Funeral Oration for Hunter Thompson

02-24-05
Washington D.C.
by Lightning Rod

Lend me your ears.

If Hunter Thompson accomplished nothing else in his life, he did one monumental thing. He exposed the myth of objective journalism. He proved that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle also applies to reportage. Simply by observing an event, we change it.

Thompson saw the simple truth that a writer cannot be separated from his story. The writer is always part of the story. His embodiment of this principle was probably responsible for both his success and his demise. We all know the story of talent being overcome by fame.

I came to bury Hunter, not to praise him, but a little praise is in order. Although his conspicuous addictions and wonderful excesses were glorified in movie and print and cartoon, he was a consummate craftsman and as dedicated a writer as Updike or Hemingway or Kerouac or Twain. He was wonderfully obsessed but perhaps in the end the myth overcame the man. But, at least Thompson created his own adversary. Et tu?

The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Hunter. He took no prisoners but filled the general coffers with a richness of defiance and cold-eyed realism that is rarely seen today in journalism. Hunter cut to the chase. He wrote of real personal experiences and what can be learned from them.

The New York Times obituary said of Thompson:

Mr. Thompson’s approach in many ways mirrors the style of modern-day bloggers, those self-styled social commentators who blend news, opinion and personal experience on Internet postings. Like bloggers, Mr. Thompson built his case for the state of America around the framework of his personal views and opinions.

And the New York Times is an honorable paper.

They say that his approach ‘mirrors’ bloggers. No. Bloggers mirror him. This man was the first one to cross the Rubicon when it came to personal, involved reporting. He occupied a story and influenced its outcome. This was his innovation and also his downfall, because when the reporter becomes more important or interesting than the story….well, you see the problem.

Hunter Thompson’s last words were to his son. He said he wanted a grand funeral. He wanted his ashes to be shot from a cannon. Did this in Hunter seem ambitious?

Suicide could also be called self-assassination. They were all honorable men–Hemingway, Crane, Freud, Cobain, Belushi, Socrates, Bruce.

I can imagine several reasons for Hunter Thompson’s suicide. Maybe he was in trouble with his bookie, I don’t think it was because he was inconsolable over Bush winning the election or the Eagles losing the Super Bowl or because the NHL season was cancelled. Hunter was made of sterner stuff. Perhaps his liver was on the fritz or his prostate had grown large or he was in pain, who knows? Could be he just thought it would be better press to go out with a bang rather than a protracted whimper. Guns are quicker than knives. Does this seem ambitious?

But there are other possibilities. It could have been murder. Johnny Depp or Bill Murray could have snuck into the house posing as HST and shot the good Doctor anticipating the re-release of their movies after his death. Gary Trudeau? Or the government could have taken him out just for payback. Et tu Brute?

Suppose it was an accident. Perhaps he was fondling his forty-five and, you know, looking down the barrel to see if it needed cleaning and BAM!

Ironically, his last column was about Shotgun Golf. It was a transcript of a 3:00 AM telephone conversation between Thompson, the ultimate gun enthuiast, and Bill Murray about a team sport that HST had invented, which would be a combination of shooting skeet and playing golf.

The Poet’s Eye weeps for the loss of an American Original. He manufactured his own myth and he chose his own moment of exit.
Was this ambitious? No, it was Gonzo!!

You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Hunter,
And I must pause till it come back to me.–paraphrased from
Antony’s funeral oration– Julius Caesar– Shakespeare

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