Thompson widow recalls final days
Son: Thompson may have just decided it was time
By Dan Elliott/Associated Press Writer
DENVER -- The question won’t go away, and Juan Thompson paused to give it some thought: Why would his father, legendary journalist Hunter S. Thompson, take his own life? Was it his declining health?
‘‘I don’t think so,’’ Thompson said. ‘‘One thing that he said many times was that, 'I’m a road man for the lords of Karma.’ It’s a cryptic saying. But there’s an implication there that he may have decided that his work was done and that he didn’t want to overstay his welcome; it was time to go.’’
The 67-year-old Thompson, author of the ‘‘Fear and Loathing’’ books and dozens of articles on everything from shark hunting to President Bush, shot himself in the head Sunday in his Aspen-area home. His son, daughter-in-law and 6-year-old grandson William were there, but the adults thought a book had fallen on the kitchen floor and didn’t give it much thought at first.
In a far-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Juan Thompson recalled what it was like growing up with a dad with an international image as a drug-crazed, gun-loving crank. But he also offered loving memories of a man he came to know as a patriotic idealist, a sometimes-gentle patriarch who could pull heartstrings with praise and win over little William with a grandfatherly wager the boy was guaranteed to win.
To Juan Thompson, the suicide was his father’s final expression of an iron will to control his own destiny. Drugs played no role.
‘‘He’d gotten a good night’s sleep, he was calm, he was relaxed, he was quite clear,’’ he said. ‘‘He believed very much in controlling events rather than being controlled by them. I would hope that people see it in that light: That we’ll never know why he chose this time, but that he had a good reason, and that it was completely consistent with his life, rather than an act of despair.’’
Thompson, a 40-year-old computer manager for a Denver restaurant company, said growing up with his famously outrageous father in the hamlet of Woody Creek never struck him as weird.
‘‘I had nothing to compare it to,’’ he said.
It’s hard to say how much his father’s life differed from the mescaline- and whiskey-crazed ‘‘Dr. Thompson’’ narrator of his famous books. Some friends have suggested it was an image Thompson ended up with – and perhaps couldn’t part with.
‘‘Part of his art was blending fact and exaggeration in so carefully that you couldn’t really tell what was true and what was not true,’’ the younger Thompson said. ‘‘And he was a very complex, complex man of many, many facets. Many facets he kept hidden from the public.’’
The younger Thompson said he doubts anyone saw every facet.
‘‘I’m sure that for the rest of my life, I’m going to be hearing stories about things that he did that will shock me,’’ he said, laughing. ‘‘And I’ll say, ’You’re kidding! He did that?’’’
He sidestepped a question about whether his father’s drug use lived up to the public perception. ‘‘Refer to his writings and use your best judgment,’’ he said with a chuckle.
As he grew up, Juan Thompson grew to respect and admire his father’s writing and his ideals.
‘‘I just feel so proud. It’s really neat, going and reading something,’’ he said. ‘‘And I think, ’Wow that’s my dad.’’’
He considers his father ‘‘a patriot in the truest sense of the word,’’ someone who believed deeply in civil rights and democracy but was appalled by the nation’s failure to live up to its ideals.
‘‘Part of the power of his writing is his disgust with the gap between the ideal and the reality of our society and our government,’’ his son said.
That puts him more in line with Mark Twain than with Ernest Hemingway, the American writer whom Thompson was frequently compared with even before the suicide.
‘‘Twain used humor heavily, satire. But Twain was a serious idealist about our country and what it could be. And about truth. Twain was such a stickler for getting down to the truth,’’ the son said.
Juan Thompson, his wife, Jennifer, and Will all spent last weekend at his father’s house, talking, watching sports on television and relaxing. On Saturday, the elder Thompson bet Will on a college basketball game. Will won. ‘‘They were generous terms, though,’’ Juan Thompson said, chuckling. ‘‘He gave Will something like 30 points, so he couldn’t possibly lose.’’
Looking back on the hours before he discovered his father dead in the kitchen, Thompson said he saw no hints of what he was about to do. Their last conversation, like so many others, was about one of the writer’s business dealings. There was no suicide note.
Juan Thompson, an avid reader who has never written professionally, also recalled an event honoring his father in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. Many writers read tributes and Juan read one of his own.
