The Great Gonzo

On this day back in 2005 the great Hunter S. Thompson signed off for the last time, with a gunshot to the head. He had his reasons for such a dramatic exit, but it seemed like a tremendous loss at the time, a feeling that has deepened in the intervening years as the authoritarian shift in US politics has cried out for the sort of biting social commentary that was Thompson’s speciality.

Thompson is best known for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, his 1971 account of a drug-fuelled trip to Nevada, but I think his finest work is Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, a collection of his reports on the 1972 US Presidential elections. …Vegas is a great book, but ultimately rather downbeat, charting as it does the defeat of 60’s counterculture at the hands of the Man. …Campaign Trail is much more optimistic, as Thompson gets caught in the tide of the McGovern campaign and starts to believe that progressive politics might just have a chance. It ends in disappointment of course, when Nixon wins with a landslide, but at least Thompson didn’t have to wait too long to see Tricky Dicky’s downfall. (Years later Thompson would write the definitive Nixon obituary, He Was a Crook.) …Campaign Trail‘s depiction of the youthful energy of McGovern’s supporters is still inspirational today, and should be required reading for community organisers and political activists everywhere.

To mark the anniversary of Thompson’s death The Quietus has a previously unpublished interview, along with a brief but useful biography. The BBC produced a fine documentary on Thompson’s life and work a couple of years ago, and Terry Gilliams’ film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with Johnny Depp as Thompson, is worth seeing too.

The style of journalism that Thompson pioneered has become so commonplace now that it’s almost a cliche, but out of his many imitators none have come close to the man himself. I’m going to settle down tonight with my dog-eared copy of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, and have a few drinks in his memory.

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