Saturday, February 26, 2005

HST: day 6

For the past 40 years, Hunter Thompson's work was more performance art than journalism, writes LAT media critic Tim Rutten.

The reason cartoonist Garry Trudeau could so easily satirize Thompson as the venal Uncle Duke in his Doonesbury strip is that Hunter already had handed him the character whole.

Part of the unhesitating outpouring that followed the tragedy of Thompson's suicide — and suicide is always tragic because despair is an affliction and not a choice — was simply sentimental nostalgia for an era when there still were taboos to affront and barriers to knock down. Thompson certainly did that, but his work also can be misread as permission for so much of the tedious narcissism that now infects our journalism, as it does so many other aspects of our collective lives. The impulse that now pushed reporter after reporter into the first person or makes them think that every story must include a full recitation of their backgrounds and predilections — personal and political — is Gonzo's deformed offspring.

Widow, literary executor talk more about the self-inflicted death:
Thompson and his wife had been at odds for years about his talk of suicide. She threatened to leave the compound and wash her hands of his work and his legacy if he carried out his threat. In the end, he would back down and vow not to do it. But the pain of hip replacement surgery, back surgery, a lung infection and a broken leg was taking its toll.

"It was definitely not a spur-of-the-moment thing," said Douglas Brinkley, a professor of American history at Tulane University and literary executor of Thompson's will. "He had been looking at his options for a few months. One option was physical rehabilitation. A second option was to stop drinking and move to a warmer climate. The other option was to kill himself. No one knows how long he considered it — he used to say he wasn't afraid to kill himself all the time."

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