The time we went to Hunter S Thompson’s invite-only wake

“For the drug-devouring, gunslinging godfather of of Gonzo journalism, there was only one way out of this world – a bullet in his brain. Blinking through the aftermath of Thompson’s smoking-barrel suicide, Robert Chalmers joined Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn et al for Hunter’s intimate, invite-only memorial bash and raised a defiant fist to a great American maverick. ‘Hunter S Thompson f***ed up my life.’ So begins the eulogy delivered by Ralph Steadman, Thompson’s longtime collaborator, to the invited audience of friends and family at the writer’s memorial service, in Aspen, Colorado.’He was a bastard,’ Steadman continues. ‘But he was a good bastard. I used to tell him he was a fraud,’ the artist says, recalling Hunter’s perennial threats to blow his brains out. ‘I am deeply sorry that I was wrong.’ Steadman’s opening line was a last-minute improvisation, fuelled by Flying Dog Ale and Courvoisier, and replaced the introduction he’d prepared earlier. ‘The first words I will say,’ he had told me, as we drove to the function, ‘will be: Are there any other rich bastards in this room? At which point I will raise my arm and you must raise yours too. Because if nobody else in the room puts their hand up, the next line won’t work.’ Halfway through his speech, Steadman suddenly remembers his original opening. ‘Are there any other rich bastards in this room?’ he asks, staring pointedly at my table. I raise my right arm. No other hand goes up. Steadman pauses, stares into space, then forgets to deliver his punch line, drifting instead into an unrelated anecdote about horses, leaving me with my hand in the air, in my £17.99 Gap shirt, while certain fellow guests – without turning my head I can see Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson and Benicio Del Toro – stare at me as if I have taken leave of my senses. It is one of the less comfortable moments of my life. It’s a little over two weeks since Hunter S Thompson, sitting at his desk in the kitchen at Owl Farm, picked up his .45, put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He was 67. His suicide, as Steadman says, was not entirely unpredictable. …”

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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