Page 2

Eric Neel is a writer for Page 2.

The only time I ever spent with Hunter Thompson took place on one strange night at his home outside Aspen. I read aloud from his latest book that night -- Hunter liked that kind of thing, liked to hear his words come alive, he said. I held a number of weapons, the names of which I can't even remember, because he would just hand them to you and say, "Here, feel that." (My friend Daniel carried a sword around for more than an hour for fear of offending the good doctor.)

Remembering Hunter
Page 2 contacted several of Hunter S. Thompson's closest friends for their recollections:

  • "60 Minutes" reporter Ed Bradley
  • Political correspondent William Greider
  • Former presidential candidate George McGovern
  • Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay
  • Satirical cartoonist Ralph Steadman
  • Skiing commentator Bob Beattie
  • Page 2's Eric Neel
  • Page 2's Bill Simmons
  • ESPN Executive Editor John Walsh
  • I was taken on a tour of photographs on the walls (not framed, just tacked up there in little collages), some of the young, fit journalist, some of the baggier, more weathered writer, some of the headlong madman, and all with a half-remembered story. I ate some kind of crackers and cheese and nursed a glass of gin, praying he wouldn't peg me for the lightweight I really am. And for a stretch, I sat next to him on a low-slung leather couch watching the Kings and Lakers go head-to-head in the fourth quarter. Hunter had money on the Lakers. They were winning but not covering, so every missed shout was a wincing blue streak and a chance for him to ask me what the hell they were doing and why wouldn't Kobe feed the Big Daddy?!

    It was a strange, unforgettable a scene, but what I remember most was feeling oddly comfortable, somehow almost at home. I think it was because he came off in person so much like he did on the page -- irascible, reckless, and piercing. I think it was because I knew his words, and had fed off them for years. I know a lot of folks who would have been at home in that house that night for the same reason, actually. There's a generation of us now who've been fueled by Hunter's rhythms and sparked by the way he took shots, at power and for freedom, whether it be of ideas, of speech, or on behalf of guys getting jobbed by the man.

    Even if you didn't write like he did (who could?), you wrote in his wake, and the range of what he did and how he did it opened up the field for you. You could be personal, you could be outraged, you could be analytical, and you could blend those things in whatever sort of cocktail you wanted, just so long as you were driving for some kind of true something.

    In lieu of flowers and gifts, donations can be made to:

    The Hunter S. Thompson Foundation
    P.O. Box 220
    Woody Creek, CO 81656

    A lot of my friends have written this week about their favorite passages from "Hell's Angels," "Fear and Loathing" and "The Great Shark Hunt." (We all know he's been prone to wild, hyperbolic stuff these last several years, so we tend toward the great heights of the early days.) But I think, when I get home off the road this weekend, I'll turn to those "Lost Highway" volumes of his letters that came out a few years back.

    Have you read those? You should check them out. He wrote to everyone. Heads of companies, heads of state, friends, enemies, you name it. And every letter springs out of that pure Hunter impulse: The will to question and the courage to speak your mind. As my old friend Matt Welch wrote earlier this week, Hunter, at his best, "spoke, wrote, lived, and died, with a freedom few of us can contemplate." Sure, he may not have sustained his heights, but he reached them, and the record is there. We should read it again now. We should read it out loud. He'd like that.