Son: Thompson may have decided it was just time
DENVER – The question won’t go away, and Juan Thompson paused to give it some thought: Why would his father, legendary journalist Hunter S. Thompson, take his own life? Was it his declining health?”I don’t think so,” Thompson said. “One thing that he said many times was that, ‘I’m a road man for the lords of Karma.’ It’s a cryptic saying. But there’s an implication there that he may have decided that his work was done and that he didn’t want to overstay his welcome; it was time to go.”The 67-year-old Thompson, author of the “Fear and Loathing” books and dozens of articles on everything from shark hunting to President Bush, shot himself in the head Sunday in his Aspen-area home. His son, daughter-in-law and 6-year-old grandson William were there, but the adults thought a book had fallen on the kitchen floor and didn’t give it much thought at first.In a far-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Juan Thompson recalled what it was like growing up with a dad with an international image as a drug-crazed, gun-loving crank. But he also offered loving memories of a man he came to know as a patriotic idealist, a sometimes-gentle patriarch who could pull heartstrings with praise and win over little William with a grandfatherly wager the boy was guaranteed to win.To Juan Thompson, the suicide was his father’s final expression of an iron will to control his own destiny. Drugs played no role.”He’d gotten a good night’s sleep, he was calm, he was relaxed, he was quite clear,” he said. “He believed very much in controlling events rather than being controlled by them. I would hope that people see it in that light: that we’ll never know why he chose this time, but that he had a good reason, and that it was completely consistent with his life, rather than an act of despair.”Thompson, a 40-year-old computer manager for a Denver restaurant company, said growing up with his famously outrageous father in the hamlet of Woody Creek never struck him as weird.”I had nothing to compare it to,” he said.It’s hard to say how much his father’s life differed from the mescaline- and whiskey-crazed “Dr. Thompson” narrator of his famous books. Some friends have suggested it was an image Thompson ended up with – and perhaps couldn’t part with.”Part of his art was blending fact and exaggeration in so carefully that you couldn’t really tell what was true and what was not true,” the younger Thompson said. “And he was a very complex, complex man of many, many facets. Many facets he kept hidden from the public.”The younger Thompson said he doubts anyone saw every facet.”I’m sure that for the rest of my life, I’m going to be hearing stories about things that he did that will shock me,” he said, laughing. “And I’ll say, ‘You’re kidding! He did that?”‘He sidestepped a question about whether his father’s drug use lived up to the public perception. “Refer to his writings and use your best judgment,” he said with a chuckle.As he grew up, Juan Thompson grew to respect and admire his father’s writing and his ideals.”I just feel so proud. It’s really neat, going and reading something,” he said. “And I think, ‘Wow, that’s my dad.”‘He considers his father “a patriot in the truest sense of the word,” someone who believed deeply in civil rights and democracy but was appalled by the nation’s failure to live up to its ideals.”Part of the power of his writing is his disgust with the gap between the ideal and the reality of our society and our government,” his son said.That puts him more in line with Mark Twain than with Ernest Hemingway, the American writer whom Thompson was frequently compared with even before the suicide.”Twain used humor heavily, satire. But Twain was a serious idealist about our country and what it could be. And about truth. Twain was such a stickler for getting down to the truth,” the son said.Juan Thompson, his wife, Jennifer, and Will all spent last weekend at his father’s house, talking, watching sports on television and relaxing. On Saturday, the elder Thompson bet Will on a college basketball game. Will won. “They were generous terms, though,” Juan Thompson said, chuckling. “He gave Will something like 30 points, so he couldn’t possibly lose.”Looking back on the hours before he discovered his father dead in the kitchen, Thompson said he saw no hints of what he was about to do. Their last conversation, like so many others, was about one of the writer’s business dealings. There was no suicide note.Juan Thompson, an avid reader who has never written professionally, also recalled an event honoring his father in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. Many writers read tributes and Juan read one of his own.”He said something like, ‘Don’t kid yourself, some of that magic I passed on,”‘ he said. “And from him – he was such a craftsman with language, he took writing very seriously and held himself to a very high standard – and for him to say that, it meant a lot.”
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