‘We could stand behind him and be heard’
I first met the “Good Doctor” in 1969 when I came to Aspen to be the editor of the now-defunct Aspen Illustrated News. Thompson had not yet published “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and I was unaware of his book “Hell’s Angels,” so I really didn’t know who this strange man was, this man who burst into our tiny newsroom in the basement of the Hotel Jerome and began ranting and raving about some local injustice and punctuating his remarks with wild arm and hand gestures.
In truth, the gestures seemed weirdly unconnected to the words he spoke. “Shock and awe” became a familiar term during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but I would suggest that shock and awe were part of Hunter’s basic modus operandi long before our military embraced the phrase.A million anecdotes regarding Hunter are bound to surface in the days, weeks and years to come, and justifiably so. He was an authentic American original. After all, he created his own genre of writing, one that thousands of young journalists and authors have attempted to emulate. He called it “gonzo journalism” and as a result he contributed the word “gonzo” to the American lexicon. It now holds a proud place in our dictionaries and Hunter is properly credited with the word’s origin.And not only did he create a unique genre of writing, he remained true to it.
Gerry Goldstein, an Aspen attorney and close friend of Hunter’s, was quoted as saying, “Hunter was not only a national treasure, but the conscience of this little village.”Well said, but he also was a vital piece of the fabric that binds Woody Creek together. He was an active participant in the Woody Creek Caucus, the first line of defense for our small, unincorporated community. If Woody Creek were threatened by unwanted development or some bizarre scheme hatched by local officials, we all knew that Hunter would be on the front line. While most of us were willing to take up arms, we would, for the most part, end up screaming into the wind. Hunter, on the other hand, would become the wind. We could stand behind him and be heard. And he also was quite willing to go to the wall for friends. He wouldn’t suffer fools, but he was someone you knew you could call on if you needed help.He could be extremely generous, yet he practiced his generosity in an almost clandestine manner. It was as if he didn’t want the outside world to discover that he was a relatively “easy touch,” a fear perhaps that someone might see through his bravado. Oh yes, it is fair to say that he could be cranky, a complete pain in the ass if you like, but can’t we all?
As mentioned, I first met Hunter in 1969 but it was not until the early 1980s, when I began tending bar at the Woody Creek Tavern, that my relationship with him deepened into what I believe was to become a real friendship. In those days he was a regular customer in the early afternoon and he almost always began the day with a bottle of Molson beer and a bloody Mary.The first time I waited on him, he rejected the bloody Mary, muttering something about it being too thick. I mixed up a second and that also was refused, as was my third attempt. I was pretty irritated by all of this, so I simply placed all of the ingredients, including a bottle of vodka, in front of him and suggested that he make his own goddamned bloody Mary. His reaction came as a surprise – he was absolutely overjoyed. You would have thought that I had just given him the antidote for some deadly virus threatening his life. It was a simple example of the fact that he wanted to do things “his way” and, as we all know, that is what his life was all about.I believe this: I believe he was an honest man with an honest heart. And I also believe he was an authentic genius. We may have lost a “national treasure,” as Goldstein said, but in Woody Creek we lost a friend and a valued neighbor.
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