This past weekend Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide. I didn't know the man. I've never read any of his writing. I've only seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas one-and-a-half times, and I didn't really care for it all that much. But for some reason, this suicide is striking me with particular force - something is deeply troubling to me about this man's death.
Part of it, I'm sure, is a very basic stumbling block; I simply cannot comprehend that a person's quality of life would be so bad that non-existence would be preferable. But in this case there is something deeper haunting me. There is simply no way that Hunter S. Thompson's quality of life was what drove him to suicide. The man was a visionary. He created a new style of journalism ("gonzo-journalism" in which he weaved himself and his perceptions/experiences into the stories he was writing about others). He was incredibly perceptive and a master at skewering the faults he saw with American life. Given his success I have to imagine that he was financially well-off. He was famous - an American icon (for some bad, for some good, but an icon none-the-less) - but not so famous that he couldn't find quiet. Any piece of literary or journalistic drivel which flowed from his typewriter was snatched up and published. He was a regular columnist for ESPN. Surely a poor quality of life wasn't to blame.
Some have speculated that this was a long-planned suicide – that Thompson didn't want to live "old", that once he reached a certain point it was inevitable. Maybe I buy that, but maybe I don't.
Even if those are the facts, I am left staring blankly into his act, searching for a meaning, a reason, a cause, an answer. Was he bored? Here was a man who had lived his life fully (it was the basis for a critically acclaimed film!)(I'm confident that some critics acclaimed it. At very least those who wrote for High Times). By all accounts Thompson had amazing powers of observation. He could see what others could not. Did those powers fail him? Did he lose sight of his own life, of his own ability to make of it what he would? Or did he never really posses that ability? Was his wild array of experiences and success just that? Did he live his life without the realization and self-awareness that I wrote of in the "Life" post? Or did he live his life with that, and simply gave up on it? Did he think death would be a new and exciting experience? Did he simply decide it was time to end his "movie"?
I cannot know. I'm not sure that I want to know. Certainly though, only one person can answer the questions, and everyone has to answer them on their own. We don't know his reasons, we only know how he responded to them.
Hunter S. Thompson was a journalist who asked questions by placing himself into the stories of those around him.
Hunter S. Thompson was a man who obscured his answers by removing himself from his own story.