963, the Thompsons moved to Aspen, Colorado, staying with Semonin before setting down stakes in the small mountain hamlet of Woody Creek.

One of the biggest impacts on Thompson's life occurred on November 22, 1963 when Kennedy was shot. He felt it signaled a turn in society. In a letter to Semonin, he wrote: "This savage unbelievable killing, this monstrous stupidity, has guaranteed that my children and yours will be born in a shitrain."

In another letter to William Kennedy, who was back in New York, he used the phrase "fear and loathing" to describe the way he felt after the murder.

What became Gonzo journalism started in 1964 as "impressionistic jounalism", in Thompson words. It took the time-honored tradition of objective journalism and gave it a 180. Thompson, like Tom Wolfe, felt that there was nothing more interesting than the reporter's perception of what was going on -- not just the facts and figures.

Thompson continued to write for the Observer, and the publication loved his fresh approach. He also began soliciting President Johnson to appoint himself Governor of Samoa. For awhile, amazingly enough, the Johnson administration remained in contact with Thompson. Thompson eventually withdrew his offer in outrage over the President's handling of Vietnam.

The Thompsons moved once again, this time back to San Francisco, where Thompson began trying to get on with The Nation and the magazine gave him the idea to write about the Hell's Angels. His articles received much praise and led to his first publishing contract with Ballantine Books, who wanted him to write an entire book on the subject.

In early 1966 Thompson finished his book. To say it was a success would be an understatement. He spent a year with the motorcycle club, not as a writer (they were distrustful of journalists because of their consistent maligning) but almost as a member. His ability as a con man came through for him once again.

Thompson became ingrained in the culture and presented the Angels in a fair light, something that had not been done until this time, even though he had once been on the losing end of a severe beating at the hands of the Angels. There are numerous accounts of what happened, but what's for sure is that the old Angel law -- when you fight one Angel, you fight them all -- was definitely true. Thompson even included the beating as the postscript to the book.

The first edition of the book sold out immediately and it broke into the New York Times bestseller list, although Thompson had a few problems on the book tour, showing up drunk for most interviews. He was, after all, a writer.

The success of Hell's Angels quickly catapulted Thompson to the front of the journalistic avant garde. He received numerous offers from popular publications like Esquire and Saturday Evening Post. In 1968 Thompson began nurturing an addiction that still is with him today: politics. This started with a simple letter to Eugene McCarthy, whose anti-Vietnam War stance Thompson admired, pledging his service to McCarthy in his run at the Democratic candidacy for president. The snowball began to gain momentum.

Thompson also was in the beginnings of a friendship with Oscar "Zeta" Acosta, a radical, militant lawyer from East Los Angeles. Acosta, who was one of the driving influences behind the burgeoning Brown Power scene in L.A., met Thompson on a visit to Aspen in 1967. The Thompson-Acosta correspondences are some of the most entertaining correspondences in print. They swing from acidic fantasy to personal issues to decisions that would ultimately alter aspects of our nation's history.

While in New York, Thompson met with his publishers regarding his next book. Thompson pitched the idea of a book on the "The Death of the American Dream." Thompson's idea was to write a book that would "do up a massive indictment, focusing on the murderers of the so-called 'American Dream.'" His main targets were the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs and Lyndon Johnson, to name a few. For the next two years, the book was the focal point of Thompson's energies. And although it never appeared in print, it helped set Thompson down the path towards creating two of his most influential and best known works, 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' and 'Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72'.

In 1969, Thompson was hired by Playboy to do a piece on Jean-Claude Killy, an Olympic skier turned pitchman. What Thompson returned with was the first true piece of Gonzo literature to be published, entitled "The Temptations of Jean-Claude Killy". Except it was never published in Playboy because the editors felt it was too mean-spirited. The fact was Thompson had stepped beyond the who, what, where, when and why mentality of the press and delivered something quite different: a piece where the writer was not objective but subjective, allowing the writer's personality and impressions of the situation come out. The piece was eventually published in Ramparts magazine, the first magazine to recognize that Thompson was doing something new and exciting.

