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Question Hunter S. Thompson’s Death

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The reported 2005 suicide of self-proclaimed "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson fell oddly silent in mainstream media after a series of perfunctory, standard headline articles about a classically outspoken American misfit who was anything but standard.

The continued silence is nearly as deafening as the noise Thompson made through his exploits as rancher, author, would-be sheriff, dedicated drug-head, and friend of actor Johnny Depp, who played his acerbic buddy in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on Thompson's best-seller of the same name, and shot Thompson's ashes over a Colorado mountain with a cannon amid a fireworks display.

After a good read of any of Thompson's many books, the question is this: Is it more inconceivable that he would snuff himself or that no one on this sleep-walking, dullard-racked planet would at least question whether he did?

How does a writer so revved in the juice of life, so steeped in the hyper-electric current of creative inspiration, so brimming with wild-eyed passion against the death machines of gray-suited and barely gray-mattered modern America, a writer who condemned Nixon largely because he was a quitter, commit the ultimate act of quitting? How does his public scrape together enough cotton to stuff between itself and the brain matter on the wall to swallow his very tidy official demise without the flicker of a question mark?

Have there been so many discredited conspiracy theories that they all cry wolf in a single retroactive howl that drowns the deafening growl of the monster that may have devoured Thompson? Are such theories themselves seen as so “liberal” that even liberals are afraid of uttering anything that could provoke the grays to hold up a mirror and say, “See — liberal, aren’t you”?

This by no means is a declaration of government culpability or conspiracy. For one thing, too many governments had plenty against Thompson, and there’s no way local, state, and feds could have gotten along well enough to do anything together.

No, consider this an exercise in the simple critical mechanism of asking questions whenever things don’t quite smell right. The pat statements and the fact that they seemed to have issued from Thompson’s family and authorities in a single convenient lump, together opening a steel door and shouting, “He killed himself, we told you everything, the end,” and slamming the door shut — the stench might be faint, but it’s in the air like drops of cat piss in a room layered with Febreze.

As flaming ironies go, Thompson’s dying “by his own hand” in a place where he raised so much blistering hell with so many people (and so many powerful people) over so many years, a place where he felt it necessary to live in an armed compound — because he didn’t want to get his brains blown out — has solar flares whirling around it like atomic Medusas.

This guy went out of his orbit to piss off (and on) authority, to pick a fight with it all the way up to what he publicly called “the horrible Bush family.” He tangled with wealthy developers and bristled openly at power and influence worldwide and in his own heavily armed back yard.

He was not ill. He was recovering from back surgery — a process people with self-snuff intentions don’t normally go through. He was happy, his wife said. According to reports, he was talking on the phone with her when supposedly he decided to end his life without a word, talking about working on his column for ESPN2 when she got home — another thing dead people find difficult to accomplish — then changing his mind and deciding to die instead.

Question marks about Thompson’s end, in fact, flickered all over the Internet. But why have mainstream media spent the three years since his death ignoring such great oil for their own machinery? Because a cryptic note found later could be interpreted as a suicide note? Since when has "maybe" been a brick-wall word to journalists, especially given the sudden and violent demise of a counter-culture hero with an FBI file the size of a semi?

Sure, the bulk of the fourth estate has crumbled into a vast gray wash of worship for officialdom, a gibbering army of proselytizing kissers of every gray-swatched ass on the planet, makeup-smeared sleepwalk automatons with balls smaller than BBs.

But come on. This mess has everything but a bloody message scrawled on the wall next to Thompson’s brains that says, “Hey, numbskulls, at least be a little suspicious.”

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About David Brothers

  • First of all, why didn’t you submit this to the books section? We could use some controversial opinion pieces over there.

    Second, I think it’s funny how conspiracy theories always swirl around the deaths of controversial celebrities, and they’re usually started by the people who buy into the myths these controversial people create and allow to be created about them, whether true or not. If it wasn’t a suicide (as all the evidence pointed to) then what was it? Is he flipping burgers with Elvis and Kurt Cobain at a roadside diner in New Mexico? Or are you suggesting he was murdered (and if so, where’s your evidence)?

    This is a joke, right?

  • MD- Are you also interested in 9/11 truther stuff? They actually have more to go on (which is not much) than you do with this HST death conspiracy (which is nothing).

    Your whole argument is that you just can’t believe HST would kill himself – though he got his wife on the phone and his family in the house. Or do you want to make up some arcane conspiracy crapola involving HST’s widow and his son?

