Hunter S. Thompson, the acerbic counterculture writer who pioneered “gonzo journalism” in books like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” fatally shot himself Sunday night at his Aspen-area home, his son said. He was 67.
“Hunter prized his privacy, and we ask that his friends and admirers respect that privacy as well as that of his family,” Juan Thompson said in a statement released to the Aspen Daily News.
Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, a personal friend of Thompson, confirmed the death to the News. Juan Thompson found his father’s body. Thompson’s wife, Anita, was not home at the time.
Besides the 1972 drug-hazed classic about his visit to Las Vegas, Thompson wrote “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72.” The central character in those wild, sprawling satires was “Dr. Thompson,” a snarling, drug- and alcohol-crazed observer and participant.
He was portrayed onscreen by Johnny Depp in a 1998 film adaptation of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and by Bill Murray in the 1980 semi-biographical pic “Where the Buffalo Roam.”
Along with authors Ken Kesey and Gay Talese, Thompson has been credited with creating the “New Journalism” of the late 1960s. However, Thompson’s highly subjective style, rich in hyperbole and opinion and inevitably involving his own intrusion in the story, eventually came to be known as “gonzo journalism.” Much of his earliest work appeared in Rolling Stone magazine.
“Fiction is based on reality unless you’re a fairy-tale artist,” Thompson told the AP in 2003. “You have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you’re writing about before you alter it.”
An acute observer of the decadence and depravity in American life, Thompson also wrote collections “Generation of Swine” and “Songs of the Doomed.” His first novel, “The Rum Diary,” written in 1959, wasn’t published until 1998.
Thompson was a counterculture icon at the height of the Watergate era, and once said Richard Nixon represented “that dark, venal, and incurably violent side of the American character.”
Thompson also was the model for the character of Duke in Garry Trudeau’s comicstrip “Doonesbury.”
Other books include “The Great Shark Hunt,” “Hell’s Angels” and “The Proud Highway.” His most recent effort was “Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness.”
His compound in Woody Creek, not far from Aspen, was almost as legendary as Thompson. He prized peacocks and weapons; in 2000, he accidentally shot and slightly wounded his assistant, Deborah Fuller, trying to chase a bear off his property.
In February 2003, Thompson told Salon.com: “By any widely accepted standard, I have had more than nine lives. I counted them up once and there were 13 times that I almost and maybe should have died — from emergencies with fires to violence, drowning, bombs. I guess I am an action junkie, yeah. There may be some genetic imperative that caused me to get into certain situations. It’s curiosity, I guess. As long as I’m learning something I figure I’m OK — it’s a decent day.”