2005: Seminal gonzo journalist kills himself | AspenTimes.com

2005: Seminal gonzo journalist kills himself

In celebrating the 125th anniversary of The Aspen Times, we are printing a story or two from each year the newspaper has existed – 125 historical selections in 125 days. This series is in conjunction with the Aspen Historical Society. Seminal gonzo journalist kills himselfHunter S. Thompson, legendary author, political commentator and “gonzo” journalist, died Sunday night after shooting himself in the head with a handgun at his home in Woody Creek. He was 67.Thompson’s son, Juan, found his father’s body in the kitchen around 6 p.m. By 6:30 p.m., Thompson’s home at 1278 Woody Creek Road was sealed off by a sheriff’s van.Shortly thereafter, a grief counselor called in by the sheriff’s department arrived at the residence, asking to see Thompson’s 6-year-old grandson, William. Later, an unidentified man leaving the property said, “There are a lot of hurt family members up [at the house].”Heavy snow fell on the property all evening as four or five sheriff’s department vehicles quietly guarded the driveway. The silence was broken by a woman’s shriek from within the house: “Why are there so many people here? I just can’t deal with this. No. No. No.”Hunter Stockton Thompson was an icon of the 1960s counter-culture and was best known for his savage, first-person style of journalism in books such as “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Hell’s Angels.” His style came to influence an entire generation of writers and reporters.Thompson had been a resident of Pitkin County since the late 1960s. In a 1970 Rolling Stone article titled “Freak Power in the Rockies” (also later published in the Thompson collection “The Great Shark Hunt”), he documented the rise of a new political generation of hippy activists in Aspen. In 1970, Thompson himself ran unsuccessfully for Pitkin County sheriff.Thompson’s political legacy in Aspen and the surrounding area is far-reaching, even though his involvement dropped off in recent years. His bid for the sheriff’s post was a direct attack on the traditional, conservative style of policing in place at the time, and set the stage for the more tolerant, community-minded law enforcement that took root in the 1970s under Sheriff Dick Kienast.Thompson’s activism also extended into the nuts and bolts of county government, and he helped pioneer the anti-development streak in local politics that survives to this day. He backed strict land-use controls and the candidates who were willing to impose them. Many of the land-use regulations still in place in Aspen and Pitkin County can be traced back to Thompson’s work as a growth-control activist.”The guy used to call me at 3 a.m. and talk about land use,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland.He had many friends in his neighborhood of Woody Creek and was for years a regular at the Woody Creek Tavern, the local restaurant and watering hole. At 9 p.m. last night, however, the tavern was packed with tourists and late eaters unaware of the death.Thompson’s compound in Woody Creek was almost as legendary as the author. He prized peacocks and weapons; in 2000, he accidentally shot and slightly wounded his assistant, Deborah Fuller, trying to chase a bear off his property.News of his death hit Aspen’s community hard. Many of Thompson’s friends in the sheriff’s department, including Sheriff Bob Braudis, were at a Sunday afternoon memorial service for Ross Griffin, a jailer who died unexpectedly this winter, when they heard the news.”I was totally floored,” Braudis said.”I was at the memorial and Bob was there. He called me aside and said that he just heard Hunter shot himself,” friend and Aspen-based artist Thomas Benton said.In tears, Benton, who designed campaign posters for Thompson’s 1970 campaign, said that Thompson “was an old friend for a long time.”Thompson had been in poor health in the last few years, suffering from several injuries and ailments, including a broken femur and recurring back problems. His physical therapist, BJ Williams, said Thompson had recovered well, however.”Hunter had a lot of things thrown at him physically. He had a fractured leg and back surgery but he took it all in stride and fought back. He never gave up. I am just shocked by this,” Williams said.Fellow leftist journalist Paul Krassner, who once edited Thompson, told The Associated Press that the gonzo journalist was always unpredictable as a writer and a person.”It was hard to say sometimes whether he was being provocative for its own sake or if he was just being drunk and stoned and irresponsible,” Krassner said. “We were willing to risk all of his irresponsible behavior in order to share his talent with readers.” (February 2005)


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