Beaton: More fear and loathing in Aspen
December 8, 2013
Hunter S. Thompson — gonzo author of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and keeper of dynamite in the basement and toxins in the refrigerator — was the last of the Aspen undomesticated types.
In my recent column, I lamented the substitute poseurs who are more interested in conventional socialism than unconventional socializing.
Indeed, as I noted, we're now so lacking in fearsomeness and loathsomeness that the sane and sanitized readers of Travel + Leisure voted Aspen their "favorite town." Ugh. Readers emailed me, called me and even stopped me on the street to add names to my growing list of extinct and endangered exotica. So here are a couple more:
Meet Claudine Longet. Born in Paris, this winsome woman danced in Las Vegas well before Thompson arrived. One day, she had the good fortune of her car breaking down — because her rescuer was one Andy Williams. They married a year later when she was 19.
By age 21, she was appearing on "McHale's Navy." But she had real acting skills to go with her fantastic looks, dancing and innate comedic talents. She became a television and movie star.
That's not all. She sang beautifully, if sometimes softly, and her accent wasn't exactly a liability. She produced hit singles and albums.
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She and Williams were a well-connected couple. Their friends included Robert and Ethel Kennedy. She and Williams consoled the Kennedy family in the hospital where Kennedy died, and Williams sang at his service.
Not much to fear so far, right? More lithesome than loathsome, right?
Meet Vladimir Peter Sabich Jr. This descendant of Croatian immigrants was a low-weight, premature baby that looked all-legs. Hence his immediate and lasting nickname, "Spider."
This Spider skied. He ripped through California skiing, went to the University of Colorado on a ski scholarship, where he was coached by Bob Beattie, ripped through Colorado skiing while majoring in aeronautical engineering and joined the pro circuit.
Always good looking, athletic and charismatic, especially with the women, he became a sports star and celebrity endorser. He was the inspiration for the leading character in the film "Downhill Racer," where he was played by a young actor who also had studied at the University of Colorado, till he was asked to leave, named Robert Redford.
In the 1973 season, Sabich chased another pro title. But he suffered a horrible crash in a race at Aspen Highlands that ended that chase, and he was never quite the same on the pro circuit.
But he already had the good life. He was a licensed pilot and owned a twin-engine plane that he flew to races. A good friend was fellow racer Billy Kidd. Sabich built a house in Starwood in the early '70s near his friend John Denver. Joining him in that house was an actress/singer a few years older than he who had recently divorced, one Claudine Longet.
One day in 1976, Longet reported that Sabich had been showing her how to use a gun in their bathroom on his way to the shower and she accidentally shot him. He bled to death.
The cops (not Hunter S. Thompson, who had been narrowly defeated in the 1970 election for sheriff) took a blood sample from Longet and seized her diary.
She was tried for murder. At the trial, the blood-test results and diary were excluded due to the cops' failure to obtain a warrant.
The government attorney for the prosecution (who was an unknown back then and still is) showed up for trial wearing jeans. Drinking beer with reporters after the trial at the Jerome while everyone awaited the verdict, he predicted the jury would acquit Longet because they saw him as a "dumb tuna." He was mostly right; she was acquitted of murder and found guilty of only misdemeanor criminal negligence.
The judge sentenced her to 30 days in jail. So that she could be with her children on weekends when they were not in school, the judge allowed her to choose which days to spend in jail. She mostly chose weekends. She was given permission to repaint her cell. Meals were brought to her by a young deputy sheriff named Bob Braudis.
After spending enough weekends in jail to pay her 30-day debt to society, she went on vacation with her married lawyer. The judge, the cops, the prosecutor, Williams, the children, Braudis, Denver, Beattie, Kidd, Redford, Thompson, Kennedy, the newspaper reporters and Sabich didn't go.
Her lawyer later divorced his wife and married Longet. They remain married.
After the sentence was announced, a newspaper in London, where they have expertise in such matters, proclaimed Aspen "the modern Sodom and Gomorrah."
In my column last December about the Newtown slaughter, I said, "If Hollywood and the video-game industry don't teach them to kill (and arguably they do), we do teach them that there is no such thing as truth."
It came out last week that the killer used to play a video game called "School Shooting."
It's the Christmas season. Tell someone you love them.
Glenn K. Beaton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.