I think it should be said that Hunter S. Thompson died on February 20th of a self-inflicted gun wound to the head. Rolling Stone put out a commemorative issue for their fallen hero, and it has given me some much-needed inspiration. The outrageousness and ingenious wit that was Thompson's trademark style has never been duplicated. It probably never will.
I have tried to dissect his work, taking it apart and trying to see how he put together his words so masterfully. At some point in his journalistic career, which is quite a story within itself, he decided to let himself go. But how did he let himself go? Was it the drug use? Was it the day-to-day stress of being a reporter? Only one person knows the answer to that, and his remains were shot out of a Gonzo cannon somewhere in Aspen, Colorado.
Thompson's character is mythological, especially for a fledgling writer like myself. The aviator sunglasses, the cap, the cigarette holder; they all added to the mystique. He was an action figure for journalists, a wild card that no one could quite put their finger on. In two simple words: mad genius.
Rolling Stone had a long list of friends, co-workers, family members, and acquaintances that came into contact with Hunter. Almost all of them had some wild story on how they met the real-life Raoul Duke, each incident an unquestionable mark on what he was all about. It was about energy, life, exuberance, all that stuff. It was about not having fear for any living human or animal. In a way, it was a modern perversion of Hemingway's masculinity. This is why it wasn't such an odd thing to hear of Hunter' suicide by his own hands.
What gets me is the fact that not many people know who this guy really is. Most people know him as a character in a movie, or a good Halloween costume. What people forget is the writing.
Though it's a usual first read and a favorite, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has always been at the top of my list. It grabs you by the balls from the first page and doesn't let go until you hit the last page. This was one of the first times someone had thoroughly explained what it was like to take acid, speed, ether, etc, etc... But through the madness, his eyes were strenuously set on the American dream. We needed someone to take that plunge, to report on what was happening in the deep, dark recesses that the majority feared to tread. He was lucky to come out alive. His other books, Hell's Angels, The Curse of Lono, and Rum Punch, cut just as deep.
Thompson is also known for his political writing. On the Campaign Trail '72 is considered one of the most truthful and candid works on political campaigns ever written. It's a must read for anyone who needs to know how the political machine really works behind the curtains.
The truth is that journalism needed someone like Hunter. Without his lyrical prose and insatiable appetite for life, a voice of a generation never would have been heard. Our generation is quick to forget that things weren't always this free. People had to fight for what we take for granted. I thank God that there are still people around who have the veracity to push the envelope. Because without people like Hunter, we'd all be listening to the Backstreet Boys and listening to Rush Limbaugh.