Dr. Hunter S. Thompson died last night. I suppose it was inevitable, given his impulsive leanings towards drugs, booze, and an ever-loaded arsenal of firearms.
Separate from the mad doctor’s literary importance was the importance of his simply being… a man with irrational courage to live by every impulse that crossed his curiosity, a man that lived (and died) doing everything on his own terms, a man that both valued and “loathed” people for whatever deep-seeded characteristics that lied beneath their own self-invented facades.
Dr. Thompson is dead. I was one of the many impassioned fans that had kicked-around the idea of searching for an encounter with the great Dr. Gonzo. Friends and I would talk about how we’d eventually take the pilgrimage to the Woody Creek Inn and simply wait the Doctor out… even if only to be dismissed or insulted in some way. In all honesty, the thought of being tossed aside by Dr. Thompson was almost as attractive as being taken seriously for a few moments.
As many of you know, Dr. Thompson was a political junkie, titling a published collection of correspondence “Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie” and more famously authoring his personal account of the 1972 presidential campaign originally published in segments in Rolling Stone, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trial ‘72”. During my work at the State Capitol here in Colorado, the presence of Dr. Thompson loomed among Democrats who’d receive random faxes on subjects ranging from the Lisl Aumon case to Republican redistricting attempts.
This last year, I was working closely with the John Salazar for Congress campaign as a budget and fundraising monkey for the Democratic Party. One of my duties, which I was admittedly horrible at, was to solicit donations from big-money folks who had already maxed-out to John’s campaign. This kind of rubbing shoulders and ego-stroking for dollars was a source of great pressure for me. As always in close races, the money was important and trying to pry it away from people who valued money so fervently required a used car salesman-like persistence and slickness that I lacked. Although the cause was a good one, I found it difficult to hound people over and over for money… one of the necessary evils of political success.
It was tough-going (seemingly) but we got all the money we needed for the program and, after some adjustment, everyone was paid. Of course, we won the race.
While sending numerous fund-raising letters about the country, I decided try my luck at a donation from (and a chance to correspond with) Dr. Gonzo himself. Of course, I wrote the letter to Dr. Thompson but it was under the name of “State Rep. John T. Salazar, Candidate for United States Congress”. It was unlike all other letters sent to potential donors. It included John’s quasi-admiration for Hunter and his acknowledgement of his literary importance (John’s never heard of Thompson and furthermore doesn’t read much other than newspaper articles). It also included rhetoric about John’s passion for second amendment issues (The Congressman is a gun hobbyist and a staunch supporter of the second amendment). I figured this might prod Dr. Thompson into giving a modest donation given mutual interest in firearm protection and by virtue of the fact that Woody Creek is in the 3rd Congressional District (not knowing if he’d ever really donated to a political campaign) or, more importantly, solicit a written response of some kind.
Dr. Thompson faxed his correspondence, on beautiful “Gonzo” letterhead, on September 24th of last year… and his letter put me in the hot-seat for a good week or more by the powers that be. In his handwriting it was marked “Urgent” and was very obviously fashioned on a manual typewriter. His fax read as follows:
To: John Salazar for Congress
From: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Woody Creek, CO
Subject: Voter bleed-off you Will Face on Nov 2, inre: LISL AUMAN CASE
I WANT to support you, bubba, and I am deeply inclined to vote for you in November and send you to D.C. as my official Representative in the next U.S. Congress. Indeed, we seem to agree on 93% of all points, problems and honorable solutions to all that plague us not only out here on the Western Slope of the Rockies, but everywhere else in America where decent people still believe in the magic possibilities of what we know as the great American Dream.
Right. And now for the bad news, John, and I want you to listen carefully because what I am telling you now is main key to your fate after November 2 – along with the fate of yr. Ill-advised brother, Ken, who is currently the AG of Colorado and also my bitter professional adversary in a MAJOR case that is even now awaiting a landmark decision by the CO Supreme Court of our state and our home and our future.
That would be the LISL AUMAN FELONY MURDER CASE, John, and yr. Brother is all too familiar with it. Ho ho. (see my lead article, titled PRISONOR OF DENVER, in the recent June ’04 issue of VANITY FAIR. Read it and weep)…. Because Ken is the villain in that case. He is the monster prosecutor, and his name is scorned all over the world as a living symbol of police brutality and systematic corruption of our Criminal Justice System. And he is proud too of his evil notoriety. That is why I & many others will not VOTE for him…
And maybe not for you, either – if your position is the same as your brother’s on the LISL AUMAN case. That is a promise. If you want to run for Congress on a platform that includes keeping an Innocent young woman in prison for the rest of her life, with no possibility of ever being paroled, I will denounce you (and Ken) in the national media & declare myself a write-in candidate for both the Senate & the House and I will get many, many votes in Colorado.
Think about it, John, and pls. explain (to me and all my readers) your on-the-record position vis-à-vis the Lisl Auman scandal ASAP – and nevermind your insulting request for a $10,000 campaign contribution. That was stupid. Who the **** do you think I am? And how many other professional journalists have you tried to hit up for a $10k gift? Are you a fool? Why don’t you ask yr. Brother, or Hal Haddon, or Morris Dees, or Bill Ritter, or Gerry Whitman what kind of fool I am? And then get back to me on this matter.
Or ask Carl Wagner, who is coming out here for the month of October to ramrod John Kerry’s campaign in Colorado. They will both be here soon, and they are both good friends of mine. YOU will need us in November, John. And we will need you. That is a fact. This is the most important election in America since 1860, and if we lose in Colorado you will not be living in Washington next year.
HUNTER S. THOMPSON
(Hand written underneath his signature, with a star next to it -and underlined- was the phrase “all politics is local.”)
Dr. Thompson’s response both terrified and delighted me. I received a good spanking for sending him a letter from John (without authorization) in the first place… and would see my head on a platter if Hunter did, indeed, declare himself a write in candidate for U.S. Congress and U.S. Senate.
Of course, that never happened and, thankfully, Dr. Thompson was incorrect in his assessment that if Kerry loses, then so will John. I can’t say that I’m in complete agreement with the Doctor with respect to the Lisl Aumon case, either… but it doesn’t matter. Simply prompting such an exemplary response from Hunter was worth the headaches it caused me. I very much wanted to write him back, a good time after the election, explaining the situation and maybe even soliciting a dialogue concerning Lisl Aumon, Colorado Politics, or whatever…
In fact, believe it or not, the evening Dr. Thompson died I was pondering that very notion while sitting with Curt Wallach and Sal Pace at a less-than-attractive bar in suburban Denver.
Today the infamous fax is in my possession, lovingly framed and packaged (along with a Ralph Stedman illustration: “Vintage Dr. Gonz”) by Curt Von Feldt and Curt Wallach. It has meaning to me now even more than before as I, and many others, morn the death of The Great American Dr. Hunter S. Thompson… and as we all, in our own way, find ourselves on our individual “savage journey into heart of the American Dream”.