    Plus, you don’t have a very full appreciation of HST if you couldn’t conceive of that author ending in a suicide. There’s a great darkness of resentment and misanthropy in his work and life, and a strong current of self-loathing.

  • Mediavenger Dave

    I believe a careful read of my argument, Al, reveals that it’s really not so much about Thompson as it is that media have not probed his death with sufficient depth, that too many questions have gone unasked, let alone unanswered. I have, I think, made it clear that I doubt any conspiracy, and I probably doubt murder, but these things take on new dimensions when media do their job and ask the right questions. We all should have learned by now that many things are not as they appear, and when you have someone living with a lot of targets pasted to his head, that’s when media need to respond with the kinds of questions that never got asked in Thompson’s death.

  • Mediavenger Dave

    No, Kevin, he’s dead. Depp shot his ashes over a mountain, remember? Please note the paragraph that pretty clearly says I don’t think there was any plot to kill Thompson–at least, not one that caused his death. No doubt plenty of people wanted him dead, though, and media have failed to exercise their power to find out. My conclusion about his death doesn’t matter, because that isn’t the issue. The fact that a death that should have been pulled apart for underlying info was instead glossed over by media too intent on swallowing official versions–that’s the issue.

  • “media have not probed his death with sufficient depth,”

    Maybe because there’s no there there. What’s the starting point, the angle? His death was ruled a suicide, something that anyone who knew anything about Hunter certainly weren’t surprised by.

    According to Ralph Steadman, “He told me 25 years ago that he would feel real trapped if he didn’t know that he could commit suicide at any moment. I don’t know if that is brave or stupid or what, but it was inevitable.”

    Plus, his daughter-in-law and grandson were home, so unless they were in on it, who killed him? I don’t see that you make any points in this piece to give your argument any merit.

    While he didn’t want others to blow his brains out, that’s doesn’t mean he wouldn’t take that option himself. He did model himself after Hemingway, who went in a similar fashion.

    He was a serious drug user for many years so to abruptly change his mind and decide to die isn’t completely outlandish.

    You have yet to offer up any points other than outlandish conjecture, and considering the news is a business, there’s no good reason to waste money going on a snipe hunt. The better question is, if you think there’s a story, why haven’t you followed it up instead of passing the buck?

    Lastly, this article is also filled with some errors.

    “Johnny Depp, who played his acerbic buddy in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,”

    Johnny played Raoul Duke, which in essence was Hunter, not his buddy Dr. Gonzo played by Benicio Del Toro.

    “working on his column for ESPN2”

    he wrote for ESPN.Com’s Page 2


  • El Bicho’s right – the silence isn’t “odd,” it’s what one should expect. There’s never enough media coverage of anyone for that person’s fans, but a dead writer who surprised nobody when he committed suicide is really not worth investigating.

    Enjoy being a fan, and I’m sorry you won’t read anything new from him.

  • The fact that a death that should have been pulled apart for underlying info was instead glossed over by media too intent on swallowing official versions–that’s the issue.

    When has this become the exception to the norm? It seems – conspiracy theories aside – there is plenty in the news these days, “glossed over” by the media, CNN sound bytes and all, that have greased over much less significant figures and events.

    As for having plenty of “targets pasted on his head”, possible, but unlikely. The radicalness, political swordmanship, and the insight he so effortlessly displayed during his sejour at Rolling Stone magazine, had long been bled out of him later in his career. His swipes at Bush & Co. were harmless, reflecting for the most part, a general public consensus and opinion of an inept president. The guy wasn’t some homegrown terrorist plotting secretly up at his ranch, to overthrow the country.

    Finally, and admittedly not an expert on the subject of suicide, it strikes me – based on the articles, novels, and interviews I’ve read on Thompson (and only an impression) – that this act though seemingly “weak” next to such independant bravado, is just the opposite – that it is of one of someone in control, decisive and able to make a choice. It is as poignant and long-lasting as any of the history, culture and writing he has left behind.

    Leave him in peace.

  • Condor

    Hunter Thompson, was not only a drug user, but a drinker, perhaps a heavy drinker. Substances like those can alter thought, over time. Drinkers have been known (on many occasions) to completely change behaviours, and personalities. I believe Van Halen has been cited is such, and Pastorious didn’t help his mental condition with booze and drugs….

