WOW! WHAT A RIDE!
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely, but rather to skid in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
At 5:42 p.m. on February 20, 2005, at his farm in Woody Creek, Colorado, Hunter S. Thompson put a .45-caliber gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He was 67.
His son Juan, daughter-in-law Jennifer and their six-year-old son Will were visiting for the weekend. Thompson’s second wife Anita Bejmuk, who he married in 2003, was at a nearby health club.
Anita was on the phone with Hunter. He asked her to come home to help him with a column he was writing, and then he set the receiver down and cocked the gun. Anita said she heard a clicking sound but thought it was his typewriter keys. She hung up as the .45 caliber bullet blew the back of his head out.
Juan Thompson called the Pitkin County sheriff’s office, and then walked outside and fired three shotgun blasts into the air to “mark the passing of his father,” the sheriff said.
FEAR AND LOATHING EVERYWHERE
Hunter Thompson burst into the limelight with the publication in 1964 of ‘Hell’s Angels,’ a first-hand, gonzo chronicle of his year living and riding with the infamous motorcycle club.
He followed that in 1971 with his signature work, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,’ brilliantly and bizarrely illustrated by British artist Ralph Steadman.
“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.
Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”
In 1972 Thompson and Steadman covered the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon which spawned ‘Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.’
DRUGS AND BOOZE TAKE THEIR TOLL
Thompson lived an insane life on the very edge, racking up years of alcohol and multiple drug use. Hard living led to chronic medical problems.
A hip replacement in later years caused such severe back pain that he needed a wheelchair to get around. His book editor Douglas Brinkley said that on a trip to New Orleans together a month before his death he was humiliated that he couldn’t climb the stairs at a party at the home of political activist James Carville.
Brinkley remembered Thompson saying to him, “My time has come to die, Dougie.”
RELAX — THIS WON’T HURT
In his suicide note, titled ‘Football Season Is Over,’ the hard living gonzo reporter wrote: ‘67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.’
Ralph Steadman, Thompson’s collaborator and friend, wrote after Hunter’s death: “He told me twenty-five years ago that he would feel trapped if he didn’t know that he could commit suicide at any moment. I don’t know if that is brave or stupid or what, but it was inevitable.”
OUT LIKE HEMINGWAY
Thompson’s literary hero was Ernest Hemingway. “Hunter had really gone from being a celebrity to being a legend,” Rolling Stone editor Jan Wenner said. “Part of that legend is his suicide, like Hemingway.”
On August 20, 2005, in a private funeral, as per his instructions, as red, white and blue fireworks exploded, his ashes were fired from a cannon to the accompaniment of Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit in the Sky,’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man.’