Gonzo Meets the Press #12 June 23, 2011
A poignant piece about death in the Good Weekend prompts Tom Krause to think
about his hero, Hunter S. Thompson: how he ended his life, and how he lived
“I would feel real trapped in this life if I didn’t know I could commit suicide at any time.”
That was Hunter S. Thompson, the patron saint of this blog (http://ten.com.au/meet-the-press-paul-bongiorno-20885.htm),
speaking to his good friend and illustrator, Ralph Steadman, many years ago.
Steadman mentions it in the introduction to his book, The Joke’s Over:
Memories of Hunter S. Thompson, in which he chronicles his 35-year roller
coaster ride with the Gonzo journalist and author.
And, of course, Thompson lived up to his suicide promise, shooting himself with his .44 Magnum in
February 2005, tired of living with pain from his hip replacement and spinal
stenosis, and the even greater pain of having George W. Bush as the re-elected
In the last chapter of his book, written a year after Thompson’s
death, Steadman sends a “Memo to the Sports Desk” to his friend, who was also a
columnist and used to send memos from the sports desk:
“George Bush is a fraud who beat Al Gore by cheating and won a second term by presenting his
credentials in a violent lie as the enemy of terrorists and the saviour of
democracy throughout the world. He is scum and always will be scum. He will live
on as the lowest form of intelligence at an executive level this world has had
to suffer. Hunter, that is why you committed suicide. Your America had gone. It
was seriously the death of fun. THE JOKE WAS OVER.”
That was Ralph Steadman, writing in Gonzo style, to Hunter S. Thompson. I’m not sure whether either one
of them would be laughing now that Barack Obama is president, but I’d like to
think it would at least raise a smile on Thompson’s face.
What prompted this blog entry was Frank Robson’s wonderful piece about death in the Good
Weekend magazine in the SMH last Saturday, June 18 (http://bit.ly/mRrlUj ) in which he quotes Hunter
S. Thompson: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of
arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in
broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly
proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’”
The “cloud of smoke” refers to a large makeshift cannon designed by Steadman which shot Hunter’s remains into the sky
above the mountains of Colorado, as part of a memorial service planned by
Thompson and funded by the actor Johnny Depp, who played Hunter in Fear and
Loathing in Las Vegas. (The illustration at the top of this blog is by
Steadman from the book cover of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.) Hunter
always wanted to go out with a bang.
Frank Robson is a veteran Australian journalist, born in New Zealand, who was led to contemplate how he would live
the rest of life, now that he had turned sixty, at a party where he was the
oldest person … and the most adventurous, still smoking, drinking and doing
Good on you, Frank, I thought, and wondered if I would be able to match his desire to live it up until I die. But I also thought I’d have
to be honest about my chances of going out on a high note, as Hunter did. Then I
decided since hardly anyone reads this blog, except me and a few of my friends
and family, and the odd Channel Ten website users, who complain when I suggest
they can also read this on our Facebook page, I said to myself: “why not write a
honest bucket list as all Old Farts seem to be doing?”
So here goes:
I will continue to go on my daily morning walk, even though I can hear the
creaking joint in my 24-year-old left hip replacement (the equally aged right
hip replacement is not creaking yet!).
I will not stop drinking beer. I still agree with Henry Lawson: “Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel
without beer.” Life without beer would be dull, indeed.
I will continue to rail against employers who sack workers to improve the bottom line and boost
returns for shareholders.
I will fight the good fight against racism, and I don’t need to watch an SBS doco (even if it is quite good) that proves
Australians are racist. We are all racist to a certain degree, and we can’t
change that, until we admit it.
I will go to parties and dance until my artificial hips tell me it is time to stop.
I will continue to scream loudly at Swans game and berate the opposition, especially if it is Collingwood,
even if it does embarrass my companions and fellow supporters, because this is
what Australian football is all about!
I will buy books, even if their death is imminent (which I don’t believe), and will never throw any out. They
are the most valuable things on the face of this earth (human and animals are
not things, of course, and more valuable).
I will eventually use my Frequent Flyer points, when I can finally work up
enough courage to retire. And I will take my long-suffering wife, whom I love
dearly, along for the ride. We will write to the family, and bring back presents
for everybody, especially the grandchildren.
I will continue to rewrite my thrice-rejected novel about television, until I am satisfied it is good enough
to submit again.
I will not go gentle into that good night, for the night is long and very dark.
And last but not least, I will listen to Christmas carols all year round, and sing them very badly.
Since I started with Hunter S. Thompson, I thought I should end with him. In his book, Kingdom of Fear:
Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American
Century, Thompson tells the story about crashing a Cadillac into a
waterfall off the California coast near Big Sur. He lights up a marijuana pipe
and says to his wife: “We must have taken a wrong turn.” She replies: “You’re
very strange – and you don’t know why, do you?” He says “No, I’m stupid.” She
whispers: “It’s because you have the soul of a teenage girl in the body of an
elderly dope fiend. That is why you have problems.”
Hunter S. Thompson had problems, but he lived life to the full until the end.
Tom Krause is the supervising producer of Ten’s Meet the Press. His views are his own; always have