The Starz network put together a really nice biography on Hunter S. Thompson this year. It wasn’t as much of a bio as a memorial, a remembrance. All of the people he worked with and knew, all the celebrities and personalities who’s lives he touched getting together on film to remember Hunter.
Everyone from Gary Busey to George McGovern was there. Reflecting on Thompson, his life, and his work. Including Johnny Depp and Bill Murray, both of whom played Thompson in feature films.
There were some interesting revelations. For instance, the man who coined the term “Gonzo” and lived his life almost perpetually in motion needed his “home base.” His farm in Woody Creek, CO. He needed to feel tethered to some thing. Some place. He needed that sanctuary from The Weirdness. One would expect someone who lived in a state of excess like Thompson to be completely unrooted and ungrounded, but quite the opposite was the case.
Another aspect which was discussed was his sense of right and wrong and his basic foundation of being a Southern Gentleman. I actually experienced this. Some years ago, back in the 1980’s, Hunter was having legal problems and The Word was put out that donations were needed for the “Hunter S. Thompson Legal Defense Fund.” So I sent in some money. Needless to say he got off and beat the charges. But some months later an envelope arrived for me with no return address and a Colorado postmark. Inside was a thank-you card from Thompson. The cover was the classic Gonzo dagger-fist and inside was a message from Hunter and some artwork from Ralph Steadman. It was mass-printed, but the envelope had been hand-addressed.
Now, a lot of people wouldn’t have even bothered to send a thank-you to their thousands of supporters. Much less have a custom card like this one printed up. But it was the Right Thing To Do. To thank the people who stood with him on the barricades of freedom against the ravenous horde of swine. As it were.
Watching this film, hearing how he affected other people, reminded me of how much I enjoy his work. Any time I fly I take my weathered copy of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” I must have read it a hundred times now. But I still love it. Whenever I am posting on a message board, posting on a blog, or just doing creative writing and want to make a point with vivid, visceral clarity I just have to ask myself: “What would Thompson write?” and the words just come.
It’s a shame he is no longer with us. But I understand it. A man who always lived life on his terms and at the speed of his choosing cannot live any other way. It wasn’t that he couldn’t go on, he chose not to. It wasn’t the way he wanted to live. Buy the ticket, take the ride.
The ride he signed up for was over.