Soon after the Killy piece, Thompson, along with the Thompson-recommended Ralph Steadman, an English illustrator, were sent to cover the Kentucky Derby for the magazine. "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved" provided readers with a vicious and, at the same time, hilarious description of the Southern sporting classic. Steadman's illustrations were done in lipstick and were perverse and humorous, much like Thompson's writing. It was the beginning of a life-long working relationship. Most recently, Steadman provided the illustrations for the opening and closing sequences in the movie, 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'.

Thompson was really getting his fat into the fire. His next target was an old nemesis who had returned stronger and smarter: Richard Nixon. By fluke, Thompson was allowed to interview the candidate and discovered that the washed-out politician was "brighter and therefore more dangerous than I surmised. He was a brute in need of extermination."

Thompson and Nixon did have two things in common: they both were political addicts (although Nixon in the worst definition of the concept) and football addicts. Thompson has recalled fondly the depth of Nixon's knowledge, including his ability to recall a seemingly unimportant, but strategically crucial play from the previous year's Super Bowl.

However, it wasn't Nixon that pulled Thompson into politics so much as the violence that erupted during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, a convention which Thompson was covering at the time, for material for his book.

Thompson returned to his home in Woody Creek a new man with a new mission: to beat the at their own game. And thus he began what is still one the most memorable and strategically effective anti-campaigns in the history of the U.S: the Freak Power ticket.

It was the fall of 1969 and the Aspen Mayoral election was coming up. Thompson was so disgusted by the candidates that he and a group of local friends ran their own candidate for mayor: a 29-year-old hippie bike-racer named Joe Edwards. Their campaign began three weeks before the election and nearly caused the upheaval of the small Western town.

This wasn't a whim or joke. Thompson noticed that there was a very low voter turnout in previous elections and determined that for the most part, it was the 18 to 25 year olds who were missing. So the theory he perpetuated was that if any candidate could garner the young vote, they would have the power to not necessarily win, but at least change the outcome of the election.

But the Freak Party got more than it bargained for. With only three weeks to organize, Joe Edwards lost the mayoral race by one vote. In reality, Edwards won the actual vote by six -- but lost the absentee ballot by seven. As Thompson wrote, "we scared the living out of the Aspen Power Structure."

In analysis, the group that really cost the Freaks the election wasn't the conservatives but the old-school liberals who supported the Democratic candidate. They were so scared of the possibility of a Freak Power mayor that they cannibalized their own candidate and voted Republican.

The close loss whetted Thompson's appetite and the next year the Freak Power Party entered the political arena with a vengeance. And not only in Aspen. Freak Power blossomed in Kansas, Berkeley and Los Angeles, where Acosta tallied 110,000 votes out of 2 million cast in the L.A. County sheriff race.

Thompson himself ran for sheriff and his platform was pretty direct: an end to the selling-off of Aspen. What follows is an excerpt from an advertisement Thompson took out in the Aspen Times: "And now we are reaping the whirlwind-big-city problems too malignant for small-town solutions, Chicago-style traffic in a town without stoplights, Oakland-style drug busts continually bungled by simple cowboy cops who see nothing wrong with kicking handcuffed prisoners in the ribs while the sheriff stands by watching, seeing nothing wrong with it either."

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The Freak Party campaign was unique to say the least. The Party posters bore a red fist clutching a peyote button. Thompson shaved his head clean. The Freak Power Party proposed changing the city name to "Fat City" to scare off investors. It's hard to gauge if people actually believed this. On the question of drugs, as Thompson wrote, "We ran straight at the bastards with an out-front mescaline platform ... marijuana got lost in the scramble." Thompson relented a bit before the election, saying he would refrain from taking mescaline while on duty.

