Author Hunter S. Thompson Kills Himself
By CATHERINE TSAI, Associated Press Writer
DENVER (AP) – Hunter S. Thompson, the acerbic counterculture writer who popularized a new form of fictional journalism in books like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” fatally shot himself Sunday night at his Aspen-area home, his son said. He was 67.
“Hunter prized his privacy and we ask that his friends and admirers respect that privacy as well as that of his family,” Juan Thompson said in a statement released to the Aspen Daily News.
Pitkin County Sheriff officials confirmed to The Associated Press that Thompson had died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Thompson’s wife, Anita, was not home at the time.
Besides the 1972 drug-hazed classic about Thompson’s visit to Las Vegas, he also wrote “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72.” The central character in those wild, sprawling satires was “Dr. Thompson,” a snarling, drug- and alcohol-crazed observer and participant.
Thompson is credited with pioneering New Journalism – or, as he dubbed it, “gonzo journalism” – in which the writer made himself an essential component of the story. Much of his earliest work appeared in Rolling Stone magazine.
“Fiction is based on reality unless you’re a fairy-tale artist,” Thompson told the AP in 2003. “You have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you’re writing about before you alter it.”
An acute observer of the decadence and depravity in American life, Thompson also wrote such collections “Generation of Swine” and “Songs of the Doomed.” His first ever novel, “The Rum Diary,” written in 1959, was first published in 1998.
Thompson was a counterculture icon at the height of the Watergate era, and once said Richard Nixon represented “that dark, venal, and incurably violent side of the American character.”
Thompson also was the model for Garry Trudeau’s balding “Uncle Duke” in the comic strip “Doonesbury” and was portrayed on screen by Johnny Depp (news) in a film adaptation of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
Other books include “The Great Shark Hunt,” “Hell’s Angels” and “The Proud Highway.” His most recent effort was “Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness.”
“He may have died relatively young but he made up for it in quality if not quantity of years,” Paul Krassner, the veteran radical journalist and one of Thompson’s former editors, told The Associated Press by phone from his Southern California home.
“It was hard to say sometimes whether he was being provocative for its own sake or if he was just being drunk and stoned and irresponsible,” quipped Krassner, founder of the leftist publication The Realist and co-founder of the Youth International (YIPPIE) party.
“But every editor that I know, myself included, was willing to accept a certain prima donna journalism in the demands he would make to cover a particular story,” he said. “They were willing to risk all of his irresponsible behavior in order to share his talent with their readers.”
The writer’s compound in Woody Creek, not far from Aspen, was almost as legendary as Thompson. He prized peacocks and weapons; in 2000, he accidentally shot and slightly wounded his assistant, Deborah Fuller, trying to chase a bear off his property.
Born July 18, 1937, in Kentucky, Hunter Stocton Thompson served two years in the Air Force, where he was a newspaper sports editor. He later became a proud member of the National Rifle Association and almost was elected sheriff in Aspen in 1970 under the Freak Power Party banner.
Thompson’s heyday came in the 1970s, when his larger-than-life persona was gobbled up by magazines. His pieces were of legendary length and so was his appetite for adventure and trouble; his purported fights with Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner were rumored in many cases to hinge on expense accounts for stories that didn’t materialize.
It was the content that raised eyebrows and tempers. His book on the 1972 presidential campaign involving, among others, Edmund Muskie, Hubert Humphrey and Nixon was famous for its scathing opinion.
Working for Muskie, Thompson wrote, “was something like being locked in a rolling box car with a vicious 200-pound water rat.” Nixon and his “Barbie doll” family were “America’s answer to the monstrous Mr. Hyde. He speaks for the werewolf in us.”
Humphrey? Of him, Thompson wrote: “There is no way to grasp what a shallow, contemptible and hopelessly dishonest old hack Hubert Humphrey is until you’ve followed him around for a while.”
The approach won him praise among the masses as well as critical acclaim. Writing in The New York Times in 1973, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt worried Thompson might someday “lapse into good taste.”
“That would be a shame, for while he doesn’t see America as Grandma Moses depicted it, or the way they painted it for us in civics class, he does in his own mad way betray a profound democratic concern for the polity,” he wrote. “And in its own mad way, it’s damned refreshing.”