Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is dead
by Ron Whitehead
My friend and hero Hunter S. Thompson is dead. I followed his life and work from the release of Hell's Angels till now. I will continue to follow it. My friend Gene Williams and I sold Hunter's books we sold the first Rolling Stone magazines in the underground bookstore, For Madmen Only, and in the headshop, The Store, we operated on South Limestone in Lexington Kentucky. I never dreamed I'd eventually work with Hunter and with members of The Beat Generation: Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, David Amram, Diane di Prima, Amiri Baraka, and others. Their works changed my life. Dreams do come true.
Hunter shot himself. He is gone. He died in his kitchen in his cabin at Owl Farm Woody Creek Colorado. I read his Nixon obituary, "He Was A Crook," and other works to him in that kitchen. I took my children to visit him. He loved young people. He loved his family. I drank and did drugs with him. We watched basketball. One night, years ago, in early May my son Nathanial and I arrived, driving 24 hours non-stop from Kentucky,¬†just in time to watch the NBA playoffs with Hunter. Don Johnson called several times wanting us to come over. Kentuckian Rex Chapman was playing for the Phoenix Suns. The Suns were down by nine points with one minute to go in the game. I looked at Hunter and said I'll bet you that Rex will hit three threes and tie the game, that the Suns will win by one point in three overtimes. Hunter looked at me and laughed. Rex hit three threes and tied the game. But Phoenix lost in three overtimes, by one point. I got damn close. Hunter paid closer attention to me after that. We talked about life about our families about literature. Hunter was a good kind man. He was full of life. He was tough. He was a real human being. He was spirit, holy spirit, no matter what anyone says.
I had the honor of producing, with the help of Douglas Brinkley and many young people and friends, The Hunter S. Thompson Tribute at Memorial Auditorium on 4th Street in Louisville Kentucky in December 1996. We had a sold out standing room¬† audience of over 2,000. I brought in Hunter, his Mom Virginia, his son Juan, The Sheriff of Pitkin County, Johnny Depp, Warren Zevon, David Amram, Douglas Brinkley, Roxanne Pulitzer, Harvey Sloane, Susi Wood & a bluegrass band, and many more. The Mayor gave Hunter the keys to the city. The Governor named Hunter, Johnny, Warren, David, Doug, and me Kentucky Colonels. It was a spectacular event.
Hunter is one of America's one of the world's greatest writers. He stands shoulder to shoulder with Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, all five America's Best prose writers, bar none.
People continue to say that there will be no audience for Thompson's work, that no one will understand or care. Yet as I travel across America across the world working with young people, of all ages, I witness a movement, amongst young people, away from the constraints of non-democratic puritan totalitarian cultures. I see a new generation that recognizes the lies of the power elite, a generation that is turning to the freethinkers the freedom fighters of the 50s and 60s, recognizing honoring them as mentors.
Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes her or him its instrument. The artist is not simply a person acting freely, in pursuit of a merely private end, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through her or his person. Artists have moods, free will, personal aims, but as artists they are bearers of a collective humanity, carrying and shaping the common unconscious life of the species.
I have heard more than once that Hunter S. Thompson is a madman. That oh look at what he could have done if he lived a more sane life. In Jewish mysticism the prophet often bears the facade of madness. Hunter S. Thompson stands in direct lineage to the great writers and prophets. And as with the prophets of old, the message may be too painful for the masses to tolerate, to hear, to bear. They may, and usually do, condemn, even kill, the messenger. Hunter stood as long as he could. He fought a valiant fight. He was a brave yet sensitive soul. He was a sacred shaman warrior. He saw. He felt. He recorded his visions. He took alcohol and drugs to ease the pain generated by what he saw what he felt. He lived on his own terms. He died on his own terms. Did the masses kill Hunter? Did he kill himself? He found the courage to stand up against the power mongers and the masses. At least thirteen times he should have died but, miraculously, didn't. He chose to take his own life. He completed the work he came to do.
If life is a dream, as some suggest, sometimes beautiful sometimes desperate, then Hunter's work is the terrible saga of the ending of time for The American Dream. With its action set at the heart of darkness of American materialist culture, with war as perpetual background, playing on the television, Hunter S. Thompson, like the prophets of old, shows how we, through greed and powerlust, have already gone over the edge. As Jack Kerouac, through his brilliant oeuvre, breathed hope into international youth culture Thompson shows how the ruling power-elite is not about to share what it controls with idealists yearning for a world of peace love and understanding.
We must look beyond the life of the artist to the work the body of work itself. That is the measure of success. Like those who have re-examined Orwell's 1984 to find a multi-layered literary masterpiece, we must look deep into Thompson's work and find the deep multi-layered messages. His books, especially the early ones and his letters, are literary masterpieces equal to the best writing ever produced.
Knowledge, from the inception of Modernism, and through post-modernism and chaos to The Ocean of Consciousness, is reorganized, redefined through Literature, Art, Music, and Film. The genres are changing, the canons are exploding, as is culture. The mythopoetics, the privileged sense of sight, of modern, contemporary, avant-garde cutting edge Nabi poets, musicians, artists, filmmakers are examples of art forms of a society, a culture, a civilization, a world, in which humanity lives, not securely in cities nor innocently in the country, but on the apocalyptic, simultaneous edge of a new realm of being and understanding. The mythopoet, female and male, the shaman, Hunter S. Thompson¬†returns to the role of prophet-seer by creating myths that resonate in the minds of readers, myths that speak with the authority of the ancient myths, myths that are gifts from the shadow.