Hunter Thompson’s Life Now Open to Further Scrutiny

Hunter Thompson’s life now open to further scrutiny
Monday, November 06, 2006
L. Wayne Hicks – The Denver Business Journal

Hunter S. Thompson’s legacy — at least the one his only child is concentrating on now — may be hundreds of boxes of papers.

Juan Thompson, 42, faces the task of going through 800 or so boxes of letters, faxes and photographs. He’s compiling a rough index of what’s in the boxes and setting aside letters to include in an upcoming book, and estimated he’s examined the contents of 100 boxes so far.

Hunter Thompson killed himself in February 2005 at his home in Woody Creek, outside Aspen. His son heard the shot and found the body. The irony is that going through his father’s archives is giving Juan a chance to know his father better.

“It’s very interesting now that he’s dead to still be learning about our relationship,” said Juan, a freelance IT consultant who lives in the Denver area. “What’s sad is I can’t talk to him about it now. That makes me sad, but I’m very glad that I have this chance to learn more about him.”

Juan won’t be alone in gaining a deeper understanding of Hunter Thompson’s life. He sees what he calls “a little cottage industry” cropping up about his father.

Thompson was notable enough during his life to warrant the publication of four biographies. Now, with Thompson’s ashes blown into the sky by a giant cannon shaped liked a two-thumbed fist, more books are going to be crowded onto store shelves.

“There will be a lot of them,” says Ralph Steadman, the famed English artist who collaborated with Thompson for 35 years. “You’ll be sick of them before they’re done.”

Thompson, who was 67, was the creator and master practitioner of a style of journalism called “gonzo,” which blended the narrative of an event with the reporter’s experiences covering it. His gonzo writing frequently appeared in Rolling Stone magazine. Steadman illustrated the articles.

Steadman is the first of Thompson’s inner circle to publish his memories of his friend. Now on a tour of North America promoting “The Joke’s Over,” Steadman will visit Denver this month. While here, Steadman will meet up with Juan, who’s writing his own book, and Thompson’s widow Anita, who’s writing her own. If he were to stick around for the Nov. 9 start of the Starz Denver Film Festival, Steadman could see three films about Thompson and a fourth in which he’s featured.

Widow finds new purpose

“It doesn’t get easier at all,” Anita Thompson said by phone from her apartment on New York’s Upper West Side. “You can ask anyone who was close to him. It doesn’t get easier, but I guess you just get used to it.”

Thompson’s widow, 34, moved to New York in August to pick up the studies she put aside when she met the journalist. She’s attending Columbia University, where she intends to earn her bachelor’s degree in American studies.

The former Anita Bejmuk grew up in Fort Collins, ventured out to the University of California at Los Angeles, then took a few years off to ski. She was still on her break when a mutual friend introduced her to Thompson in 1997.

Anita Thompson said she didn’t know much about her future husband. She hadn’t read his books, but had read an article in Rolling Stone magazine he’d written about Bill Clinton.

She eventually became his assistant. They married in April 2003.

“It was brief,” she said of her marriage. “We were still newlyweds when he died.”

Now she has dedicated herself to Thompson’s life and work. Anita Thompson said she intends to transform her Aspen home, called Owl Farm, into an educational center where people can learn “about things Hunter loved, like literature and politics. I intend to have visiting professors teach Hunter’s work as well.”

Since Thompson’s death, Anita has launched a magazine, called The Woody Creeker, which covers the Woody Creek area and includes articles about Hunter Thompson. The latest issue — it’s published, as the cover proclaims, “when you least expect it” — contains a short story written by Thompson while he was going to Columbia.

More examples of his early short stories are forthcoming, but not immediately.

“That’s already a manuscript ready to go,” Anita Thompson said. “But we’re not in a hurry. We don’t want to flood bookstores with Hunter’s work. That’s not the way to do it. And we have to think about these things. There have been some writers as soon as they died, their estate started pumping out their work. I don’t think that’s a great tribute, actually.”

She said a humor book Thompson had been working on — called “Dr. Thompson’s Guide to Physical Fitness” — will remain unfinished and unpublished. No one else could do it justice, she said.

Anita Thompson is trying to do justice to his philosophies, rolling them up into a book called “The Gonzo Way,” to be published next year by Fulcrum Publishing of Golden.

Other than her own book, Anita Thompson is most interested in the release of “The Mutineer,” a collection of letters to and from Hunter Thompson.

“That’s the most exciting to me because it’s Hunter’s words,” she said.

