People keep asking if I’m going to say something about the death of Hunter S Thompson. Hell, a couple of newspapers have asked. This is because I wrote a graphic novel series called TRANSMETROPOLITAN, the creation of whose protagonist was somewhat influenced by Thompson’s writing, persona and life.
I got the news from a friend at CBS at four in the morning, two minutes after it hit the ticker. I was, and am, numb. I’ve tried to write about it a couple of times. When John Peel died, I was wrecked. This time, I’m just numb.
I read an article a few years ago, that I haven’t seen cited in the obituaries yet, wherein it’s stated that Thompson’s body was pretty much packing up on him. His stomach was having problems with toxic substances like, um, food, and his diet was mostly liquid, mashed avocado and yoghurt. He’d spent time in a wheelchair in recent years. His drug use had always been exaggerated for comedic effect, but, at 67, he’d been hammering his body in a committed way for some 50 years. And, at 67, you don’t grow back the bits you killed. There’s a fair chance he was looking at years of dependency, chronic illness, and listening to his own body die by inches. Anyone would find that frightening.
He always wore his influences on his sleeve. JP Donleavy, Faulkner, Mencken, Fitzgerald, Kerouac,
Hemingway. He used and re-used the last line from A FAREWELL TO ARMS, over and over: “I walked back to the hotel in the rain.” Legend has it that he retyped a Hemingway novel to understand how the writer got his effects.
Hemingway, of course, shot himself in the head. Old and sick and unable to live up to his own ideas on manhood.
I always thought it peculiarly apt that the man who wrote that line, whose work was all about keeping the expression of human feeling underneath the surface, sat somewhere quiet and alone and put a shotgun in his mouth.
Hunter Thompson waited until his young wife left the house, and then shot himself in the head with a pistol. He must have been quite aware that either she, or his son, there in the house with his grandson, would find his corpse. Dead bodies don’t lay neatly. They splay, spastic and awful. There is often shit.
I never met Thompson. Had the opportunity a couple of times — magazines wanting to send me out to Woody Creek, that kind of thing — but turned them down. I’ve been lucky so far, in meeting my great influences. But they don’t always go well. Friends of mine have had horrific experiences with their personal heroes, and it often leaves them unable to enjoy the work afterwards. And I wanted to keep the work. So I don’t know what kind of man he was.
And the numbness, in part, comes from now finding that he was the kind of man that’d let his family find him like that. I have a personal loathing for suicide. It’s stupid and selfish and ugly and cowardly and reeks of weakness. Someone said to me yesterday about Thompson, “What a ripoff.” And I kind of know what he meant. It’s become convenient to write Thompson off as parody in recent years, and there’s a case to be made that he peaked around the age of 36, with FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL ’72. But he could still make me laugh, even in the most recent collection, HEY RUBE. ” ‘We have many cigarettes here,’ I said suavely” still makes me smile. Writing had clearly become difficult, and a job, but every now and then you’d get a clear burst of the old anger, as in his support for Lisl Auman (google it). He was done with the big fireworks, but the devil was still in him. Probably his great work of the last twenty years was in Being Hunter Thompson. In performance.
But how you leave the stage is at least as important as how you enter it. And he left it alone in a kitchen with a .45, dying in — and wouldn’t it be nice if it were the last time these words were typed together? —
— dying in fear, and loathing.
down by the sea