Hunter S. Thompson, a renegade journalist whose “gonzo” style threw out any pretense at objectivity and established the hard-living writer as a counter-culture icon, fatally shot himself at his Colorado home on Sunday night, police said. He was 67.
Thompson’s son, Juan, released a statement saying he had found his father dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head at the writer’s Owl Creek farm near Aspen.
Thompson, famed for such adrenaline-packed narratives as “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” turned his drug and alcohol-fueled clashes with authority into a central theme of his work, challenging the quieter norms of established journalism in the process.
He also cultivated an aura of recklessness, starting with the blurb on his book “Hell’s Angels,” in which he called himself “an avid reader, a relentless drinker and a fine hand with a .44 Magnum.”
A longtime gun enthusiast, Thompson had a shooting range on his property.
“Hunter prized his privacy and we ask that his friends and admirers respect that privacy as well as that of his family,” said the statement released on behalf of Juan and Thompson’s wife, Anita.
Pitkin County, Colo., Sheriff Bob Braudis said in Thompson was alone in his kitchen of his Woody Creek home when he shot himself with a handgun. His wife was at a gym, Braudis said.
Braudis’s wife, Louisa Davidson, said “he was not going to age gracefully, he was going to go out with a bang. He was tormented.”
By his heyday in the 1970s, Thompson had distilled his style of invective-laced, outlaw journalism into a slogan: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” adapted from a two-part article written for Rolling Stone magazine in late 1971, chronicled Thompson’s drug-fueled misadventures in Las Vegas while ostensibly covering a motorcycle race in the desert.
‘WRITER OF SIGNIFICANCE’
The book established Hunter as a cult celebrity and became the basis for a 1998 Hollywood adaptation, starring Johnny Depp as Thompson’s alter-ego, Raoul Duke.
Thompson’s refracted coverage of the Super Bowl and the 1972 presidential race also inspired the 1980 movie “Where the Buffalo Roam,” with Bill Murray as the self-proclaimed doctor of gonzo journalism.
He was also caricatured as “Uncle Duke” in the comic strip Doonesbury, right down to his signature aviator glasses and cigarette holder.
Although Thompson’s later work got mixed reviews, critics credited him with pioneering a style of invective-laced and hyperbolic political commentary that was uniquely American.
A 1994 essay in Rolling Stone written as an obituary for former President Richard Nixon was typical. At a time when many commentators offered a more generous re-assessment of Nixon’s legacy, Thompson called him “a liar, a quitter and a bastard. A cheap crook and a merciless war criminal.”
“I think Thompson has remained a writer of significance, because, essentially a satirist, he has displayed an utter contempt for power — political power, financial power, even showbiz juice,” novelist Paul Theroux wrote in 2003.
Raised in a middle-class family in Louisville, Kentucky, Thompson’s father died when he was 14, and by 18 he had been jailed for his part in a robbery.
After a stint in the Air Force working as a sports editor, he became a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune in Puerto Rico.
In 1965, Thompson broke through with an article about the Hell’s Angels that he turned into a critically hailed book.
It was his association with Rolling Stone that turned both into literary icons — even though Thompson initially considered the upstart San Francisco-based magazine “a bunch of faggots and hippies.”
(Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver)
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