Farewell, My Namesake: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson 1937-2005

[24 February 2005]

By Hunter Felt

I begin this essay after drinking more than a handful of beers. I apologize to the late Hunter S. Thompson in advance that I have no illegal intoxicants to imbibe. I work with what I have on hand. My name is Hunter Felt. Despite my mother’s assurances that I was only given that first name because it was a nice-sounding name, it is clear that I was named after pioneering writer Hunter S. Thompson. I am not alone. My first roommate in college was also named after him. I am sure there are many others.

I have always felt pride over who I was named after. Hunter S. Thompson was one of the greatest writers of my generation. Certainly, many others have proved to have more literary merit. Certainly, countless others have declared themselves the creators of “creative non-fiction”, and maybe they did create it. Maybe Tom Wolfe is really the innovator that I’m sure he believes he is. Still, Hunter S. Thompson created “gonzo journalism”, a type of writing that goes beyond “creative non-fiction”: it is non-fiction that reveals the beauty and strangeness just underneath the veil of “reality”. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is not exactly truth, but it is the truth that underlies the mundane conceptions of reality that we accept at face value. Only Thompson could convey this while exploring the wonderful flexibility of the English language, unencumbered by the slavery of facing just the facts or the “let’s try not to be autobiographical” delusions of the fiction sect. I, and thousands of others, will take the first few paragraphs of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and absorb them, accept them as part of our being: “We can’t stop here. This is bat country!”

And now he is dead, apparently by his own choice. And, you know what, fuck him for choosing to go out like this. I was prepared to accept his death, whether by random accident or nature’s inevitable manner of using our bodies against us (whether by heart attack, cancer, tumor, or stroke). But by his own hands? I know that he had a number of reasons to leave our doomed human race at the earliest possible moment, but it just seems that it is an unnaturally cowardly act by such a hard-nailed person. I, and many other fans, feel betrayed that Hunter felt the need to leave now, when we needed him the most. It doesn’t take away from all of he has done for contrarians of all shapes and sizes, but it retroactively takes away from his persona as the ultimate outlaw.

The ultimate outlaw does not give up. The ultimate outlaws do not leave, no matter what personal problems they face, without a fight. And that is what Thompson has done, he has gone without a fight, and all of us on the outside deserve to feel betrayed. Thompson’s suicide is an ignoble ending to one of the greatest iconoclastic runs in literary history. If the great H.S.T. found that this was the only way out of the horrid world that has sprung up around him, what hope is there for us, who are clearly more sensitive than him? A part of me believes that the only positive thing that comes from his death is that every iconoclast born in his mold will realize that there is no glory in surrender. Whatever one’s political or sociological position, Hunter S. Thompson’s suicide is a dark moment in the truly American belief in the right, perhaps duty, of all Americans to defy the status quo whenever necessary.

Hunter S. Thompson, was, in many ways, the embodiment of the true American Spirit: a gun-toting, drug-ingesting, beyond blue-and-red, sane lunatic. I sincerely hope that there will be someone of his nature that will come along, but I fear that he was the only one of his species. Rest in peace, my namesake, very few people on Earth deserve that peace more than you.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/felt/