Subtitled “Rants, Ravings, and Missives from the Mountaintop 1977-2005” and scheduled for publication Jan. 1, “The Mutineer” is being edited by Douglas Brinkley, a scholar from New Orleans and Thompson friend who edited three earlier books of his letters. Juan Thompson is helping him by searching the archives.

Son seeks 2008 publication

“What emerges for me is what an idealist he was about everything: Politics, literature, friendship, and that a lot of his anger came out of that,” Juan Thompson said. “And then some of it was fun.”

Juan Thompson is writing a book about his relationship with his father, with an eye toward a 2008 publication.

“He was not the sort of father who was involved in my day-to-day life,” he said. “He was very much wrapped up in his writing, his career. But what I realize now as I go through these papers is he was very tuned in to what I was doing, but kind of from a distance.”

Juan Thompson knows his won’t be the only telling of the Hunter Thompson story. “Over this next year or two, there’s going to be a lot of stuff coming out,” he said. And he understands “People are going to write what they want to write.” But he hopes the focus of anything about his father will be on his work “and not the crazy stories and the crazy things he did.”

Rolling Stone magazine is preparing a tribute to Thompson that should cover all aspects of his life and work. “Gonzo: The Oral History of Hunter S. Thompson” is due out April 3.

“That has the potential to be a very interesting book,” Juan Thompson said.

William McKeen is waiting to hear if Juan Thompson will cooperate with his retelling of the Hunter Thompson story. McKeen, chairman of the department of journalism at the University of Florida, is the author of the 1991 critical biography simply called “Hunter S. Thompson.”

A methodical researcher — McKeen has tracked Thompson’s day-to-day activities — he is working on a book called “American Dreamer” for publication in 2008 or 2009. At 300 to 400 pages, the new book will dwarf his initial 130-page biography.

“I really hope this becomes a real authoritative biography of his life,” McKeen said. “That’s what I’m working on, and it’s taking over my life.”

McKeen said the university is interested in buying Thompson’s archives. Several films on the way

In addition to the forthcoming books about Hunter Thompson, filmmakers are preparing documentaries. Alex Gibney, who directed last year’s “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” is working on “Gonzo” for release early next year.

Wayne Ewing, a filmmaker from Carbondale, is finishing the edits on his latest documentary, “Free Lisl: Fear & Loathing in Denver.” The movie tells about Thompson’s involvement in fighting to win the freedom of Lisl Auman after her conviction for murder in the 1997 shooting of a Denver police officer.

Ewing previously made two documentaries about Thompson — “Breakfast with Hunter” and “When I Die.” The latter film, which had its premiere at the Denver Film Festival last year, documents Thompson’s festive send-off. His ashes were shot out of a giant cannon.

Ewing said he never intended to make a trilogy of films about Thompson. In any event, he’s not done yet. He’s working on what he calls “The Kitchen Tapes” — scenes of Thompson at home that didn’t fit into his earlier films — for next year.

[ken’s note: Some exceptional books by Hunter Thompson are these:]

The Curse of Lono

Originally published in 1983, Curse features all of the zany, hallucinogenic wordplay and feral artwork for which the Hunter S. Thompson/Ralph Steadman duo became known and loved. This curious book, considered an oddity among Hunter’s oeuvre, was long out of print, prompting collectors to search high and low for an original copy. TASCHEN’s signed, limited edition sold out before the book even hit the stores, but this unlimited version, in a different, smaller format, makes The Curse of Lono accessible to everyone.


AMMO Books is pleased to announce its debut title: GONZO by famed American author and journalist Hunter S. Thompson. GONZO presents a rare look into the life of Thompson, whose groundbreaking style of “gonzo” journalism made him one of the greatest writers of his generation. Now, for the first time, his photographs and archives have been collected into a visual biography worthy of his literary legacy. With a heartfelt introduction by close friend Johnny Depp, GONZO captures a man whose life was as legendary as his writing.

AMMO Books presents this impressive limited edition title, featuring hundreds of personal photographs–many taken by Thompson himself and never before published. Accompanied by writing and memorabilia, this visual history gives insight into the literary icon’s life. GONZO chronicles Thompson’s numerous adventures, including his early days as a foreign correspondent in Puerto Rico, living in Big Sur in the sixties, time on the road with the Hell’s Angels, running for Sheriff of Pitkin County in 1970, and many personal moments with friends and family throughout the years.

This one-of-a-kind book is the ultimate tribute to the Good Doctor, and a must-have for any Thompson fan. Lovingly edited and designed, and lavishly printed, this extraordinary package includes a specially designed box that contains the book and a limited edition gallery-quality photograph by Thompson. This is an exclusive offering of only three thousand individually numbered copies available worldwide, destined to become a treasured part of your personal library.


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