In the end Thompson lost the race 1500 to 1065. He did delight in the fact that he won the city vote, where the Freaks made up 30% of the electorate. But he was trounced in the county vote -- even losing 300 to 90 in his own precinct of Woody Creek.

Perhaps the most clear description of Freak Power came from one of the many campaign posters written by Thompson: "This is the real point: that we are not really freaks at all -- not in the literal sense -- but the twisted realities of the world we are trying to live in have somehow combined to make us feel like freaks. We argue, we protest, we petition -- but nothing changes."

Thompson's campaign attracted quite a bit of attention. But the most interested media outlet was Rolling Stone, a fledgling rock-and-roll mag out of San Francisco. The owner and editor, Jann Wenner, became a good friend and recurring nemesis of Thompson's. Much like the Acosta letters, the correspondences between the two are legendary.

Thompson's first article for Rolling Stone, "The Battle of Aspen", was published in the October 1, 1970 issue. It was during this time, while working on a piece for Rolling Stone, that Thompson stumbled upon the city of Las Vegas.

In two issue of Rolling Stone in 1971, there appeared articles by the author "Raoul Duke" entitled 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'. As Douglas Brinkley wrote, the book "essentially ... follows Duke and his three-hundred pound Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo, to Las Vegas, ostensibly to cover a motorcycle race and then a convention of district attorneys."

Raoul Duke had become Thompson's alter ego previously in correspondences. Thompson realized that it allowed him to say things that he couldn't with the name "Hunter S. Thompson". It allowed him to blur fact, fiction and fantasy together.

Thompson felt he had a classic on his hands and a few people echoed this. However, when 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' was published in book form it did not sell nearly as well as 'Hell's Angels'. But it did solidify Thompson's conviction in what he was doing.

Thompson's next big job for Rolling Stone was covering the Democratic party during the 1972 election. Thompson harbored a basic hatred for typical politicians but became quickly enamored of South Dakota senator George McGovern. McGovern ran on a anti-Vietnam ticket and was the more politically correct manifestation of the Freak Party. Except that after McGovern won the Democratic nomination, he relented to party politics and, instead of staying on the path that got him the nomination, tried to bring together all the splinter Democratic groups, thus losing the very voter base that had put him in position to take the presidency from Nixon.

In the end, McGovern lost in a landslide but Thompson turned out what still stands today as the preeminent and most insightful piece ever written on a presidential election, 'Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72'. And he made a life-long friend in George McGovern.

Also, during the election, Thompson developed a strange friendship with a young Republican speechwriter named Pat Buchanan. Even though they were polar opposites in terms of philosophy, they both respected the fact that each of them could "leave it on the field" and go have a drink in a bar together without killing each other.

Over the next few years, Thompson kept himself busy by covering the withdrawal of American troops in Vietnam, the fall of Laos and also putting together an often-overlooked political summit. In 1974, Thompson along with a group that included Wenner, ex-RFK campaign veterans and McGovern strategists, gathered in Elko, NV to create a liberal strategy for political victory following the fall of Nixon. What resulted, as Thompson recalled, was complete "gibberish."

Around this same time, Thompson had been made aware of a very sad situation: the disappearance of Oscar Acosta in the Spring of 1974. To this day, it's not known what happened to the "Brown Buffalo" who "stomped on the terra" as Thompson described him. Some believe he went underground, but most others feel he was murdered by drug traffickers. But to this day, the case has never been solved.

As Nixon fell apart and, along with him, the Republican party, Thompson became more involved in national politics. He became a friend, proponent and unofficial advisor to Jimmy Carter before and during his run for the presidency in 1976. Thompson even stayed at the Carter's home in Plains, Georgia for a couple of days in 1975. When there were rumors about Thompson possibly running for president, Carter sent Thompson a note saying he'd drop out in support of Thompson.

