Dr. Gonzo, 1937-2005


“You’re looking at a man who has looked into the face of death—and then kicked him in the balls.”

So said Hunter S. Thompson in 1975 in a Voice piece about the gonzo journalist’s malarial, booze- and coke-fueled romp through London on a night when he was supposed to be filing a piece for Rolling Stone on the Ali-Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle.”

“They thought he was crazy and it was all downhill after that. Last night he was accused of trying to rape one of the maids and of shooting pigeons on the window ledge with a Magnum .44,” Thompson’s traveling companion in London, Ralph Steadman, told the Voice. Asked how long Thompson could go on like that, Steadman said, “Well, it’s not good. I’d say another 50 years. He’ll beat himself to hell, die peacefully in his sleep and everyone will say he got exactly what he deserved.” The Zaire piece never ran and Rolling Stone ate $10,000 in expenses.

On Sunday, Thompson looked into the face of death, again, and killed himself.

His passing begs the same question one might have asked a few years back after watching a bug-eyed Johnny Depp growl through “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:” What was it all about?

It’s a question that folks were answering well before the Depp film. The answers don’t necessarily agree, though. The Voice wrote in ’75 that Hunter was “often more interesting that the story he’s covering.” The Times wrote this weekend that “his outrageous voice helped refocus the nation’s customarily straitlaced political dialogue.” A 1979 Voice review of “The Great Shark Hunt” seemed weary of Thompson’s act, concluding that, “being wild is really what his profession is.” Thompson himself wrote in 1970 that, “I was treated like some kind of half-mad cross between a hermit and a wolverine, a thing best left alone as long as possible.”

Did he want otherwise? Did it matter?