No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun -- for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax -- This won't hurt. - Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, February 16, 2005
Raise a toast, if you will, for one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th Century. For good or ill.
On Saturday, August 20th, six months to the day after Hunter died, many of his closest friends gathered in the high-ceiling lobby of the Hotel Jerome in Aspen. Since the mid-1960s, Hunter had used the hotel's J-Bar as his boozy late-night office, its long outdoor swimming pool as his fitness club. Now, family and friends congregated here, waiting for a convoy of shuttle buses that would ferry them down the two-lane country road to Owl Farm, Hunter's home in Woody Creek, to say goodbye.
As the hour approached, the Victorian hotel became a Gonzo way station. Reporters wandered about with spiral notebooks while Ralph Steadman and Bill Murray held court at the bar. "I wouldn't miss this for the world," Sen. John Kerry said as he boarded a shuttle, his arm around former Sen. George McGovern. "I met Hunter in the days of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Then, last summer I offered him the vice-presidency in jest. He's missed."
Because Hunter had been a perpetual Peter Pan, accepting the bleak reality of his death came hard. Nobody coveted what his son, Juan, deemed "Dr. Phil closure." Instead, his family and friends wanted to find a gallant, jubilant way to remember him. Luckily, Hunter provided them with a dramatic, ready-made funeral scheme first hatched nearly thirty years ago, a self-aggrandizing stunt guaranteed to launch his posthumous literary reputation skyward in a final blaze of triumphant glory. "Hunter wanted to be crazy and outrageous in death, just as he was in life," composer David Amram said on the bus ride to Owl Farm. "Like a phoenix, he planned on rising from the ashes."
Back in 1977, Hunter had asked Ralph Steadman -- his brilliant illustrator and trusted sidekick -- to draft a blueprint for a Gonzo Fist Memorial, his warped idea of a pyrotechnics-rigged mausoleum. The morbid notion had been preoccupying Hunter for a while. A few years before, he had asked his artist friend Paul Pascarella to design an official Gonzo logo: an iconic two-thumbed red fist clutching a peyote button, ensconced atop a dagger. Now, with a BBC crew in tow, Hunter and Ralph wandered into a Hollywood mortuary to inquire about transforming the Gonzo symbol into a full-fledged artillery cannon, 153 feet tall, capable of blasting his ashes into the atmosphere. It started out as a lark, but as the years passed, Hunter grew serious about the cannon concept, telling his family and friends it was his "one true wish." He often spoke of how Mark Twain wanted to report on his own funeral, how France celebrated the death of Victor Hugo with a no-holds-barred parade and, more recently, how Timothy Leary had his ashes fired into space from Grand Canary Island via a rocket. But Hunter had a much grander farewell in mind. He wanted to trump his own suicide with a surefire, high-octane, sizzling Gonzo epilogue complete with a thunderous eight-piece Japanese drum band and a Buddhist reading and his ashes showering down on his lifelong friends while Bob Dylan wailed "Mr. Tambourine Man" from high-decibel speakers.