There are but a few individuals in the long course of human history and popular culture who need little introduction, and no doubt this fellow called Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was one of those. Likewise, few indomitable souls burned more brightly, or crossed the boundaries of living legend so crazily, only to grow even more incandescent in death.
Born in 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky, Wikipedia defines the man as an American journalist and author, and the founder of the Gonzo Journalism movement. Really?
As many of you know, that bastion of enlightenment called Wikipedia can be a master of understatement. We know H.S.T in many other ways though, and suffice it to say that his personality may be too big for any easily defined description. His life was simply too big, too raw, too fierce and unbound to be so easily contained.
I did not know him in any real way, though I did meet him once, however briefly. But I certainly knew of him. We all did, that is anyone who lived and worked around Aspen, and Woody Creek, Colorado. I passed his house quite often, and like many I never missed an opportunity to try and get a look at what he was up to on any particular hour.
Back in the day, to be a local was a wild and furry badge of honor, and we gleefully identified with this legendary iconoclast. He was one of us, and we, one of him, whether we readily admitted it or not. Hunter was our own private rapscallion, the unknown force in the unpredictable possibilities of our day, and that unmistakable glint in the eye of incorrigible characters everywhere.
We all had our Thompson war stories too, which we passed around in hushed tones of amazement.
I remember the day, for example, that I had just driven by the Woody Creek Tavern about the time that Hunter had set off a smoke bomb in the bathroom, and then watched as the patrons evacuated to safer environments. As most of you know, he surely did love his gunpowder and pyrotechnics.
At one time I lived within rifle range of his property, and I could not help but listen for the gunfire that he was so famous for. I remember too the night he took a late night dip in a friend’s indoor pool, while I slept just yards away and never knew it. He was, after all, a night owl, according to his mother, and perhaps that is why he named his house and property – Owl Farm.
Of course, Hunter’s charm held sway in other circles too. He once mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the Sheriff of Pitkin County, and it was well known that he maintained a certain level of friendship among local law enforcement.
I met him personally one warm summer night while on a security detail at an outdoor Bob Dylan Concert. A strange though easily recognizable odor greeted me as he rolled down the window of his one car entourage, complete with Sheriff escort. Hunter was driving too, which I guess did not surprise me, though it should have, considering his choice of protective services.
He did not say much as I escorted him to his backstage seating. with deputy sheriff in tow. I suspected that he could not have said much even if he wanted too, given his state. But then again, you don’t have to say much when you have friends in the right places.
Looking back, I don’t condone the drug-addled lifestyle that he imbued, nor much of the idiocracy that he was famous for. But I do support and defend his right to live the life that he chose, and yours, if that be the way that you roll.
Drugs and alcohol aside, his spirit was as feral and uncontained as any grizzly or howling wolf that once roamed the perimeters of his Rocky Mountain home all that not long ago. I have no doubt that his was a life lived among the apparitions found moving in the corners of one’s vision, and that he left this world to greet them long before his physical body passed on.
In the end, his end, you can say what you want about this wild child of words. One thing for sure, though, this boy could write with the best of them. I stand in awe of the work, as a writer I mean. We shall miss you, good doctor, much more than you will ever know…