washingtonpost.com  > Print Edition > Metro > Articles From the A Section

Hunter S. Thompson Dies at 67

'Fear and Loathing' Writer Apparently Committed Suicide

By Martin Weil and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 21, 2005; Page A04

Hunter S. Thompson, whose life and writing, vivid and quirky reflections of each other, made him one of the principal symbols of the American counterculture, shot and killed himself yesterday at his home near Aspen.

Thompson, 67, was celebrated as a practitioner of an outraged form of personal journalism, offering off-beat ideas and observations in a style that was wildly and vividly his own and that brought him cult-like status and widespread recognition.


Hunter S. Thompson

His books on politics and society were regarded as groundbreaking among journalists and other students of current affairs in their irreverence and often angry insights.

Among those for which he was famed are "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail." He rode for almost a year with the Hell's Angels motorcycle outfit for research on another book. In all he wrote at least a dozen.

Jonathan Yardley, writing last year in The Washington Post, called him "a genuinely unique figure in American journalism," citing his comic writing and social criticism.

Thompson, often seen wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap and with a cigarette dangling from his lips, showed up frequently as Uncle Duke in "Doonesbury," the Garry Trudeau comic strip.

Part of what created his image of outlaw independence and defiance of norms and conventions was his claim to intimate familiarity with a variety of drugs and mind altering chemicals.

"I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone . . . but they've always worked for me," he once wrote.

Pitkin County, Colo., Sheriff Bob Braudis said in a brief telephone interview that 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.

The sheriff said Thompson had seemed "still on top of his game."

But 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."

Thompson was known for a style that he described as "gonzo journalism," a form of "new journalism." It was based on the idea that fidelity to fact did not always blaze the way to truth.

Instead, "gonzo journalism" and its practitioners suggested that a deeper truth could be found in the ambiguous zones between fact and fiction.

"Objective journalism is one of the main reasons that American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long," Thompson told interviewers in a characteristic pronouncement on both institutions.

"You can't be objective about Nixon," he said. "How can you be objective about Clinton?"

Among the writers and works he cited as major influences were most of the classic American authors, including Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, many or most read early in life. He also named the Biblical book of Revelation.

He was born in Louisville, and after a wild youth entered the Air Force, according to one account, as part of a parole agreement.

His writing career is traced to the 1950s, when he contributed to a base newspaper while in the Air Force.

He later wrote unpublished fiction, reported for the mainstream media from Latin America, and made his name with his Hell's Angels article in Harper's magazine.

His star rose while he worked for Rolling Stone magazine, where the "Fear and Loathing" books first appeared.

His beat, he once said was "the death of the American dream." Interviewers later suggested to him that he in a way embodied that dream. They said he exploded in profanity, but conceded that perhaps he did.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company