After Thompson’s suicide, attorney saw clues
By David Abel, Globe Staff | February 22, 2005
If one of Hunter S. Thompson’s last wishes comes true, the body of the late maverick journalist will be cremated this week and his ashes blasted from a cannon across his sprawling ranch in Woody Creek, Colo.
That will be the extent of Thompson’s funeral, as he told friends and family, said George Tobia Jr., a Boston-based entertainment lawyer who has represented the author for the past 15 years. Tobia said he has spent a few hours every week, often in the wee hours of the day, fielding requests from and chatting up the man who created gonzo journalism.
In a phone interview yesterday, Tobia said only in retrospect does it makes sense that the 67-year-old author sat in his kitchen Sunday afternoon, stuck a .45-caliber handgun in his mouth, and killed himself while his wife listened on the phone and his son and daughter-in-law were in another room of his house. His wife had no idea what had happened until she returned home later.
The former Rolling Stone magazine contributor, known for his self-styled, freewheeling writing, chronicled the downfall of President Nixon and authored books including “Hell’s Angels” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
Tobia, 43, who said he spoke to Thompson at least five times in the last week, as recently as the day before he killed himself, said his client and friend did not leave a note, only conversations and obscure directions he had issued to friends and family in recent days.
“This was definitely not spur of the moment,” said Tobia, who plans to fly to Colorado today to help carry out Thompson’s wishes. “He arranged to have things dealt with, and he wanted his family close by, but he didn’t want anyone to know — he didn’t want anyone to try to stop him. In a weird way, he wanted it to be, I think, a celebration.”
Was there anything specific that led Thompson, the model for a character in the comic strip “Doonesbury,” to commit suicide? Tobia said he did not know, but noted Thompson has written about suicide and talked about it with friends.
The decision, he said, had nothing to do with the reelection of George W. Bush or the current trend in national politics, which provided a certain grist for Thompson’s mill. Nor did he have significant financial problems. With his land, archives, royalties, and other valuable possessions, Tobia said, Thompson’s estate is worth millions of dollars.
The best explanation, perhaps, is that in recent months Thompson had chronic pain from back surgery and an artificial hip. He also broke his leg on a recent trip to Hawaii and was limping, which made it difficult for him to travel.
“He didn’t want to waste away,” Tobia said. “He did not want to exist as an invalid or as someone who needed constant care. It wouldn’t suit his sense of self.”
The one clue, in retrospect, that something changed recently was Thompson’s decision that it wasn’t so important that his papers and archives be sold to the highest bidder, money that would help him in later years. Last week Thompson told friends and Tobia — one of the trustees of his estate — that it was more important his archives not be sold piecemeal and that they find the proper home, such as at a university.
“There was no one thing you would point to and say, ‘Oh . . . he’s going to kill himself,’ ” Tobia said. “It wasn’t clear last week suicide was imminent, but now it adds up.”
“I was numb last night,” he said yesterday. “But when that settles in, the phone calls, things start to come back, and things begin to make sense. . . . We all had hints, but none of us had the full picture.”
The two planned to work together on the third volume of Thompson’s letters, Tobia said. Just the faxes Tobia received over the years, he said, stack up about 5 feet high. There was also the unpublished novel, “Prince Jelly Fish,” which Thompson hoped to have published.
Tobia first met Thompson while working on a benefit for the estate of Jack Kerouac.
“I represent the estates of many eminent writers like Jack Kerouac,” Tobia said. “But [Thompson] was alive; the others, I never knew. I got to know him. I read him in college. Forming a relationship with him was a dream come true.”
(c) Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company