    While Thompson may have ended his own life abruptly… his mental processes and overall health could have been in poor condition due to what is sometimes called “lifestyle disease” or… the errosion of that quality of life which one could exist, if it were not too painful and somewhat healthy.

    Dementia patients are often given anti-depresants, to keep them calm… why? Because they are aware (for a while), that overall, their health is not what it should be, or used to be… and those dementia patients become depressed about it.

    Granted, suicide usually means that the individual is suffering. The ways and means of suicide indicate the amount of suffering. For instance, if someone cuts their own throat (I believe one of Henry Fords wive’s did that)… that person must have REALLY been suffering and hurting incomrehensably. To blow ones brains out, or suck on a shotgun barrel, is very dramatic, and may be an act predominately used by males in suicide… it still shows a level of pain and suffering… that we are just not privy too. And it also illustrates a level of thought which knew how to end it abruptly, without lingering pain. I couldn’t imagine hanging myself or drowning myself, but it has been done. Shooting (sucking on a shotgun barrel), to my thinking would be instantaneous, but messy. Some people prefer to not leave a mess and use poisens or overdose on substances, controlled or otherwise.

    I would take Thompson’s death as just this; suicide. There MAY have been health issues from a lifestyle not conducive to good longterm health… and face it… we are just not privy to his inner-struggle, or pain, or quality of health to just into the lake of conspiracy theory.

  • Mediavenger Dave

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Kevin F. and Condor. Many of your points are well taken, and some I already had said to myself while crafting the piece–but you know a writer can’t go through his work and negate himself at every turn.

    And again, this is more about a media failure, and I disagree that it lacks relevance to media. Yes, media is a business, but throughout American history, also a very serious responsibility. There are enough red flags in Thompson’s death that, taken with his anti-government views, should have spurred investigative reporters to dig deeper. That’s part of the responsibility. If anything, it’s even more important for questions to be asked when “everybody knows” the answers.

    Passing the buck, EB? Why haven’t I done something? What do you think it is I’m doing? How do you think anything starts except by someone raising questions? I’m not an investigative reporter–I don’t have the tools or the bankroll, but I have the power to think for myself and to write, and I’m using them both.

    Thanks also for pointing out how the piece is “filled with some errors”–all two of them. And actually, one–my source says he wrote for ESPN2. On the other, yes, you’re correct–sort of. The character clearly portrays much of HST. The quote you supply is a good one, but the declaration that “anyone who knew anything about Hunter” would not be surprised by his suicide is not. In fact, a major university’s media studies director who is writing a book about Thompson read an early draft of this piece, and while he didn’t entirely agree, he urged me to publish it.

    So far, the vote is status quo 4, independent thinking 0. Anyone else want to face Fox News Channel and recite the pucker of allegiance?

  • Sorry, but you haven’t shown any red flags other than people accepted the coroner’s verdict and his son’s statement that Hunter committed suicide. If that’s your litmus test, did people’s acceptance of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon constitute a red flag as well?

    There are also reports that “Anita Thompson, 32, said her husband had discussed killing himself in recent months and had been issuing verbal and written directives about what he wanted done with his body, his unpublished works and his assets.” Yet, you expect members of the media to seek out a story only you and others who may share in your paranoid conspiracies believe. Anyone else want to face “Coast to Coast”?

    “Thanks also for pointing out how the piece is ‘filled with some errors’–all two of them”

    There’s more than two, but I didn’t want to belabor the point. Since you want more:

    “shot Thompson’s ashes over a Colorado mountain”

    They were shot over Thompson’s ranch, not a mountain. I was there.

    While you mentioned his recent back surgery, you left out he had broken his leg on a recent trip to Hawaii, which also contributed to the amount of pain he was living with, and people in severe pain do commit suicide.

    “my source says he wrote for ESPN2”

    Your source is wrong. He didn’t write for the cable channel; he wrote articles for their website. They are collected in his book “Hey Rube.” Don’t take my word for it. You both can Google “Hunter Thompson ESPN”.

  • photo44

    I enjoyed this–good read. A shame some people have to nitpick over a few minor things while missing the major point entirely.

  • Mediavenger Dave

    Oh, so you’re the one. 😉

    Thanks, 44.

    I’m done with this…for now. No sense in spelling anything out again after it’s been spelled out so many times it’s creating its own alphabet.

    So, done for now…However, I earlier was sooo dazzled by the words “want more” that I can’t resist: Look for part 2 in the near future.

