Hunter Thompson died last night, and I would say he planned it to a T. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, but as friends and family will tell you, he was not “depressed;” he had not lost his passion for life, he didn’t fit any description of a broken shell. This wasn't a guy who needed to call a hotline.
I believe, like many who knew him— and others who didn’t know Hunter but are perfectly aware of the state of dying in this country— that the man checked out. By that, I mean self-deliverance, planned death, not an impulsive action.
I am not telling you this because I’ve received a secret report. I’ve only read the same news that have been sent to every wire service. But I have my own reckoning.
Everyone close to Hunter knew he had serious health problems, and I don’t mean the just the usual stuff that happens to you when you drink a lot! ‘Course, alcohol in immoderate amounts doesn’t help aging, but the man was stubborn, defined by his stubbornness. He had a constitution that left his peers in awe in his younger days. He has been plagued with excrutiating joint and bone problems for years. I don’t know what else he was suffering from as he reached his sixties, and I doubt he told many people about it.
Since Hunter was an American born in the 1930s, and died in the 21st Century, we shouldn’t be shy to wonder if he could be dealing with cancer, diabetes, heart disease— or all three. People like to pretend that these little epidemics are mankind’s eternal fate, but they’re the retribution of a toxic air, water, and food supply. Pollution condemned Hunter, as it does the rest of us, more than any amount of mescaline.
If Thompson planned his death like other friends of mine have, he likely set a deadline; he might have confided to one or two. Because it's illegal to plan your death anywhere but Oregon, (and most people do want to die at home) the hardest task his family would face would be knowing that they couldn't be with him when he died without facing criminal charges.
Loved ones who collaborate with their dying friends’ wishes either hide their presence, or they clear out. Can you imagine if you had to be born alone?— If it was against the law to have your family and friends close around you?
It was, by his lights, considerate for Hunter to shoot himself, although I wouldn't recommend it to just anyone. He made the sheriff’s work cut and dried, and no one will charge that someone else held the weapon to his head. It spares his family scrutiny, it spares his body inquiry.
Hunter liked guns, used guns, didn’t hesitate to aim and fire. The man was a Southern gentleman and a scholar. The reckless part about shooting yourself is that some people blow it, their technique is flawed, and they end up making themselves a vegetable instead of relieved death. Even done with discretion, the mess is left for someone else to deal with, which is a charge Hunter faced often his life.
I’m sure there may have been some dark jokes in his posse about whether HT would manage to take out the beast properly. A few years ago he took aim at a bear on his Colorado property and accidentally hit his secretary instead. When I heard that news, it already sounded apocryphal.
Hunter missed the grizzly that time, but the bear would be back.
I know Hunter because of Jim and Art Mitchell, who “hired” him to be their night manager at the O’Farrell Theater in San Francisco in the 1980s, a job description that didn’t exist before or since his tenure. He had similar position at Esalen. The gonzo muscle machine? I never saw him lift anything besides a glass and a card. I know I'm lucky, but he was extraordinarly gentle with me.
This was during the years I was editing On Our Backs, and my business partner Debi stripped at the O’Farrell. It was a time when every woman who worked there seemed to be either a dyke on our magazine staff, and a member of the Rajneesh commune. JIm and Art had a running poker game upstairs, and also a running operation publishing an antiwar rag with the contribution of every outlaw artist in town. The party and the propaganda went back and forth between the O’Farrell in the Tenderloin and the Tosca saloon, in North Beach.
Thompson wasn’t that aware of me at the time. I wasn’t dancing or playing poker— talking, watching, and muckraking were my chief occupations.
Our real connection wasn’t until years alter, after Artie died, after Thompson was back in Woody Creek. We shared some of the same publishing travails, and I have to say, Hunter always made me feel better, because his was endlessly militant towards publishers. I would think, “Hey, he’s willing to fight these author injustices tooth and nail— why am *I* flinching?”
He enjoyed my writing, and would give me his review of the talent in my The Best American Erotica books. He would point out authors in the latest edition that were his favorites, and he invariably picked out the remarkable novitiates. His choices didn’t tell me his erotic turn-ons, they showed me his writer antennae.
I am so proud of Hunter for dying the way he wanted to, for not succumbing to our sadistic “healthcare” traditions that keep you alive whether you like it or not, losing your dignity, your senses, and your independence.
“Checking out” is something that, if it was accepted, and decriminalized, would largely be a private affair, and the agents of the state would be there to support the survivors, not indict them. I wish more people could be open about their plans, but it’s difficult, isn’t it? It’s not like the legions of women who wrote their names down in the 60s saying, “I had an abortion, and I’m here to testify.” They were still alive to fight against the laws of hypocrites.
When a man plans an intentional death, not out of despair but out of self-determination, the only ones left to talk about it are friends and family, who are suffering the loss. It’s a hard time to be a right-to-die activist when you can hardly see through your grief.
Nevertheless, a change is gonna come, and the generation that threw a party at Woodstock and brought the war home isn't going to lay down gently. People don’t want to die the way they’ve watching their elders go, they aren’t going to put up with it anymore.
I am so blue that Hunter is gone. No one else is going to call me at 3 AM and quote John Steinbeck, the Old Testament, and Nixon's Enemy List— reminding me why psychedelic subversiveness is a triumph of spirit.
He was... easy to love. Ha! Yes, more than the hardship of his mercurial disposition. When friends gather to mourn him, I have a feeling the greatest emotion will be tenderness. He had such a great big bear of a heart under all that bite. He was Someone Who Gave a Shit, who would not let his own fear and loathing defeat him, EVER. Brother Thompson wrote to live, and lived to write. I admire him, as usual, for clawing his way of here, entirely by his own design.