ARTS

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February 25, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson delivered this Catholic schoolgirl from Kentucky

"The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers...also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, 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." Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1972).

Given cash advance for his assignment to write an article about the Mint 400 motorcycle race for Sports Illustrated, Hunter S. Thompson quickly spent this money on a trunk load of drugs that morphed an uneventful journalism assignment into a wild trip inspiring his breakthrough book. Like most of his adventures, journalism was only a by-product of his genius.

A pioneer of New Journalism, HST created his own version: "gonzo journalism," in which the writer made himself an essential component of the story. This he began in 1970 while covering the Kentucky Derby for Scanlan's Monthly. Late in filing his story, HST sent random notes to his editor, sure that this stunt would end his wildly intoxicated career in journalism.

This exploit, however, was only the beginning. Thompson went on to become a counterculture icon whose prolific works entertain and inspire a vast audience.

When I read this quote, though, I don't think about all that. Instead, all I hear is Johnny Depp's voiceover, each and every inflection. Like any die-hard HST or Fear and Loathing fan, I can recite this quote from memory. But I love HST for more than just his crazy antics in life and literature. I love HST because, for me, he represents a piece of home.

Born Hunter Stockton Thompson on July 18, 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky, HST grew up just a few blocks from where I went to high school. Like Thompson, I grew up in a world I distrusted (a liberal in an all-girls' Catholic school in Kentucky), and HST helped me to articulate what I knew in my gut was wrong with it. He made a science out of behaving badly, and turned it into journalism.

This appeals to any misfit teenager, and my group of friends ate it up voraciously. We started off with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as most do. This matured into Better than Sex, The Proud Highway, The Rum Diary, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, and Generation of Swine. What we learned and loved about HST and his writing was that while he distrusted everyone, the reason he was so angry was because he really did believe in America. He treated politics with irreverence and combined extraordinary journalistic precision with his patented drugged-out narrative tone.

HST sporadically visited Louisville, and would give talks at the local university. It was a dream of mine to meet him during one. This dream, however, was destroyed on Sunday, when HST shot himself in the head with a .45-caliber handgun in his kitchen in Aspen.

When I heard the news, my initial reaction was shock. I felt betrayed. HST would never leave me like that. HST would never give up. My friends and I always planned on that fateful day when HST would leave us, to celebrate his life instead of mourn his death. As hard as this is, it must be done.

Focus on the journey:

HST took his career in journalism from a Florida Air Force base to the Caribbean to South America. He wrote for Rolling Stone in his heyday of the '70s.

In 1970, HST ran for sheriff of Aspen on the Freak Power Ticket. He called for renaming Aspen "Fat City," ripping up the streets and replacing them with sod, and punishing dishonest dope dealers. He lost by only six votes.

HST settled in Aspen—where he famously threatened to shoot trespassers—and it was common to hear gunfire from his property (where firearms were abundant and he had his own shooting range). Though HST was a proud NRA member, he also purported to be "a beachcomber, a Parisian wino, an Italian pimp, [and] a Danish pervert."

He was the model for Trudeau's "Uncle Duke" in the Doonesbury comic and was portrayed by Bill Murray in Where the Buffalo Roam (1980), directed by Art Linson as a semi-biographical film about Dr. Thompson himself.

HST remains my inspiration and my Kentucky pride. He was a true Louisvillian, and there his legacy will remain always. We love you, HST, and we're proud of you.