  • Kat

    Look into the Franklin Cover-up. A witness in that case (Paul Bonacci) implicated a “Hunter Thompson” as the one behind the camera filming a snuff feature at the bohemian grove. I believe HST was compromised by the powerful people behind many of the conspiracies that remain only theory in the recent history of this country. I know people who graduated from Boystown and attended many of the franklin “after parties” where the drugs were plentiful and sex with children was commonplace. One of them was my husband, another worked for the Franklin Credit Union while a 3rd was an on-air media personality. They had heavy cocaine habits. All 3 ended up broken and bitter. I’m separated from my husband for the last 3 years. Look it up. The truth is out there. I can positively state, even though it’s hearsay since I never attended any, the parties happened. Choosing to disbelieve something that would be detrimental to our national security as we would be faced with having to clean up the mess and take some responsibility for ignoring it all these years is called “cognitive dissonance.”

  • Kat

    Forgot the most important thing. The timing. The photographer in the Franklin case (rusty nelson) was picked up shortly after Jeff Gannon/James Guckert of presidential press conference softball lobbing questions and male escort service website fame was exposed. Hunter Thompson “chose to commit suicide” around the same time. Paul Bonacci has testified that he helped kidnap Des Moines paperboy, Johnny Gosch and there are many, including Gosch’s mother Noreen, who have questioned wither Gannon/Guckert was a grown-up Johnny Gosch. HST has written about child kidnappings as if it were sport for the elite. (No doubt, it is) There has been some reports by a friend or friends of Thompson’s that he was ready to expose the pedophile ring when he decided to “kill himself.” I’m ready for the barrage of disbelief. Go watch “Conspiracy of silence.” Read John DeCamp’s book. Keep in mind one of Hunter’s famous quotes, “truth is stranger than fiction.” Thanks MD for questioning the obvious.

  • Mediavenger Dave

    Thanks, Kat. I will look further, am also waiting for a psych professor to get back to me on the question of likelihood that a person would commit suicide while he’s on the phone–and talking about what he plans to be doing later.

    On the other hand, I’m keeping in mind that HST was a different kind of guy.

  • I don’t know Kat, it all sounds rather paranoiac..

  • Kat

    I won’t assume to know what motivated Hunter S. Thompson because I didn’t know the man. I do however know about some aspects of the Franklin case and there is much documentation supporting the accusations. Witness Paul Bonacci was awarded one million in damages against Larry King. (not of CNN fame) King was the man who allegedly procured the children and drugs used to compromise powerful people. It’s all plausible truth. The grand jury called it a “carefully crafted hoax” and it went away. Really? They were satisfied with putting the witnesses away for years and years without getting to the bottom of those powerful enough to perpetrate such a hoax? Either way, somebody’s not doing their job and it’s no wonder this world is going to hell. Aren’t you just a little tired of being terrorized by the perversion that rules this country? The truth is out there but dismissing a dialog about it as paranoiac will make what’s already difficult to believe impossible for anyone to buy. If HST was compromised, killing himself around the time when everything looked like it was going to hit the fan doesn’t seem so unreasonable. What do you think it would do to the national security of the country for the world to find out that it’s being run by some of the worst evil since Hitler?

  • Judy

    Just researcing Hunter S. Thompson, after viewing a screening of The Rum Diary in Hollywood, and ran into this site/blog – that I find informative & interesting! Am wondering though, IF HST may have been playing “Russian Roulett” (that could be the clicking noise his wife heard over the phone . . . a single bullet put in the chamber, then rolled around . . . then, taking a chance, pulling the trigger!)?? It does seem he wrote something, before this, that sounded like a pre-suicide note, even though “Counselor” was typed & centered on the page in his typewriter. I’m sure he had a Will & told his family what to do, when he died – when ever that would be and how to preserve his legacy.

  • Judy

    Another thought, as I understand, after reading online, HST was writting up some article on the WTC issues . . . . what became of that unfinished paper & what proofs did he find for it? Just wonderin’! He may have indeed been afraid, like someone mentioned he said, that he’d be “suicided”, and had talked to him, by phone, a day beforehand, him sounding fearful, for some (good?) reason! Hmm?? Was he “silenced”? =Judy=

  • Chuck

    Good stuff Dave.

    And for some of the nay sayers, I don’t think the question is so much whether he was the kind of guy that would blow his brains out but rather if was he the type of guy that would invite his grand kids over and blow his brains out (with his wife on the phone).

  • Dan

    a good read,… I believe he was “suicided”…