William F. Buckley
If what was before the house was just the formal news bulletin, a famous person who had left Earth for other bournes, then OK, let him go with conventional solemnities. I once attended funeral services at which the rabbi didn't remember the name of the deceased, so that he mourned the passage of Priscilla, remarking the good she had left behind in her lifetime -- never mind that the lady who lay in the coffin was called Jane; never mind, the incantations were generic.

But Hunter Thompson would never be confused with anyone else, and when his wife was led through the police cordon to his room, she reported to the press that "he did it (fired the .45-caliber pistol) in his mouth," leaving "his face beautiful. It was not grisly or gruesome by any means. He lived a beautiful life."

He didn't. What he did do was inspire devotional encomiums from people who included blood relatives (my son), and superstar mentors (Tom Wolfe). Wolfe spoke first of his stylistic achievements. He wrote "in a style and a voice no one had ever heard before." And Wolfe found in Hunter's life an originality perversely appealing. It was "one long barbaric yawp, to use Whitman's term, of the drug-fueled freedom from and mockery of all conventional proprieties." What he wrote was "'gonzo.' He was sui generis." "In the l9th century Mark Twain was king of all the gonzo-writers. In the 20th century it was Hunter Thompson, whom I would nominate as the century's greatest comic writer in the English language."

Writing in The New York Sun, John Avlon spoke of Thompson's determination "to puncture the pretenses of the powerful with ruthless humor, a loyalty to deeper truth, and a hatred of hypocrisy. Beneath what could be called amoral behavior there was in fact an inflexible moral code. The intensity of his writing unsentimentally highlighted the real stakes of this life." What deeper truths?

Henry Allen of the Washington Post wrote that "People will forgive almost anything of writers who can astonish them and make them laugh." What was it, in Thompson, that we were forgiving? Is that question answered in Allen's sentence that "despite his rants about the onanistic squalor of journalism, (Thompson) had the bearing of an adventurer striding out to the very edges of madness and menace"? Laughable stuff?


William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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