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 had not lost his passion for life. He loved his family and friends; he had something to say every day.
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 was sent to every wire service. But I have my own reckoning.
Everyone close to Hunter knew he had serious health problems. Even beyond the usual stuff that happens to you when you drink continuously. 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.
If Thompson planned his death like other friends of mine have, he likely set a deadline. It's illegal to plan your death anywhere but Oregon. You can’t ask your family to be involved without their facing criminal charges. It’s an impossible situation.
It was, by his lights, the only “way out.” To do it alone. 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.
Hunter was a marksman who loved his guns and all their history. The man was a Southern gentleman and a scholar. He was so old-fashioned in some ways.
The reckless part about shooting oneself is that not everyone knows what they're doing. Some people blow it, their technique is flawed, and they end up making themselves a vegetable instead of relieved death. I am sure that is not the case here. Hunter really knew his tools.
I’m know there may have been some dark jokes 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 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 Jeff Armstrong, and Jim and Art Mitchell, who “hired” HT 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? No. 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 political 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 was barely aware of me at the time; a little perplexed. Who were these new-fangled women? I wasn’t dancing or playing poker— talking, watching, and muckraking were my chief occupations.
Our real connection came years after, 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, Hunter's willing to fight these author injustices tooth and nail— why am *I* flinching?”
Hi Susie— Hunter here, I didn't expect to find you in Salinas-----though you were kidnapped by Chinese nationals or gone to NY for a prayer meeting—but uh yeah I got your message, and I think it's very important that I talk to you ----uh because it sounds like utter vicious bullshit to me that uh _____ is circulating some rumor that I'm thrilled with any of their offers. I don't want them using me for some kind of Judas goat. Yeah, when you get this message, same number that you called today, yeah I should be here all day, let's try to figure this out okay talk to you...
He enjoyed my writing. I wonder if he knew how much that lifted my spirits. He would give me generous reviews of the new talent in my Best American Erotica books. I mean, TRULY generous. He would point out authors in the latest editions 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. He had great taste in literature, impeccable.
I’m understand Hunter for dying the way he wanted to, for not succumbing to our “healthcare” traditions that keep you alive whether you like it or not, losing your dignity, your senses, and your independence. And maybe he felt he had no choice. So hard to know.
“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, and family, not indict them. I wish more people could be open about their plans-- but it’s difficult, isn’t it?
When a man plans an intentional death, the only ones left to talk about it are friends and family, who are suffering the loss.
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— to remind me why psychedelic subversiveness is a triumph of spirit.
Hunter Thompson was... easy to love. Ha! Yes, more than the hardship of his mercurial disposition, which is saying something.
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. He did not let his own fear and loathing defeat him.
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.
illustration: Jon Bailiff