Volume 17, Number 40 | February 25 - March 3, 2005

Downtown Notebook

My memorable brush with the Gonzo journalist

By Suzanne Zionts
I wouldn’t recommend sex, drugs or insanity for everyone, but they’ve always worked for me.

Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson killed himself last Sunday. My only encounter with the great Gonzo journalist was in a Barnes & Noble in Union Sq. when “Kingdom of Fear” first came out in 2003.

My hair was done. My makeup was painted on at some Soho boutique. I was waiting at the bookstore for about three hours. During this time, a man was carried out on a stretcher with alcohol poisoning and another two were kicked out for drinking out of brown paper bags inside the store. This was not an average book signing.

And then the doctor of journalism had entered the building.

I cried when he was walking through the crowd on the way to his table. People were giving him roses, alcohol. They were throwing joints at his feet. He was an author, American myth, rock star, drunk. He shook his cane at me and almost hit me on the behind as he was walking to the table. He smelled of gin. Some young woman was already mopping the sweat off his brow and freshening his drink. When I finally got my chance to meet him, he personalized my book. I think it was because I was a blonde. He kissed me on the cheek. He was a dirty old man. He was a little child in a throng of five blonde assistants.

He is my hero.

Hunter S. Thompson is the father of Gonzo journalists.

His “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is about two guys hopped up on enough acid to trip out most of the country; riding around looking for Horatio Alger’s American Dream. Thompson wrote, “You can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug, especially when it’s waving a razor sharp hunting knife in your eye.” He wrote about drug use truthfully and with an educated tongue.

Thompson’s first book, “The Rum Diaries,” tells the tale of 22-year-old Thompson taking a job as a newspaper correspondent in Puerto Rico. He writes about the stultifying effect that the weather, constant drinking and lax morals of fellow writers at the paper had on him. It made him feel like he was washed up at 22.

Over time at other news establishments, Thompson honed his own style of Gonzo journalism. The raw feelings of the moment gave rise to his writing.

In “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72,” there are times when the fallen Nixon is pitiable to Thompson even though he represents everything Thompson loathes. Nixon is seen as a limp, defeated doll.

Thompson’s prose was clear and punchy. He loved sports — being all-American — drinking and shooting. He was a lecher. He loved young blondes and his wives just kept getting younger.

I still feel Thompson was one of the best journalists in existence. He told the truth. He reported on his life weekly for his online column at ESPN.com. He allowed the journalist to become a celebrity. He followed cultural phenomena while becoming one himself

He was more than just a man, writer or a drinker. He was a self-created myth.

Sadly, Thompson represents a dying dream. He practiced journalism in the raw. He did not try to live in an isolated world of celebrities. He raised a fist to the world, his sign for Gonzo journalism. His books will be historical classics of literary journalism, his everlasting raised fist

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