Needless to say, Thompson didn't run. But a prediction he made two years previously, when Carter was known as "Jimmy-who?" in the press, came true: Carter trounced Ford to become President. And Thompson had another great piece of political writing for Rolling Stone.

As the '80s began, Thompson sensed a whole new era of political fatbacks and greedheads. And he was right.

During the '80s, Thompson, much like Charles Bukowski in Los Angeles, wrote periodic columns for the San Francisco Examiner, as well as continuing to freelance. Thompson's pace remained busy, though he no longer moved at the break-neck speed of the previous decades. Most of his work during this period is featured in the ongoing book series, 'The Gonzo Papers'. Thus far, there have been three volumes, 'The Great Shark Hunt', 'Generation of Swine' and 'Songs of the Doomed'. The volume that covers the '80s is appropriately subtitled, 'Tales of Shame and Degradation in the '80s'.

Also, during the '80s Thompson finally became involved in a medium that had intrigued him for years -- film. The movie "Where the Buffalo Roam" loosely chronicles his adventures with Acosta. It movie did not do well at the box office.

In the film, Bill Murray played Thompson to a tee while Acosta was portrayed by Peter Boyle. Murray was so affected by Thompson that many sensed a difference about him after the movie was made. On the set of Saturday Night Live, Murray began showing up late and becoming noticeably more irritable.

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Thompson continued to be eerily accurate in his political predictions, especially during the Iran-Contra affair. However, one prediction he made that didn't come true was in regards to a certain Vice President going to jail for a long, long time, a la Agnew. Unfortunately, just the opposite came true -- George Bush became president. Thompson once again had a new target, although he wrote a letter to the newly elected president asking for a job. Once again, pure Thompson.

The '90s opened on a high note for Thompson, with Bush's back being broken. Thompson, while supporting and actively campaigning for Clinton, sensed a similarity between the new president and Nixon: they both came to the Hill to play hard ball. Thompson's resulting novel was 'Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie'.

As the '90s progressed, Thompson became a counter-culture godfather. After all, he was one of the only voices from the time who was still pertinent and coherent. He continued to appear occasionally in print, but largely remained in his "heavily fortified compound" in Woody Creek.

What was arguably Thompson's most successful venture came in 1998 when 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' was finally made into a major motion picture. Thompson had been pitching the idea for thirty years and finally the film was produced. It was directed by Terry Gilliam, with Johnny Depp playing Thompson's character and Benicio Del Toro playing Dr. Gonzo. Once again Thompson had affected another young actor, as it's been said that Depp had a hard time shaking off the character after production finished.

There have been many arguments between Thompson devotees regarding which movie was better, "Fear and Loathing" or "Where the Buffalo Roam". Most seem to lean to "Fear and Loathing" but surprisingly a majority believe both movies came up short.

Thompson devotees also differ on the issue of Murray versus Depp. Depp looks strikingly similar to Thompson in his youth. But while Depp did an excellent job acting, it felt just like that -- acting. Murray seemed more natural and, thus, believable. But that's just this writer's opinion. (DITHOT note: Well, I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion… :rolleyes: )

As the century closed out, another dream of Thompson's came true as his second novel, 'The Rum Diary', was finally published. There are rumors of the book being in the pre-production stages of becoming a movie. 'Screwjack', a book of older short stories, was published as well.

Thompson career came full circle in 2001. His first job in journalism was as a sports reporter at Eglin Air Force and in 2001 he once again became a sportswriter as a weekly columnist for ESPN.com's "Page 2" section. His column is called "Hey Rube!". Thompson definitely still has his teeth -- thus far he's written scathing indictments of everything from the second coming of satan, lil' George Bush, to the entire NBA.

To summarize Thompson's career would be foolish. That's why this piece is so long. It's because of the layers and depth of everything he did, which, at the time, was not always apparent. He's successfully written about everything from the Hell's Angels and the dope scene of San Francisco to Super Bowls and Presidential elections. His friends throughout life includes the likes of Pat Buchanan, George McGovern and Jimmy Carter, as well as Ken Kesey , William Burroughs and Warren Zevon.

