Click here to read reviewer Douglas R. Cobb's take on Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson.
No one has ever doubted Thompson's credentials as maybe the finest purveyor of New Journalism, a style that he almost singlehandedly created in writing his second book,
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The author would throw himself into the story, or rather, make himself the center of the tale, and write everything else around that. It worked. The Vegas book and seminal pieces appearing mainly in
Rolling Stone on the Superbowl, the Roxanne Pulitzer trial, and a story based in Elko, established him not only as a unique literary voice but as a cultural icon as well.
In this oral narrative, the people who knew Hunter best talk about him. Yes, they talk about his work, but more importantly they talk about his methods. Or, truthfully, they rub the surface of his methods - how he came to be who he is - and leave the rest out.
Truly what emerges here is the picture of a man who was an anti-Semite, a racist, a misogynist, and a drug addict.
Johnny Depp, the actor who portrayed Thompson in the Fear and Loathing movie and someone who became very close to the man, writes in his intro: "Baseball is like watching a bunch of angry Jews arguing on the front porch." This is about
six pages into the book.
When Hunter went to Zaire, Africa, to cover the Ali-Foreman fight, longtime business partner and illustrator Ralph Steadman accompanied him. The English artist, who probably worked closer
with Hunter than anyone else, found it difficult to call the writer his friend even after years of working together. In his own book,
The Joke Is Over, Steadman comes as close as anyone does to describing Thompson for what he was. Here is what Thompson told Steadman in Zaire: "He said, 'If you think I came here to watch a couple of niggers beat the shit out of each other, you've got another think coming.'"
Sandy Thompson, one of the wives, relates: "Fortunately, during the time when we were married, I only knew about one woman, and I had thought that he ended that. But it turns out there were women the whole time."
Even with these revelations - and there are many more by a lot of different people - everyone excused Hunter's behavior. It's understandable in a way because they lived within his orbit; they were his friends, and for them, this was acceptable and normal behavior. It would have been truly telling if these various characters had dug deep down inside and confessed what they truly felt.
In any event, this will tell you a lot about the man. Even at the end, when he committed suicide, he was a selfish and uncaring soul. He shot himself with his own family in the house. And not one person who talks about the death - and they all do - ever comes and says, "That was wrong; that was a selfish act." They cushion Hunter, explaining about his failing health and mental condition.
Certainly, that physical and emotional deterioration had a lot to do with the level of his writing during those waning years. He was relegated to assembling collections of letters he had written or stamping out these terrible little sports columns. As a writer, he was finished. But you can never dismiss his romp through Las Vegas or the book on politics or his coverage of the Hawaiian marathon in
The Curse Of Lono. He was a bastard, a magnificent one.