Ready, aim … fire! | AspenTimes.com

Ready, aim … fire!

John Colson

The gonzo cannon, wrapped in blue canvas, towers over what was once the yard of Hunter S. Thompson. The world-famous author and journalist's ashes will be fired over his longtime nesting ground in Woody Creek, on Aug. 20. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

The “gonzo cannon” is all but completed, last-minute organizational details are being worked out and the countdown has begun – on Aug. 20, the ashes of the late Hunter S. Thompson will be blasted into the air above his home in Woody Creek.The “cannon,” which at present is shrouded in fabric to hide it from prying eyes, is a steel cylinder tapered toward the top, formed around the steel framework of a crane boom. It reaches 153 feet above the field behind Thompson’s Owl Farm, which makes it roughly two feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, as measured from the top of Liberty’s base to the tip of the torch.The “gonzo cannon,” as some have labeled it, is topped off with Thompson’s infamous emblem, a dagger with a double-thumbed fist clenched around a peyote button as the hilt. It is the Fiberglas fist that forms the platform and framework for the device – which has been described as being similar to a fireworks launcher – that will shoot the writer’s ashes skyward.

The unconventional format of the service is viewed by many as a fitting send-off for the creator of the gonzo style of journalism and an acknowledged paragon of satirical, social and political commentary in the United States. It reportedly will cost an estimated $4 million, according to sources close to the effort. Those costs are being borne by actor Johnny Depp, a fellow Kentuckian and close friend of the late writer who portrayed Thompson in the film version of his seminal book, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”In addition to being a final memorial to “the good doctor,” the event is being billed as a way of raising public awareness and possibly funds for the Hunter S. Thompson Foundation – a newly launched organization to assist people unjustly prosecuted by the law.Thompson killed himself with a pistol in his kitchen on the night of Feb. 20 at the age of 67. He left no note, and friends said at the time he had not appeared despondent. But a Boston Globe news report published after the suicide quoted Thompson’s attorney as saying the author had been planning his death for some time.Thompson’s remains were cremated a few days after he killed himself.

An invitation-only memorial celebration was held in March at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen, attracting a few hundred friends that included an array of A-list Hollywood actors, famous journalists, writers and editors who had known Thompson through the years, and his group of local friends.The Aug. 20 event, like the memorial bash in March, is also a private, invitation-only affair. A park-and-ride shuttle system will be operating between the Woody Creek Raceway and Owl Farm because there is very little room for cars to park at Owl Farm itself.Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, a longtime personal friend of Thompson’s who has been helping the family deal with the suicide and its aftermath, said Woody Creek Road will be open to public travel on Aug. 20 but discouraged for anyone who doesn’t live nearby or have an invitation to the event. He said “No Parking” signs will be placed along Woody Creek Road, and a tow truck will be on hand to deal with violators.

Initial reports describing the event estimated that the number of guests would be approximately 500, and private security and traffic control companies have been hired to maintain order. Braudis said his deputies will be available for assistance but are not being assigned to work the event itself.Organizer Matt Moseley, of the GBSM communications firm in Denver, has been designated as chief public liaison for the event. He said the working media is being barred from the service, except for writers, reporters and others who were among Thompson’s circle of friends. And those invitees, Moseley said, are being asked not to write about the service.”We’re trying to keep it as low-key as possible,” Moseley said.Thompson’s only child, Juan, who works in Denver, told reporter Jeff Kass of the Rocky Mountain News that the service is intended as the final farewell for his father.

“What it comes down to is this is saying goodbye to my dad’s ashes,” he said, conceding that “it is an unusual way to have your ashes spread.” Organizers, the family, and a dedicated core group of friends maintain they are trying to keep the circus-sideshow aspects of the event to a minimum.Moseley said discussions are under way as to how to distribute photographs and video images to satisfy the public’s interest in the event.”The family has asked that the public respect the nature of the event,” Braudis said, adding that “it is a funeral” and that privacy is something such events deserve.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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