Thompson, much like Kerouac, is a WRITER. He WRITES. Whereas many writers stick to one style or genre, Thompson's been successful writing about many seemingly opposing subjects.

Today he's still writing as well as ever, although there have been detractors who say he's seen better days. His work on "Page 2" proves otherwise. He even predicted that Jenna Bush would become the wild-child that would cause problems for the new President.

It's just further evidence that Thompson had that inexhaustible, inextinguishable IT -- the stuff that all great artists possess.


Hunter S. Thompson, who carried the beat romanticism of Jack Kerouac, the political conviction of Allen Ginsberg and the acidic skepticism of William S. Burroughs into the world of popular journalism, died a Hemingway-esque death in Colorado on February 20, 2005.

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At the helm at Owl Farm.



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On August 20, 2005, in a private ceremony, Thompson's ashes were fired from a cannon atop a 153-foot tower of his own design (in the shape of a double-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button) to the tune of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" and Bob Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man. Red, white, blue, and green fireworks were launched along with his ashes. As the city of Aspen would not allow the cannon to remain for more than a month, the cannon has been dismantled and put into storage until a suitable permanent location can be found. According to his widow Anita, Thompson's funeral was financed by actor Johnny Depp, a close friend of Thompson. Depp told the Associated Press, "All I'm doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out."

Other famous attendees at the funeral included U.S. Senator John Kerry and former U.S. Senator George McGovern; 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley and Charlie Rose; actors Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Benicio del Toro, Sean Penn, and Josh Hartnett; singers Lyle Lovett, John Oates and numerous other friends. An estimated 280 people attended the funeral.

The plans for this monument were initially drawn by Thompson and Ralph Steadman and were shown as part of an Omnibus program on the BBC entitled Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision (1978). It is included as a special feature on the second disc of the 2003 Criterion Collection DVD release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (labeled on the DVD as "Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood"). The video footage of Steadman and Thompson drawing the plans and outdoor footage showing where he wanted the cannon constructed were planned prior to the unveiling of his cannon at the funeral.





Kevin Simonson is promotions director for Clear Channel Radio in Omaha and a freelance writer. In 1990, he promoted a guest lecture by Thompson at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which started his friendship with the author. This is his account of Thompson’s funeral.

Omaha Man Returns from Hunter S. Thompson Memorial


KEVIN SIMONSON / For the Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Monday, August 22, 2005

WOODY CREEK, Colo. — Funerals are, by definition, solemn affairs. Saturday, Hunter S. Thompson and friends obliterated all that.

Thompson, an explosive character himself, made it known he wanted his cremated remains blasted out of a cannon over Owl Farm, his Woody Creek property near Aspen. His unlikely request became a reality when, at 8:46 p.m., his ashes were blown out of a mortar perched atop a 15-story gonzo monument.

Exactly six months before, Thompson, 67, shot himself in his kitchen.
Having been a friend of Hunter’s for more than 15 years, I was honored to be one of 250 invited guests. The invitation arrived in late July from Hunter’s widow, Anita.

According to instructions, at 5 p.m. Saturday, guests congregated at two secret locations in Aspen. We boarded a fleet of nondescript shuttle vans with tinted windows. Cameras and cell phones were forbidden.

At Owl Farm, we were ushered into a tentlike structure the size of a football field. Hunter, smiling mischievously, peered down at us from a giant portrait inside the main entrance. His visage was surrounded by smaller, black-and-white photos of late American authors, including Henry Miller, William Faulkner, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

Inside, ornate chandeliers dangled from a translucent ceiling and chairs and couches were shrouded in black and red velvet. A buffalo head, commandeered from the Woody Creek Tavern, looked out over the crowd. The room opened on one side and faced the memorial.

