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Honolulu Lite

CHARLES MEMMINGER

Sunday, December 8, 2002


Life of gonzo takes its toll
on Hunter S. Thompson


Hunter S. Thompson, the legendary pioneer of Gonzo Journalism who has amazed fans with both his brilliant writing and his capacity to consume enormous quantities of drugs and alcohol, hobbled into the bar at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel like a casualty of war.

If there is such a thing as a war on drugs, in Hunter's case, the drugs are winning. Eyes watery, hunched over and grasping chairs and table tops to stay semi-perpendicular, the man who endured fear and loathing in Las Vegas, fear and loathing on the campaign trail with George McGovern and fear and loathing just about anywhere else he went finally collapsed into a chair on the lanai next to the carp pond.

I had been waiting an hour to meet Hunter, a hero of mine since college days when he showed a new generation of writers the difference between being involved and being committed. Take a ham and egg breakfast, for instance. The chicken was involved, the pig was committed. Hunter's method of writing was one of total commitment, from the time he rode with the Hell's Angels and got stomped for the effort, to his frequent trips to Hawaii to "cover" the Honolulu Marathon for various magazines and news outlets, this time for ESPN.com. "Cover" in this sense meaning checking into a swank hotel, getting ripped out of your mind on various chemicals and potions and then somehow cobbling together a riotous report on thousands of race fanatics who have nothing better to do then slog up Diamond Head Road in the pouring rain.

It was with a certain fear and loathing that I agreed to meet with Hunter, knowing that heroes are best kept in one's mind. But he did not disappoint me. Drinking champagne, coffee, scotch and some kind of gin drink concurrently, Hunter spent a few hours talking about his life, Hawaii, writing, but mostly telling me to "settle down and shut up" because I made him nervous and my voice apparently grated on him something fierce.

Anyone who has read any of Hunter's work knows that what he's seeing and hearing are not necessarily what everyone else is experiencing and there's a good chance that I was appearing to him as a 250-pound beer-swilling gecko, in which case telling me to settle down and shut up was not only appropriate counsel but rather courageous.

ATTENDING TO Hunter's immediate needs, such as fixing his glasses (i.e. keeping them filled with various liquids), bringing him food and pointing out on a tourist map exactly where he was in the world, was a friendly, attractive young blonde. I didn't catch her exact connection with Hunter but I gathered it was something along the line of fiancé, soul mate, enabler and accomplice. She charmingly offered me a few spritzes of some sort of human growth hormone concoction, which, when sprayed under the tongue provides an "energy boost." I declined, mostly on the basis of extreme fear.

Drugs always seem to make life harder, not easier. When simply walking across a room, ordering a bottle of champagne and putting a cigarette into a holder without trembling is a challenge, life has become unnecessarily difficult. So it was with some sadness I sat, trying not to fidget or talk too much, watching the great writer. Like Ozzy Osbourne, Hunter Thompson had become a doddering old man before his time. And, sadly, like Ozzy, I fully expect him to have his own reality TV show soon.




Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com





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