WOODY CREEK, Colo. -- With a deafening boom, the ashes of
Hunter S. Thompson were blown into the sky amid fireworks late
Saturday as relatives and a star-studded crowd bid an irreverent
farewell to the founder of "gonzo journalism."
As the ashes erupted from a tower, red, white, blue and green
fireworks lit up the sky over Thompson's home near Aspen.
The 15-story tower was modeled after Thompson's logo: a clenched
fist, made symmetrical with two thumbs, rising from the hilt of a
dagger. It was built between his home and a tree-covered canyon
wall, not far from a tent filled with merrymakers.
"He loved explosions," explained his wife, Anita Thompson.
The private celebration included actors Bill Murray and Johnny
Depp, rock bands, blowup dolls and plenty of liquor to honor
Thompson, who killed himself six months ago at the age of 67.
Security guards kept reporters and the public away from the
compound as the 250 invited guests arrived, but Thompson's fans
scouted the surrounding hills for the best view of the celebration.
"We just threw a gallon of Wild Turkey in the back and headed
west," said Kevin Coy of Chester, W.Va., who drove more than 1,500
miles with a friend in hopes of seeing the celebration. "We came
to pay our respects."
Thompson fatally shot himself in his kitchen Feb. 20, apparently
despondent over his declining health. The memorial, however, was
planned as a party, with readings and scheduled performances by
both Lyle Lovett and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
The author's longtime illustrator, Ralph Steadman, and actor
Sean Penn were on the invitation list, along with Depp, who
portrayed Thompson in the 1998 movie version of "Fear and Loathing
in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American
Dream," perhaps the writer's best-known work.
"Over the last few months I've learned that he really touched
people more deeply than I had realized," said Thompson's son,
Thompson's longtime friend George Stranahan lamented the
Hollywood-style production. "I am pretty sure it isn't how Hunter
would have done it," he said. "But when your friends make a
mistake you support them."
Anita Thompson said Depp funded much of the celebration.
"We had talked a couple of times about his last wishes to be
shot out of a cannon of his own design," Depp told The Associated
Press last month. "All I'm doing is trying to make sure his last
wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to
Thompson is credited along with Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese with
helping pioneer New Journalism -- he dubbed his version "gonzo
journalism" -- in which the writer was an essential component of
He often portrayed himself as wildly intoxicated as he reported
on figures such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. At the height of
the Watergate era, he said Richard Nixon represented "that dark,
venal, and incurably violent side of the American character."
Besides the 1972 classic about Thompson's visit to Las Vegas --
in which the central character was a snarling, drug- and
alcohol-crazed observer and participant -- he also wrote an expose
on the Hell's Angels and "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail
The Kentucky-born writer also was the model for Garry Trudeau's
balding "Uncle Duke" in the comic strip "Doonesbury."
In now-chic Aspen, Thompson was an eccentricity: He proudly
fired his guns whenever he wanted, let peacocks have the run of the
land and ran for sheriff in 1970 under the Freak Power Party
Composer David Amram, a friend of Thompson since the early
1960s, said Thompson had never expected to be successful taking on
President Nixon during the Watergate era. "He thought he would be
banned or put on an enemies' list," he said.
Thompson made himself the centerpiece of his stories "to show
that a regular person could be in the midst of the craziness of the
time," Amram said. "He was our historian."
After his suicide, one close acquaintance suggested Thompson did
not want old age to dictate the circumstances of his death. Anita
Thompson said no suicide note was left.