Parked at the base of the memorial: Thompson’s “Great Red Shark” convertible.

Waiters dispensed mint juleps as Juan Thompson took the microphone.
“Welcome friends and family. I thank you all for being here to honor my father and your friend —Hunter S. Thompson. We are here to celebrate his life.”

He was the first of many personalities to reminisce and pay tribute to the iconic author of such titles as “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Hell’s Angels.” The crowd formed an intimate circle around those speaking.
Rolling Stone Publisher Jann Wenner and “60 Minutes” reporter Ed Bradley offered emotional and heartfelt observations.

Other speakers included 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern and Pitkin County, Colo., Sheriff Bob Braudis, a longtime Thompson crony.

The structure — two feet taller than the Statue of Liberty — was concealed in a red and blue covering.

“Spirit in the Sky” blared from a high-wattage sound system as the monument — topped by a spectacular gonzo fist, Thompson’s trademark logo — was unveiled. Spotlights swooped across the darkened skyline, casting fist-shaped shadows on the clouds. Fireworks traced the sky and an 11-piece, kimono-clad Japanese drum band banged away in heart-thumping unison.

Finally the cannon roared.

The crowd raised champagne glasses and sang along to Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” as Hunter’s ashes floated downward.

Many revelers were famous, including Ralph Steadman, the British illustrator who often collaborated with Thompson, and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry. Actors Josh Hartnett and Bill Murray also attended.

Most wore suits and dresses, but Murray, on the other hand, had on tennis shoes and sweat pants. We chatted about golf and I asked him if he remembered golfing in Omaha in bib overalls several years before.
He didn’t.

“Actually that was Palm Springs,” he said.

Johnny Depp, the actor who portrayed Thompson in the film version of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” reportedly paid for the $2.5 million ceremony. Depp, who flew in from Los Angeles, where he is filming the sequel to “Pirates of the Caribbean,” sported a gold-capped tooth.

Hunter usually included in the biographical blurbs on his books that he lived in a “fortified compound near Aspen, Colorado.”

This was never more true than Saturday. Private security teams scoured nearby mountainsides to stifle party crashers. Deputies patrolled neighboring roads and head-set clad personnel roamed the perimeter of Owl Farm, Secret Service style. The Federal Aviation Administration kept a tight control on aircraft flying over the area.

Media outlets ranging from the New York Times to the National Enquirer requested credentials to cover the event. At the request of the family, no press credentials were given. Organizers wanted to prevent the invitation-only observance from turning into a media frenzy; however, a documentary crew recorded the evening’s events and a film may be released next year.

When we re-entered the compound after the cannon blast, the interior had been transformed into an elaborate, exaggerated version of Hunter’s famous kitchen and living room.

Hundreds of copies of his books and packs of Dunhill cigarettes filled bookshelves and coffee tables.

Peacock plumes, orchids and Thompson photos and memorabilia covered the walls.

Two refrigerators, identical to the one in Hunter’s kitchen, were stocked with Heineken and adorned with a montage of gonzo artifacts.
Anita Thompson said that at this extravaganza, Hunter wanted to hear “ice clinking in whiskey glasses” — and a circular bar in the middle of the room ensured guests acquiesced to Hunter’s demand. The theme from here on out became “no tears-no funeral.”

An outside stage hosted a panoply of recording artists well into the wee hours of the morning. Lyle Lovett and members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performed.

Later in the evening, Harry Dean Stanton and Depp sat in with the band for a version of “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Thompson and Depp, both Southern gentlemen, hailed from Kentucky.
Meanwhile, in downtown Aspen, The Belly Up Nightclub hosted a “Gonzo Blast Off.” An open mike amplified readings and memories. Immediately after the cannon blast, Anita and McGovern whisked a tape to the club. The packed bar watched the footage on a big-screen at 10 p.m. — about an hour after the actual event.

I hugged Anita on my way out. The last shuttle pulled away from Owl Farm shortly after 5 a.m.

