Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson and A Final Insult

I'm not the one to fill in the gaps; I've enjoyed his work a great deal, but have only read a couple of his books, and perhaps less attentively than I might have done. But after the lovefest the New York Times put on for Arthur Miller, which I took up here, the obituary they offer for Thompson is insultingly brief.

Perhaps theatre is a more rarefied art than "gonzo journalism," though I'm inclined to quibble even with that insofar as despite its frequently announced death, even a small city like Pittsburgh produces far more dramatic theatre than it does innovative journalism. Perhaps Miller came by his influence and fame more conventionally than Thompson, writing one, debatably two plays that became cultural touchstones, marrying Marilyn Monroe, and standing up to the House Unamerican Activities Committee.

But I don't think Miller really triggered a paradigm shift in theatre so much as he was an integral part of a continuing evolution. Thompson, on the other hand, wholly reinvented journalism to suit his impulse, his style. If he sometimes came off as self-caricature, particularly as his fame grew and his age advanced, that shouldn't diminish our awareness of just how much different our literary and journalistic landscapes are thanks to his contribution. No fewer writers owe a debt to Thompson than playwrights do a debt to Miller. And that this is the best the Times could do besmirches his legacy.

Perhaps his death by suicide at 67 was less anticipated than Miller's of natural causes at nearly 90 and the Times simply was caught flatfooted on this one. I find that hard to believe, however. I would love to examine in more detail the fact that an old-school journalistic enterprise like the Grey Lady shied away from further plumbing Thompson's countercultural approach that rejected the foundation on which newspaper hournalism rests, but I shouldn't conjecture. Perhaps in the coming days the Times will do more to honor Thompson's memory. For now, however, I'm profoundly disappointed.

I'll be on the lookout for a more fitting tribute. Please pass along any that you find.

UPDATE: Good job, New York Times, you just got served by ESPN Page 2. Among numerous other pieces and columns I'm still looking at, find this:

"Hunter Thompson's passing is a tremendous loss, not just to the ESPN family, but to any fan of American literature," Editor-In-Chief Neal Scarbrough said. "He was a trailblazer, a literary icon who has given generations of writers and readers many lessons in finding their voices. As with any sudden loss, there is a search for answers about Hunter's passing. owes him a debt of gratitude for continuing his work on Page 2, where he was -- from the start -- committed to the success of the page and gave us his best as he continued to reach out to his fans, old and new. Through it all, his writing and perspective managed to occupy a space that no other writer could fill. It's sad to realize it's a voice we won't hear from again …"

Kevin Jackson writes:

You can say what you will about the counterculture author and Page 2 columnist who died Sunday night of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. But you cannot say that the man was ever boring. Every correspondence with the Good Doctor -- be it a phone call, a voicemail or one of his infamous FAXes -- was an adventure waiting to be lived. Many of them were worth saving, so that co-workers and friends could live them as well.

And Thompson, in his own final column, writes of a 3:30 A.M. conversation with Bill Murray:

HST: "I'm working on a profoundly goofy story here. It's wonderful. I've invented a new sport. It's called Shotgun Golf. We will rule the world with this thing."

BILL: "Mmhmm."

HST: "I've called you for some consulting advice on how to launch it. We've actually already launched it. Last spring, the Sheriff and I played a game outside in the yard here. He had my Ping Beryllium 9-iron, and I had his shotgun, and about 100 yards away, we had a linoleum green and a flag set up. He was pitching toward the green. And I was standing about 10 feet away from him, with the alley-sweeper. And my objective was to blow his ball off course, like a clay pigeon."

BILL: (Laughs.)

HST: "It didn't work at first. The birdshot I was using was too small. But double-aught buck finally worked for sure. And it was fun."

BILL: (Chuckles.)

HST: "OK, I didn't want to wake you up, but I knew you'd want to be in on the ground floor of this thing."

BILL: (Silence.)

HST: "Do you want to discuss this tomorrow?"

BILL: "Sure."

HST: "Excellent."

BILL: "I think I might have a queer dream about it now, but ..." (Laughs.)

HST: "This sport has a HUGE future. Golf in America will soon come to this."

BILL: "It will bring a whole new meaning to the words 'Driving Range'."

So long, Doc. Thanks for the words. And thanks, ESPN, for doing this right on such short notice.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was looking over your blog and noted the HST posts. I was a big HST fan and was quite saddened by his passing.

-Masterisa Showitome

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

currently 2:00am hawaiian standard time, found you while surfing for ammo for my HST paper for soc. class on deviance, due yesterday- bout ta burn this motha down!

6:48 AM  

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