Fear and loathing no more: Hunter S. Thompson, 1938-2005

R.A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Sun Feb 27 20:08:12 PST 2005


The Jakarta Post

February 28, 2005

Fear and loathing no more: Hunter S. Thompson, 1938-2005

 Doug Anthony, Contributor, Jakarta

It was always hard imagining the gun-toting, drug-addled king of "Gonzo"
journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, surrendering to the infirmities of old age.

 And on Feb. 20, aged 67, just three years from reaching the biblical three
score and ten, his final felony -- and caper -- was to violently end it all
with one of the shotguns about which he wrote so fondly in his autumnal

 Aside from this self-inflicted death, the tragedy of Thompson's life is
that in the 34 years since his Fear and Loathing books of the 1970s, his
mythic stature as a counter-culture wild man had overshadowed his
contributions as a writer.

 Thompson went from waging a mescaline-fueled guerrilla war on the
establishment to becoming part of it.

 He became the quintessential voice of America's left-wing rebellion of the
1960s, and through classics such as Hell's Angels (1966) and Fear and
Loathing on the Campaign Trail (1972), Thompson helped to found New
Journalism and its close cousin, Gonzo.

 Thompson and other Gonzo practitioners ripped the narrator from polite
anonymity and placed him center stage, often making it feel like a bad LSD

 Even Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), subtitled A Journey to the
Heart of the American Dream, he said, was more truthful than most
mainstream journalism at the time. In it, he documents a road trip through
the Nevada desert and into America's own heart of darkness.

 Thompson's subjects were tyranny, corruption, power, guns and above all,

 On the way to Las Vegas, Raoul Duke (Thompson's alter-ego), and his
300-pound Samoan companion were armed with "two bags of grass, seventy-five
pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt
shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers,
downers, screamers, ... and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case
of beer, a pint of raw ether". He added: There is nothing more helpless and
irresponsible than a man in the depths of an ether binge."

 Contemplating the meaning of the 1960s and what was to come, Thompson
marked 1971 as the turning point for America's hippies and drug-takers,
when flower-power idealism turned to cynicism. Later, sometime in the
1970s, perhaps after ascending to the masthead at Rolling Stone magazine,
he seemed to realize he'd become a trademark, a patriarch of hipster

 After all, what writer could sustain such a toxic outburst of creativity
over such a long period of time.

 In a letter to a 14-year-old, Thompson wrote of the Hell's Angels that
many of the older members were not "smart or funny, or brave, or even
original. They just Old Punks, and that's a lot worse than being a Young

 In the 1990s, critics increasingly made the same charge of Thompson --
that unlike his contemporary Tom Wolfe, he hadn't moved on.

 Thompson's wacky stunts, such as igniting dynamite or blowing up Cadillacs
on his farm in Woody Creek, Colorado, were no longer seen as cool or funny,
just the behavior of a Peter Pan who refused to grow up. Thompson, of
course, refused to give up his old hobbies of groping women, drinking and
smoking to excess, or to cut free of his obsession with psychotropics.

 His later books, such as Better Than Sex, the 1994 diatribe about Bill
Clinton, and Kingdom of Fear (2004), became increasingly peppered with
personal letters, faxes and already-published articles. They creaked under
the weight of a tired writer struggling to keep up a franchise.

 University campuses paid him to speak, however incoherently; editors
shelled out top rates for rambling, repetitive columns.

 Again and again, we heard of his drug adventures, passion for guns and
disdain for authority. He often said his beat as a reporter was to chart
the decline of the American century.

 Kingdom of Fear is a case in point, taking as its subject post-9/11
America, advancing in obscene and angry tones those critiques already
popularized by Michael Moore.

 Sadly, Thompson sounds just as he did 30 years ago. Instead of savaging
Nixon, he turned to savaging George W. Bush and the Washington

 In the end, we won't know if the pain of a broken leg, a drug-fried brain
or even old-fashioned despair spurred Thompson's final act. But as he slips
even further into history, it is not the end of his career, but rather the
beginning, that we are likely to remember.

 "This life's not for everyone," Thompson said in a 1998 interview, and
last weekend proved it.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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