He said he wanted his ashes shot out of a cannon. “A great funeral” was what he wanted, he told his son. Then he walked into the kitchen and shot himself dead in the head. That was the end of my old friend Hunter S. Thompson. But the end is only the beginning of his story.
His last column was a sports column, for ESPN’s Page 2. He began his writing career as a sportswriter, and he came full circle to end it that way. Hunter viewed corporate journalism through the same prism of suspicion he used to pull the butterfly wings off professional politicians. He was fond of saying the sports box scores were the only part of a newspaper you could trust because “there were too many witnesses to the final score for anyone to lie.”
Hunter Thompson’s demise at 67 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his compound in Woody Creek, Colorado, has rattled his friends and admirers in this hang-loose city that’s still struggling to ascertain if it was Kool-Aid or Flavor Aid that the Rev. Jim Jones of San Francisco served to his followers in Guyana, and why.
Sudden death shakes this earthquake-prone town, where life is taken so easily for granted. Thompson’s favorite San Francisco hangouts were decked in gloom. The night of his death, in the back room of the Tosca, writer Tim Ferris and others of Hunter’s close Frisco friends sat shiva with owner Jeanette Etheredge. Gavin Newsom, the mayor, sat in to hear the tales. Recalled was the night when Thompson took every glass in the bar and stacked them in an increasingly unstable pyramid on four cocktail tables. The understandably nervous owner told the writer that if he put one more glass on top of the heap the “damn thing will fall down.” Just one more glass, Jeanette, Hunter said. It fell down.
The morning after his death, at the Mitchell Brothers’ O’Farrell Theater, the flags above the marquee were lowered to half-staff. The O’Farrell was Hunter’s other San Francisco hangout. He spent many moons there as the night manager on a prepaid assignment from Playboy about the sex industry, roosting on a high director’s chair up in the wings where the spotlights were played on the girls on the stage below, learning the biz and watching the action. He had broken his leg in an indelicate back flip off the bar at the Tosca, and it was in a humongous cast. A bottle of Chivas Regal was in one hand and his dainty cigarette holder in the other. This was the nightly sight, for months. He never wrote the article, of course.
Action followed Hunter like a shadow from a scarecrow. I met him in the mid-1960s when I was editing Ramparts, a Catholic anti- (Vietnam) war slick. We published out of an office on the lower Broadway strip of San Francisco. Hunter showed up one night and left his knapsack on the couch in my office when we went to dinner. At the time I had a pet monkey named Henry Luce. Henry got out of his cage and into Hunter’s knapsack and opened many bottles of pills and gobbled the contents. When we returned the monkey was bananas and running at top speed along the railing above the office cubicles. He had turned into a ferocious, snarling monster and no one could pacify him. It took a day and a half for him to slow down. “Goddam monkey stole my pills,” Hunter said.