On February 20, 2005, Hunter S. Thompson shot himself and ended thirty-five years of Gonzo journalism. There never was another Gonzo journalist and there never will be. It was a one man genre. And likewise, there will never be another HST. He was utterly unique. In fact, “unique” is perhaps too weak a word… He was a freak, an atavistic freak.
His literary influences were numerous, yet he was always an original. Thompson grew up worshipping Fitzgerald and Hemingway, and yet ended up being something totally different – Gonzo. He lived in weird times, and his style of writing develop in response to his surroundings – living through the 1950s, 60s & 70s; a turbulent era to say the least.
Most people know him from his work over only a short period of time. The development and maturation of Gonzo, from “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” to Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. Yet to fully respect the man one must look back further, beyond HST as a drug-fiend, to HST as a dedicated, scrupulous journalist. Prior to his Hell’s Angels fame, Thompson worked as hard as anyone in the game, and while that effort appeared later, it never fully reappeared.
Fame changed Hunter S. Thompson. Drugs changed him, too. Some say he created a caricature and felt compelled to live up to it… and that he became trapped in himself. Reading The Proud Highway drives home just how different Thompson was in his later years. He was not perfect. He came to feel later in life that he’d never reached his potential, and that his work was not respected as serious literary work.
So on this anniversary of his death, let’s celebrate his life and work not by wearing bright shirts, floppy hats and cigarette holders, or by getting messed up and speaking like Johnny Depp… Let’s remember Hunter S. Thompson as a serious writer; an important journalist who earned his place in history through hard work and devotion to the truth.