Hunter S. Thompson is dead now, and I am poorer for it. His death has left many people flabbergasted and wondering why it had to happen this way. It has left a large void in the literary world which will likely never be filled again. Naturally, I never got to meet him, like Douglas Adams before him.
After my family moved to Princeton in late 1990, many of my father’s books, previously boxed and in hidden away spaces, were suddenly together in a nice library space. Said space was where my first computer was housed, a custom built machine with a roaring 33 megahertz processor. You could find the room by traveling up a set of spiral stairs, constructed in part by my father, whose library it was to be. My father had built a large collection of books, finding many of them at garage sales. He once bought the complete collection of Mark Twain for, I imagine, quite a good deal.
I spent many an afternoon in the library, both on and off the computer. The time I was away from the computer I spent perusing the books. As a teen I loved to read comics, so it was a pleasant discovery when I came across old collections of the Doonesbury comic strip. It wasn’t too long before I came across the infamous Uncle Duke character, widely known to be based on Thompson. It took a few years, however, before I made that connection and found Thompson for myself.
At some point when I was in high school, we took a field trip to New York for some reason, and I happened to enter one of the larger branches of the New York Public Library. They were having a fundraising book sale, and I found a copy of “Gonzo Papers Vol. 1: The Great Shark Hunt.” Though I was a poor high school student, I was not so poor that I couldn’t afford its fifty cent price. Due to its length and the fact that it is presently somewhere in my former bedroom, I somehow still haven’t managed to finish it. I enjoyed it enough that when my 11th grade History professor assigned a biographical assignment, I chose Thompson. That same year, my friend Ravi was looking for a subject for a photo assignment and I offered myself in the guise of Thompson, specifically as he appeared on the cover of that first book that I had bought. We eventually decided not to go ahead with it as it would involve smoking, a big no-no at the Peddie School.
During the tenure of my writing for the newspaper at The Peddie School, I would often try to give articles titles that included “Fear and Loathing,” a nod to Thompson, who frequently used it in the titles of his articles and books. Invariably these articles would be retitled, as “Fear and Loathing” would be completely irrelevant to the subject matter. My editor would criticize my choice of title but I would want to have at least one article go through with a “Fear and Loathing” title. Unfortunately, none ever did.
Further, when I went to see the band Phish on December 9, 1995, I wrote reviews of the show both immediately after the show and a few days later. The one I wrote immediately after the show was in an unedited form, nearly incoherent and full of expletives. This was probably because I was at least a little drunk at the time. Okay, I was completely drunk at the time. I remember that when I posted both of these reviews to the Phish newsgroup, the one unedited review was overwhelmingly bashed. Most people thought it completely moronic that I would want to post a review that I had written while in a less-than sober state, regardless of where its influence came from.
It was a few years later that I read somewhere that at the age of 22, Hunter had written the novel "The Rum Diary." I felt a bit sad when I read that, as it wasn’t going to be too long before I was going to be twenty-two and I hadn’t yet written a novel. Interestingly enough, nearly seven years later I still haven’t completed my first novel. Granted, it was only four years ago that I started writing it, but I think I really should have finished it by now. This isn’t about my novel, though. This is about one of the best writers of the 20th century.
For a brief period of time when I had my own online magazine, one of my columnists recalled a story to me about how he had spent a period of time as a short order cook at a restaurant in Denver. Somehow he ended up making an omelette for Thompson and that led to a long conversation about life, women, and drinking. I remember thinking at the time that I would have given anything to have been in his place.
When I was living in New York and working at New York Law School, I spent my lunch periods with my friend Christopher, who is undoubtedly much more upset about this than I am. He has a good collection of first edition hardcover copies of Thompson books. We would stand outside and smoke and talk about life and writing and writing about life. There were numerous occasions on which I would go to his apartment and marvel at his lovely Thompson collection.
In the obituary of every single newspaper, except (as far as I can tell) for the New York Times, Thompson was listed as being 67 at the time of death – death by self-inflicted gunshot wound. The cause of death, incidentally, is something that pains me far more than the fact that he is dead. In his own words, he was “too rare to die” and so to me it just is not fair that the world should be have this beautiful genius taken away prematurely like this. In any case, the point is that the New York Times listed his age as being 65 at the time of death – their date for his year of birth being two years different than that of everyone else. I have just checked Google’s news search and they have published a new article on the subject of his death, this one with the more universally agreed upon age. In addition, I have only just learned that Thompson retyped a few novels by Ernest Hemingway to see exactly how they were written. To me, this is interesting, because Hemingway also died by his own hand, and was a genius of his time.
I’m not really sure where to move on from here. Forward? I suppose that would be what the good Dr. Thompson would suggest to everyone, if he were able to communicate a message of consolation from beyond the grave. A girl asked me today if I was a writer, and when I told her that I was a writer, she suggested that I fill the void that he has left behind. It’s just that it’s more than a little hard to fill the void that Jupiter would leave behind.