The first concept taught in Writing 101 is the development of one’s voice. Whether painting vivid word pictures to simply articulating thoughts in a concise fashion, a writer’s voice is his signature, and the predominant factor that separates the literary Lilliputians from the master wordsmiths. Hunter S. Thompson’s voice was as definitive as any in journalism, and will continue to resonate long after his death.
Thompson came of age on the heels of the beat generation, following the lead of Kerouac and Ginsberg, crafting a persona in life and art that mirrored the times. His unapologetically fearless approach earned him a reputation among the counter-culture as not just an observer, but as a participant. From taking on the political machine of Richard Nixon to breaking bread with the Hell’s Angels, Thompson’s skill as a writer was augmented by his willingness to experience life to the fullest; he didn’t merely talk the talk, but talked and walked with equal enthusiasm then chronicled the outcomes. He was the perfect spokesperson for what he reported on simply because he lived it.
Ironically, Thompson’s perfection as an artist was built around his personal flaws. At any moment he could be eccentric, arrogant, unpredictable, abusive and excessive; these were the traits that permitted his total immersion into given environments, as well as the vehicle for his audience to live vicariously through his experiences. A lesser person would not have had the fortitude to enter the fray, yet Thompson dove into every opportunity convinced that he would not only survive, but emerge to tell about it in his inimitable way.
The magnitude of Thompson’s journalistic pursuits is evidenced by the scope of his audience over the past four decades. As popular with today’s college generation as with that of the 1960s, Thompson gained early credibility from his association with Rolling Stone, back when the magazine accurately represented the youth culture. He was a rebel amongst rebels, and his words captured the imagination of the masses fighting against the establishment. His role as revolutionary was reborn with the big screen adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; although not a massive box office smash, the film’s casting of the magnificent Johnny Depp brought Thompson’s genius and failings together for movie-goers to revel in.
In life Thompson created a memorable body of work that spanned a multitude of topics, all bearing his exquisitely opinionated outlook. He flaunted an iconic persona that will never be equaled, one that embodied his take-no-prisoners approach while garnering equal amounts of praise and derision. In death, Thompson’s legend will surely grow, his adventures and misadventures taking on new luster. With each passing day of politically correct methodologies being foisted on the public, Thompson will be remembered as a rare breed, one who endeavored to kick out the jams at every turn while not wasting time with popular perceptions.
Though mortal, Thompson is sure to be canonized by some as a pop culture hero; in actuality he was as confused and disillusioned as much of his fan base, and it seems appropriate for him to exit this world by his own hand. Whether plagued by personal demons or simply wanting to make the ultimate existentialist statement, Thompson lived life on his own terms, for better and worse. Walking the line between madness and brilliance, it would have been inauthentic for the legendary gonzo journalist to pass quietly in his sleep in the throes of old age.
Now, looking back at the remarkable life and times of Hunter S. Thompson, it may be easiest to summarize his death by addressing his troubled and paradoxical nature:
He killed himself in self-defense.