“Hunter lived a beautiful life,” she told me earlier in the week. “Living it on his own terms … all the way from the very beginning to the very end.”



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Tidbit #1 ~ Hunter S. Thompson
PostPosted: Tue Mar 30, 2010 8:06 pm 
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"Living it on his own terms.....all the way from the beginning until the very end"
Interesting info on Hunter and how well said by Anita. Very few people could have this said about them.


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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Tidbit #1 ~ Hunter S. Thompson
PostPosted: Tue Mar 30, 2010 11:28 pm 
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An inspirational legacy to be sure, ladylinn. :cool:



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Tidbit #1 ~ Hunter S. Thompson
PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2010 11:53 pm 
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I'll be completely honest -- I had no clue who Hunter S. Thompson was until I saw Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas a couple of years back. After that, I did a little background research on him but nothing this detailed. He was a very, very interesting person. I must say, I'm not a huge fan of Hemingway, and even though they kept comparing the two in this bio, I still don't think they're too much alike. I like Thompson a lot better.

Major kudos to Johnny for paying for the funeral. :kiss: It's always really bittersweet to read stories about actors/other celebrities paying for their friends' funerals. I actually cried when I read that Frank Sinatra privately financed Bela Lugosi's. :bawl:

I can't wait to start The Rum Diary discussion. I definitely need to pick up the book again, but the library doesn't carry it, so I'll have to wait to order it offline or find it at anther bookstore.

Thank you for (re)posting all the bio information, DITHOT. I look forward to discussing this book with you, Liz, and the rest of the ONBCers.



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Tidbit #1 ~ Hunter S. Thompson
PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2010 10:16 am 
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We're glad you will be joining us, Melzo! :welcome:



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Tidbit #1 ~ Hunter S. Thompson
PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2010 3:02 pm 
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Oops. Late again. I keep getting sidetracked in these long breaks. To say Hunter was a complicated man is an understatement. Great tidbit :cool:



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Tidbit #1 ~ Hunter S. Thompson
PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2010 6:12 pm 
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Thanks, gemini. Good to see you! :cool:



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Wow! What a ride!
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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Tidbit #1 ~ Hunter S. Thompson
PostPosted: Thu Apr 29, 2010 7:06 am 
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Wow just discovered this section with all these great topics on The Rum Diary. I am currently doing a Ph.D on Hunter so I will try and contribute to these topics over the weekend. I am just about to tackle this part of his life in my thesis so lots to talk about!

Ron



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Tidbit #1 ~ Hunter S. Thompson
PostPosted: Thu Apr 29, 2010 10:12 am 
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Welcome, Ron! :welcome: We're looking forward to your insights! :cool:



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Wow! What a ride!
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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Tidbit #1 ~ Hunter S. Thompson
PostPosted: Thu Apr 29, 2010 2:23 pm 
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RonMexico wrote:
Wow just discovered this section with all these great topics on The Rum Diary. I am currently doing a Ph.D on Hunter so I will try and contribute to these topics over the weekend. I am just about to tackle this part of his life in my thesis so lots to talk about!

Ron

Hey Ron, I look forward to reading your contributions. Glad you found us!



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Tidbit #1 ~ Hunter S. Thompson
PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 2:11 am 
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Just remembered that Hunter was the inspiration for Uncle Duke in Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury comic strip.
Image



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 Post subject: Re: The Rum Diary Tidbit #1 ~ Hunter S. Thompson
PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:44 am 
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Apparently Hunter was not very happy with the character in the comic strip and complained frequently. From Doonesbury.com:

The late Hunter S. Thompson was indeed the initial inspiration for Doonesbury's Uncle Duke, who FIRST APPEARED IN THE STRIP in this July 1974 series. Their paths diverged as Duke took on a life of his own, and over the decades his ever-evolving career has differed dramatically from that of HST.



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Wow! What a ride!
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