On blogdex now the top 5 linked stories are all about this, the unsurprising death-by-suicide of Hunter S. Thompson, a man whose oeuvre has probably inspired more terrible writing and stupid, inconsiderate behavior amongst young men of writerly ambitions than anyone's save that of Charles Bukowski. The hagiographic tone of the LA Times obit gives you an idea of the line that most of Big Media will take with this. It's also a good bet that Big Media won't note the irony that they're celebrating someone who was known for subverting the paradigms of the mainstream media of his time.
Lileks hits just about the right tone:
A great writer in his prime, but the DVD of his career would have the last two decades on the disc reserved for outtakes and bloopers. It was all bile and spittle at the end, and it was hard to read the work without smelling the dank sweat of someone consumed by confusion, anger, sudden drunken certainties and the horrible fear that when he sat down to write, he could only muster a pale parody of someone else’s satirical version of his infamous middle period. I feel sorry for him, but I’ve felt sorry for him for years. File under Capote, Truman – meaning, whatever you thought of the latter-day persona, don’t forget that there was a reason he had a reputation. Read "Hell's Angels." That was a man who could hit the keys right.
Both Roger and Tim Blair are surprisingly hagiographic, Blair linking to a typically incoherent rant by Ken Layne. So sue me if I prefer Gerard van der Leun's thoughts, thoughts which were most likely the more common perspective for someone who encountered Thompson. Read the whole thing, but this ending is perfect:
Yesterday, it would seem, he left in the same way that he lived -- gun-crazy, thoughtless, self-obsessed and selfish to the last second. A gunshot suicide at home, leaving his wife and son to discover and deal with his ruined corpse and clean up the room. What a man.
Unlike most of the other people I quoted, I've never met Hunter S. Thompson, nor have I ever even known well anyone who's known him, nor am I even remotely of the age group that lived through the most important events he chronicled. Of course I read Thompson's stuff from the 70s at more-or-less the right age and freaked out over it. Hell, I've even read pieces from the 80s and 90s that were pretty good. And I realize that the very best stuff, Fear and Loathing etc., still holds up as great writing.
But ultimately all that Thompson is to me is character, a rather corny idea of what it is to be a writer and what it is to be a man that's impressive to young men. Both the writing and the character had almost entirely pernicious effects. Emulating the writing, i.e. "gonzo journalism" led to Michael Moore, Ted Rall, and whatever crap they're publishing in the New York Press these days. Emulating the character led to rehab, gun fetishism, and motorcycle accidents.
Hunter S. Thompson. May he find the peace in death he could never find in life.