The man and legacy
Hunter S. Thompson was a peculiar looking man, but his peculiarities are grossly exaggerated and forever immortalised in the even more peculiar work of Ralph Steadman. Hunter’s long-time friend and illustrator knew him in a such a way that he was able to convince us we knew him him too, in some kind of way. His quirky illustrations have managed to encapsulate an essence of the drive and longing, the twisted inflections and remarkable insight of a man who remains to this day an enigma – in so much as one can be expected to capture anything of a mind and soul of such brevity and unfathomability as Hunter’s. Hunter was one of the special ones. A truly unique character with a way of viewing the world that has enlightened and inspired many, and which no journalistic writer has managed to eclipse to date. This could be due in part to the changing landscape of modern media, or as Hunter would put it: ‘The death of the American dream’. If I could re-invoke the spirit of the times in which Hunter lived and wrote, I would – I may even find my inspiration yet – but for now I’ll have to placate myself with Steadman’s The Joke’s Over: Memories of Hunter S Thompson, watch Johnny Depp play him homage on screen, and dream of an America I will never know.
Hunter was and continues to be one of journalism’s most original voices. He was the pioneer of ‘Gonzo’ journalism (a phrase coined by Boston Globe editor Bill Cardoso) a re-imagining of the genre that would spawn ‘New Journalism’ and ‘Immersion Journalism’. Using literary techniques and research methods now considered standard in investigative reporting, we must remember Hunter’s break-out work predated investigative journalism as we now know it. Infiltrating the notorious Hell’s Angels motorcycle club, and living among them for a year: Hunter produced his first published work Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs – preempting the most exciting niche in the journalistic market.
Hunter was a living paradox. From his infamously open abuse and advocacy of narcotics to his love of firearms. He ran with a street gang, then served in the Air Force. He ran for Aspen Sheriff – hoping to legalise drugs. And rather than age graciously, he preferred instead to shoot himself in the head while on the phone with his wife (with his son and daughter-in-law in the next room), having left a grossly inadequate note for such a literary aficionado.
His written works have inspired the popular movies ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘The Rum Diary’. Both star Johnny Depp, who felt sufficiently indebted to Hunter to finance his dying wish: To build a rocket-ship Gonzo monument (complete with a giant clenched red fist: the Gonzo emblem) to Hunter in Woody Creek, activated to send his ashes skyward on August 20, 2005. If heaven was waiting for Hunter, rest assured, he got there in style.