One Last Gonzo Blast From Thompson

The party tent at Hunter S. Thompson's home in Woody Creek, Colo., is prepared for guests at the writer's wake, complete with inflatable dolls.
The party tent at Hunter S. Thompson's home in Woody Creek, Colo., is prepared for guests at the writer's wake, complete with inflatable dolls. (By Rick Wilking -- Reuters)
By T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 21, 2005

WOODY CREEK, Colo., Aug. 20 -- Hunter S. Thompson, the journalist who became poet laureate of a drug-fueled American counterculture, bid a noisy farewell to his friends and his farm Saturday night as his cremated ashes were blasted into a cloudy Colorado sky amid a massive fireworks display.

Six months to the day after the ailing and depressed author shot himself to death at the age of 67, about 350 friends -- from New York, from Hollywood and from working ranches down the road -- raised their drinks toward the modernistic tower that served as a cannon firing his last remains several hundred feet high.

The first red and blue fireworks fanned into the air just after sunset with an imposing boom that thundered down the valley of the Roaring Fork River.

The "blast rites," in a muddy field behind Thompson's cluttered farmhouse a dozen miles north of Aspen, followed a plan the writer had set forth years before his death. Actor Johnny Depp, who played Thompson in the 1998 film "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," organized the event and paid the bills -- something in excess of $2 million, according to Thompson's family.

"Hunter told us over and over that he was serious about firing his ashes into the sky," the author's son, Juan Thompson, said Saturday. "He kept saying this is not just one of his deranged ideas. He was serious on this one.

"He said we should hear his friends talking, hear ice clinking in whiskey glasses, and then this cannon blasts off. And that's the end of Hunter."

The end of Hunter S. Thompson turned into the biggest social event in years for Woody Creek, a rural community on the Roaring Fork River that was clearly the down-market end of greater Aspen when Thompson bought the 40-acre spread he called Owl Farm in 1968.

Thompson's old house, where he wrote and held forth for the neighbors in the kitchen, has changed little in the intervening decades, friends said. But rustic Woody Creek has been gentrified, a fact that angered the author. "Frankly, he was disgusted by all the trophy homes where there used to be forest," said Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis.

Accordingly, the "trophy home" owners were not invited to the wake Saturday night.

"Look, everybody wants to get into this party," said friend and neighbor Mike Cleverly, who did get in. "But the invitation list is tight. You'd have a better chance getting in to see George W. to complain about the war."

Among those present, family members said, were actors Sean Penn and Bill Murray, along with Depp and Ralph Steadman, the artist whose psychedelic sketches illustrated several of Thompson's books. Lyle Lovett and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were to perform.

Despite his self-spun image as a gun-toting, hard-drinking, drug-abusing anti-authoritarian, Thompson had ingratiated himself with the political and law-enforcement establishment here in mountainous Pitkin County.

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