Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, November 30, 2001

Hunter Thompson drops
in on marathon

By Tim Ryan

Watch out Honolulu Marathon, Hunter S. Thompson is returning to the setting of one of his most memorable stories that became part of the cult classic "The Curse of Lono."

The eccentric and outspoken author/journalist of such books as Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, will cover the Dec. 9 event for his weekly "Hey Rube" column on the ESPN Web site.

Thompson covered the Honolulu Marathon for Running magazine in 1980. Actor-director Sean Penn will accompany Thompson. Penn reportedly has the film rights to "The Curse of Lono" and will scout locations on Oahu, sources said. Both are scheduled to arrive Dec. 5. With Penn will be his wife Robin and their children. Thompson will be accompanied by his assistant Anita, who is mentioned frequently in his "Hey Rube" columns.

Race officials confirmed Thompson will have access to cover any part of the 26.2-mile race.

Thompson made two trips to Hawaii in 1980 and "Curse" is about both trips. It appeared first in Running magazine as "The Charge of the Weird Brigade" in the April 1981 issue, then was excerpted in Playboy in December 1983.

In an October ESPN column, Thompson hinted that he and Penn would attend the marathon. In "Getting Weird for Devil's Day" Thompson has a "conversation" with an intoxicated Penn, in which the actor asks the journalist whether he should enter the race.

"I desperately need a Personal Challenge to conquer," Penn says. "My story blood is filling up with some kind of poison."

Thompson says "Yes ... definitely (and) I will go with you, if necessary."

In the column, Thompson receives a phone call from "old friend John Wilber" (sic) in Honolulu.

The former NFL player -- actually spelled Wilbur -- tells Thompson that "Sean Penn wants to run in the Marathon. He just called Doc Barahal (Jim Barahal) and confirmed it."

Penn is not entered in the marathon but "could run if he wanted to," joked Barahal, Honolulu Marathon president and CEO, who met Thompson in 1980. "I remember being at the starting line with Hunter and him telling me he had been up all night driving around the island," Barahal said.

Wilbur, a close friend of Thompson's, for years had encouraged Barahal to bring Thompson back to cover the race but since Thompson didn't have a regular writing outlet it was hard for Barahal to justify the expense of flying him in and providing accommodations.

Then in August Barahal learned that Thompson was writing the ESPN sports column. "After what happened Sept. 11, I called John to see if he could get Hunter to come over," Barahal said. "I thought this was a good time for the marathon to do something unique and different."

Thompson asked about bringing Penn to the event.

"In some quarters Hunter's considered to be one of the greatest living American writers and gets 400,000 hits a day," Barahal said. "Bringing Penn in would be good for Hawaii if he makes 'Curse' here."

Sources said Thompson also is considering attending the University of Hawaii-BYU football game Dec. 8.

Penn will be feted with the Modern Master Award during the 17th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival in February. He will also star and produce Radar Pictures surfer memoir "In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer's Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road." Penn's latest film "I Am Sam" opens Dec. 28.

Thompson was born in Louisville Kentucky in 1937. By the age of 10, he was writing for his neighborhood newspaper. After two years in the armed forces, Thompson began his career as a freelance writer. He lives outside of Aspen.

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