‘‘He said something like, 'Don’t kid yourself, some of that magic I passed on,’’’ he said. ‘‘And from him – he was such a craftsman with language, he took writing very seriously and held himself to a very high standard – and for him to say that, it meant a lot.’’
Thompson widow recalls final days
By Troy Hooper/Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Gonzo journalist Hunter Stockton Thompson not only planned his suicide, he had been providing instructions on how he wanted his legacy preserved, his wife, Anita, said Thursday in her first public interview since his death.
Before leaving the fortified compound in Woody Creek known as Owl Farm to take a walk for the first time since her husband shot a .45-caliber bullet into his mouth Sunday night, Anita Thompson, 32, said she was finally overcoming the horror that the renowned writer she loved so deeply had purposefully ended his life.
"At first I was very angry. He was my best friend, my lover, my partner, and my teacher," she said. "But I know he is much more powerful and alive now than ever before. He is in all of our hearts. His death was a triumph of his own human spirit because this is what he wanted. He lived and died like a champion."
In recent months, Thompson, 67, had repeatedly talked of killing himself, she said, and had been issuing directives verbally and in writing of what he wanted done with his body, his unpublished work and his assets. His suicidal designs put an intense strain on their relationship, she said, but his motives were not rooted in desperation or fear -- he simply felt his time had come.
"He wanted to leave on top of his game. I wish I could have been more supportive of his decision. It was a problem for us," said Anita Thompson, who retreated to her parents' house in Fort Collins when the two would quarrel. There, she said, he would fax her love letters.
The couple, who married in April 2003, had a profound affection for each other, and even though they feuded over Thompson's death wish, friends say the couple always reconciled.
"Hunter loved Anita so much. They were a shining example of two people who couldn't keep their hands off of each other," said family friend Tim Mooney, a former manager for musician Jimmy Buffett who first met Thompson while working behind the bar at the Hotel Jerome in the 1970s. "Their affections dominated every mutual moment that they shared every day they were together. Hunter realized that Anita and Anita's level of love for him were allowing him to live 28-hour days."
Last weekend, Anita, who was working out at the Aspen Club & Spa, called Thompson, who asked her to come home so they could work on his weekly ESPN column. She said the two never said goodbye; rather, he placed the receiver beside his typewriter that sat on the kitchen counter, loaded his revolver, and pulled the trigger.
"I was on the phone with him, he set the receiver down and he did it. I heard the clicking of the gun," said the author's widow, adding that the clicking sounded as if he was striking the keys of his typewriter. She heard a loud, muffled noise in the background, but did not know what had happened. "I was waiting for him to get back on the phone." He never did.
"I'm going to miss him horribly, you can't even imagine. He was such a beautiful man."
Juan Thompson, a Denver resident and 40-year-old son of the famous author, his wife Jennifer Winkel Thompson and their 6-year-old son Will were the only ones in the house when the shooting occurred. They told investigators the shot sounded like a book crashing to the floor. Juan Thompson found his father slumped in the chair he sat in to pen many of his classic writings. The phone receiver was still resting on the kitchen counter, next to the typewriter and a glass of the author's favorite whiskey, Chivas Regal, said his widow, who took a van from the Aspen Club back to the house, where sheriff's deputies, and tragedy, greeted her.
The night before he killed himself, Thompson gave his son a medallion he once received from Oscar Zeta Acosta, a prominent Chicano lawyer, writer and speaker fictionalized as the Samoan in the 1972 classic "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," as well as an emerald pendant Thompson had worn since 1976 -- the latter was for his wife. Anita said Thompson instructed Juan to give the pendant to her after he died.
She said none of Thompson's family members knew exactly when he planned on turning a gun on himself, a la his idol Ernest Hemingway, and that she would have intervened and "called in a SWAT team" if she would have known that the end was so near.
Now Anita Thompson plans to continue carrying on her husband's legacy as he instructed. "I have a lot of work to do, even more than before," she said, declining to reveal specific details of Thompson's last requests, except that Owl Farm is "more fortified than ever before."
But she did confirm the family plans to blast her husband's ashes out of a cannon on Owl Farm in spectacular fashion, as he had wished.
"I think we should," she said. "The more explosions, the better."