Over the weekend, the world lost one of its truly unique figures in journalism, Dr. – as he was dubbed by a 1960s mail-order church – Hunter S. Thompson. The man who, fueled by a heroic intake of substances and a manic passion for action verbs, opened the floodgates for “gonzo journalism” – the art and science of hybridizing both epic fact and epic fiction into one’s reporting – is, despite what seemed like a Keith Richardson-esque instinct for survival, gone. Sadder still, I’ve got the sneaking suspicion that a great many of my fellow UCSB students won’t have felt the slightest twinge of recognition upon reading his name.
Surely, at least the fawning fan-girls among us will have, during their desperate interim between “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and its sequel,” Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” exposed themselves to Johnny Depp’s brilliant performance in Terry Gilliam’s hugely under-appreciated 1998 cinematic adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. No, his character wasn’t fictional; that was Hunter Thompson, an always, to break out a threadbare descriptor, larger-than-life figure in constant pursuit of unusual experiences and methods by which to chemically alter them, portrayed with the utmost accuracy. His paranoid, frenzied and often bizarre coverage of adventures involving the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, the “fabulous Mint 400” motorcycle races, various political campaigns – of his own and others – and the Honolulu Marathon are the stuff of legend, often aped but never equaled.
Though I myself am way too young to have been influenced by Thompson’s first wave of popularity, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that a number of my peers have embraced the man’s work to a degree nearly equaling that of the baby boomers, the generation whose ostensibly oppressive milieu he observed and so vividly, so brutally committed to paper. In a way, I feel sorry for any aspiring young writer who hasn’t bothered to dip into the Hunter S. Thompson well at least once; despite his penchant for breathtakingly self-destructive binges and a prose style driven by an inimitable breathless exaggeration, he was first and foremost a skilled, decidedly self-styled man of letters. Say what you will about his lifestyle; at the end of the day, he always cranked out something unrepentantly observant and eminently readable.
Perhaps now the good doctor’s deserved apotheosis can begin in earnest. Only in death can one finally ascend to that exalted Pantheon of Troubled Literary Geniuses alongside the likes of Jack Kerouac; unlike good old Jack, however, Hunter didn’t slow down. Right up until the end – his final column, a piece about playing “shotgun golf” with Bill Murray, having been published mere days before – he was still composing the best gonzo journalism money could buy, making his sudden suicide even more of a surprise. Out of all the forces that could have brought about the end of Hunter S. Thompson – and there were many – few would have picked Hunter S. Thompson.
And so, my fellow Gen-Y-ers, it seems we now have quite a large void to fill. Let me be the first to say that living in a Hunter Thompson-less world will not be the most fun of experiences, but we must soldier on. To those of you who have not had the mind-altering pleasure of taking in any of Thompson’s works, I strongly suggest that you put down this newspaper, head straight down to the local bookstore or library and partake. Skip class if you must. There’s a certain type of education that just can’t be acquired through lectures.
Colin Marshall is a sophomore business economics and communication major.