Jeff Jacoby: An inglorious suicide

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Fri Mar 4 05:29:37 PST 2005


An inglorious suicide
Jeff Jacoby (back to web version) | Send

March 4, 2005

Hunter Thompson's suicide was an act of selfishness and cruelty. But more
depraved by far has been the celebration of that suicide by those who
supposedly loved or admired him.
    The 67-year-old author of the ''Fear and Loathing'' books shot himself
in the head on Feb. 20 as he sat in the kitchen of his home near Aspen,
Colo., taking a phone call from his wife. Anita Thompson had called him
from her health club, she told the Aspen Daily News, and he'd asked her to
come home and help him with the column he had to write. Then, without
warning or a goodbye, he put down the phone and fired a .45-caliber handgun
into his mouth.
    ''I was on the phone with him, he set the receiver down and he did
it,'' she said. ''I heard the clicking of the gun.'' There was a loud,
muffled noise. Then nothing. ''I was waiting for him to get back on the
    Could anything be more ghoulish and egotistical than making your
unsuspecting wife listen while you put a bullet through your skull?
Absolutely: making your unsuspecting wife listen while you put a bullet
through your skull - and your son, daughter-in-law, and grandson are just a
few yards away. Juan Thompson was in a nearby office when his father blew
his brains out in the kitchen. Winkel Thompson and 6-year-old Will were
playing in the living room next door.
    It takes a real sadist to arrange his suicide so that his loved ones
are forced to hear him die. But what kind of degenerate inflicts something
so traumatic on a child of 6?
    In Thompson's defense, it must be said that he was a hardened alcohol
and drug abuser who over the decades had ingested, inhaled, and imbibed a
staggering quantity and assortment of recreational poisons.  The cumulative
damage to his brain must have been considerable. By the time he fired his
.45, who knows how clearly he was thinking about anything?
    But there is no defense for the treatment of Thompson's suicide as some
sort of final gonzo coup by a rebel who never played by society's rules.

    ''Hunter S. Thompson died Sunday as he planned,'' begins Jeff Kass's
admiring Feb. 24 account in the Rocky Mountain News, ''surrounded by his
family, at a high point in his life, and with a single, courageous, and
fatal gunshot wound to the head, his son says.''
     High point? Courageous? In what warped moral universe is a man's
pointless and ignoble death the ''high point in his life?'' And what is
''courageous'' about turning one's wife into a widow or depriving a
6-year-old of his grandfather?
    Thompson's son and daughter-in-law, Kass continues, ''could not be
prouder'' of his suicide. It was the result of ''a thought process with its
own beautifully dark logic. ... The guy was a warrior, and he went out like
a warrior.'' Did Thompson, asks Kass, ''have his favorite liquid sidekick,
a glass of Chivas Regal, on the counter? 'Of course he did,' Juan Thompson
    Another story details the impromptu cocktail party that gathered around
Thompson's corpse - still in the kitchen chair - to drink Chivas and toast
him. ''It was very loving,'' Anita Thompson is quoted as saying. ''It was
not a panic, or ugly, or freaky.'' Her husband's death should be cheered,
she says. ''This is a triumph of his, not a desperate, tragic failure.''
That is either unhinged grief speaking or overripe counterculture leftism.
Either way, it is grotesque.
    But it has been echoed everywhere.
    ''It wouldn't be accurate to say Thompson had a death wish,'' Mark
Layman wrote for Knight Ridder. ''Just the opposite: He was the
self-described 'champion of fun.' '' Douglas Brinkley, the well-known
historian and Thompson family friend, declared that Thompson ''made a
conscious decision that he had an incredible run of 67 years, lived the way
he wanted to, and wasn't going to suffer the indignities of old age.'' One
journalist after another seized the moment to reminisce about some wild
evening once spent with Thompson, whose suicide they seem to regard as one
last piece of roguish bad craziness from an irrepressible original.
    How striking is the contrast between Thompson's tawdry death and the
excruciating struggle of Pope John Paul II, whose passionate belief in the
sanctity of life remains unwavering, even as Parkinson's disease slowly
ravages him. The pope's example of courage and dignity sends a powerful
message, but the chattering class would rather talk instead about why this
stubborn man won't resign. Meanwhile they extol Hunter Thompson and are
itching to know - are his ashes really going to be fired from a cannon?

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
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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