No. 2: Hunter S. Thompson
December 16, 2005
More than 10 months after he died, Hunter S. Thompson remains in the headlines of local newspapers, and in the minds of fans and critics alike, almost as much as he was before he killed himself on Feb. 20. For that reason, he’s No. 2 on our list of newsmakers for 2005.
Friends and family members have either announced plans or are finalizing proposals to write books about his life and his words. Two high-profile celebrity memorials were held in his honor, one a month after he died at one of his favorite hangouts, the Hotel Jerome in Aspen, and the other in August, when his cremated remains were shot from a “cannon” erected in a field at his home in Woody Creek. Fans of the late writer told reporters that they weren’t happy at being excluded from the memorial ceremony, although the family had decided to limit entry to what they viewed as a funeral service, even though the world at large saw it as an extravaganza and a public event. As the day of the big bash approached, one of Thompson’s neighbors, singer and songwriter Jimmy Ibbotson, made headlines when he used a shotgun blast to hurry a photographer off Ibbotson’s property. The shooter had been trying to find a good vantage for a picture of the cannon.In the end, the extravagant August memorial became it’s own justification, drawing fans from all points of the compass and prompting a local war of words about Thompson’s legacy and importance to the county, the country and the world.
Not long afterward, a news story announced the possibility that the memorial cannon, fashioned of steel and standing taller than the Statue of Liberty before it was dismantled, might be reconstructed at some suitable, permanent location, perhaps near Las Vegas, Nev., the scene of Thompson’s most fabled book, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Fans still contact The Aspen Times looking for copies of the paper that dealt with his suicide or the August memorial bash. And around the world, journalists and political allies still mourn the loss of one of the world’s most outspoken and irascible commentators on national and international issues. Most recently, the second of two films about the iconoclastic author who invented the “Gonzo” style of journalism was a huge hit at a fall film festival in Denver. The film by Thompson friend and chronicler Wayne Ewing, entitled “When I Die,” initially was scheduled for one showing at the Denver festival, but demand forced additional showings.
Over the course of 2005, much of which the man himself missed, the ripple effect of all things Thompsonian were felt in the valley in many ways. Aspen Times columnist Tony Vagneur, not a particular fan of the writer or his notoriously wild lifestyle but a native who grew up in what became Thompson’s neighborhood, penned his version of “A History of Owl Farm,” the ranch where Thompson lived and partied.In March, in what many saw as a fitting tribute to Thompson’s life and legacy, stories heralded the long-awaited news that the Colorado Supreme Court had ordered a new trial for Lisl Auman. She had been convicted of murdering a Denver policeman, even though she had been shackled and confined when the killing occurred, and Thompson had campaigned on her behalf.
Using his national reputation as a pulpit, Thompson had railed against the Auman conviction as a “travesty of justice.” From his participation in a rally on the state capitol steps in Denver to arranging for high-powered lawyers to argue on her behalf, Thompson made Auman’s case his cause celebre, and he won a posthumous victory. Thompson’s legacy and the cult of celebrity he created undoubtedly will continue to make local, national and international headlines for years to come, in expected and unexpected ways. And chances are his name will always be associated with Aspen.