My column on Thompson’s suicide after the jump
As a correspondent, I wrote an obit that ran in the paper just after Thompson’s suicide, here it is:
THANKS to some cruel and strange twist of fate, a great writer deprived the world of his talents by blowing out his brains in the dead of winter on the grounds of his fortified compound in Woody Creek, Colorado.
Hunter S. Thompson , 67; hero, icon creative genius chose to end his own life Sunday Feb. 20, 2005. I feel an immense loss. And, I’m irritated by the selfish nature of the act. How do I explain to my six-year-old, named after Thompson , that his namesake, a man I always believed to be the epitome of bravery, exited this life in such a sad fashion?
Maybe I’ll avoid the subject altogether and tell my boy that Thompson was the man every journalist, reporter and writer of my generation wanted to be: Brave, cocky, in-your-face and honest; never cowed by authority always willing to question.
I said that to myself and think: Who (among the living) in our once-proud profession do we look up to now?
Certainly not the Bill O’Reillys, Jason Blairs and other pretenders, grifters, liars and egomaniacs that began to fill the nation’s newsrooms in the late 1990s filing innuendo, gossip and rumor that attempts to pass for news.
When Thompson filed a story, we got the truth, no matter how painful or icky it might be to behold. Now we get spin. Cotton candy searching for audiences that prefer cherry flavor in the Midwest and bubble gum on the coasts.
Thompson didn’t just change the lives and styles of journalists. He left an indelible mark on our culture as well. A simple Google news search Monday afternoon turned up 674 articles mourning his passing. By contrast, the passing of Sandra Dee, Gidget, generated 427 articles. John Raitt, the Broadway singer, a mere 187.
That’s not all. In the blogosphere and Usenet groups, Thompson ‘s death was mourned in online communities as disparate as Second Amendment advocates; pot purveyors, and motorcycle maniacs.
No doubt, Thompson was a complex and iconic character. I’m most fascinated by this as it relates to two pieces of his work, both written in Arcadia during 1971. The first is his classic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’
Much like previous generations can recall the classic opening of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,’ those of our generation can recite the first line of “Fear and Loathing…’ verbatim: “We were somewhere in the desert around Barstow when the drugs began to take hold.’
I often think about how the once-vast desert that separated Los Angeles and Las Vegas in 1971 is rapidly shrinking. Becoming a land of mega outlet stores, Big-box super centers and affordable housing for the shlubs who suffer three-hour commute times to get to their jobs in L.A. Thompson captured that freedom of dark space between the confines of glitter that now threaten to morph into one, great megalopolis.
My 18-year-old son recently read “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’ He was fascinated and repulsed by the massive drug use depicted in the book. But, I know he got the joke the Voltaire-esque satire. In fact, Thompson , had a lot in common with the Frenchman, who was known as a crusader against both tyranny and bigotry in 18th-century France.
Which brings me to the Thompson second piece written during that frantic period holed up in an Arcadia hotel room in 1971: “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan.’
This chronicle of the “Brown Power movement’ tells the story of the death of KMEX-TV reporter Ruben Salazar, killed by a flight-rite teargas canister as he sipped a beer at the Silver Dollar Bar on Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles.
Salazar’s death at the hands of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies sparked an outcry around the country at a time when many were focused on the sensational Los Angeles trial of Charles Manson for the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969.
In his piece, published by “Rolling Stone’ in April 1971, Thompson wrote about the aftermath of Salazar’s killing and an inquest by then-Coroner Thomas Noguchi. The killing was so polarizing that the inquest jury of seven citizens ultimately came to two conclusions about Salazar’s death: Four members voted to rule the killing a homicide; three voted to rule it an accident.
Ultimately, Thompson was taken aback and puzzled by the idea the LASD might have killed a prominent journalist who’d been giving them trouble.
“The whole … thing was wrong. It made no sense at all,’ Thompson wrote.
It doesn’t appear there’ll be any such vagaries in the death of Thompson . He was doomed. Suicide. Res ipsa loquitur, as he often wrote the thing speaks for itself.