Hunter S. Thompson, the ”gonzo journalist” whose willingness to throw himself into the subjects of his reporting resulted in such classic tales as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and made him an icon to generations of writers and countercultural types, died Sunday night of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Sunday night at his home in Woody Creek, Colo., outside Aspen. Thompson’s family offered no explanation for the 67-year-old’s suicide. His widow, Anita, and son, Juan, issued a statement, saying, ”Hunter prized his privacy and we ask that his friends and admirers respect that privacy as well as that of his family.”
Thompson didn’t coin the term ”gonzo journalism,” but he was its best known practitioner, taking the novelistic and participatory ”new journalism” practiced by such writers as Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, and Gay Talese to new extremes. The typical Thompson dispatch, in which the writer often claimed to be fueled by a prodigious intake of legal and illegal drugs, tried to erase the boundary between writer and subject. His subjectivity usually included withering, scurrilous descriptions of the politicians he covered. Nonetheless, his vivid reports for Rolling Stone from the 1972 presidential campaign (compiled in the book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail) seemed to provide a more viscerally honest take on politics than more conventionally objective and detached reports.
Thompson spent decades writing such essays on politics, sports, and other topics, which were collected in several anthologies, including The Great Shark Hunt and Better Than Sex. His best known work, 1971’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, another drug-fueled tale involving motorcycle racers and cops that turned into a book-length meditation on the American Dream and the failure of the idealism of the 1960s, became a faithfully hallucinogenic 1998 movie starring Johnny Depp as Thompson alter ego Raoul Duke. Thompson was also portrayed by Bill Murray in the 1980 biopic Where the Buffalo Roam. And he also served as the inspiration (much to his displeasure) for the character Uncle Duke in Doonesbury, drawn by cartoonist Garry Trudeau with Thompson’s trademark bald pate, aviator glasses, and cigarette holder.
In later years, Thompson was known for increasingly erratic public appearances, and for his gun enthusiasm (he had a shooting range at his Woody Creek home). ”I have the soul of a teenage girl in the body of an elderly dope fiend,” he wrote in his 2003 anthology Kingdom of Fear. Last year, San Francisco Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein visited Thompson and Anita at their home and found the writer to be charming and hospitable despite his convalescence from recent spinal surgery and a broken leg. ”He was excited about what was going on in the world as he always was,” Bronstein told the Associated Press. ”He seemed, as always, bizarre and interesting and fascinating.”