Dust-Up Over Hunter Thompson's Final Years

Rolling Stone Magazine is turning 40. It just released its first digital issue. I was a teenager when it first came out and read it religiously. I subscribed for years. I still read it from time to time.

So, it's painful for me to see there's been a brouhaha in the media this week about Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour's biography of Hunter Thompson. For a quick recap, check out:

I'm not going to slam Wenner's book, I haven't read the whole thing -- just the 8 pages of excerpts in Rolling Stone last month, which I read on an airplane and enjoyed. Even Anita says there's some good stuff in the book.

But Anita very much disagrees with Wenner's characterization of Hunter (see the LA Times review)at the end of his life, his criticism of Hunter's ESPN reporting and the impression he gives that Hunter did nothing worthwhile after leaving Rolling Stone.

On Hunter's ESPN reporting, his activism and the impact he made during the final years of his life, I feel qualified to weigh in and I'm going to side strongly with Anita (and not just because she's my friend.)


During those last years, I followed, praised and quoted Hunter's ESPN articles and his activism on behalf of Lisl Auman, a woman unfairly serving a life sentence for felony murder, both on TalkLeft and before that here.

You don't have to take my word for it on Hunter's later writings. You be the judge. Here are my favorites:

  • A Crime Against Nature
    "OK, that's about it for sports this time. But I have a flash of Good News from the Police Atrocity front, which is heating up in Denver. Stand back! Good News is rare in the Criminal Justice System, but every once in a while you find it, and this is one of those times. To wit: The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has formally entered the Appeals trial of young Lisl Auman -- the girl who remains locked up in a cell at the Colorado State Prison for the Rest of Her Life with No Possibility of Parole for a bogus crime. Lisl is a living victim of a cold-blooded Political Trial that will cast a long shadow on Denver for many years to come -- she is the only person ever convicted in the United States for Felony Murder while in police custody when the crime happened.

    The NACDL brings a heavyweight presence to this case that will quickly level the playing field. Nobody needs a public fight with a team of Elite warriors from the NACDL. It will be like having to fight Joe Frazier every day for six months. There will be injuries, and there will be more than one trip to the Emergency Room this time. No more easy wins for the black hats. The worm is about to turn. That is also a good early bet. Take my word for it."

  • Several Grave Injustices
    I don't do this very often -- Never, in fact -- but this case is such an outrage that it haunts me & gives me bad dreams at night. I am not a Criminal Lawyer, but I have what might be called "a very strong background" in the Criminal Justice System & many of my friends & associates are widely known as the best legal minds in that cruel & deadly business.

    It is no place for amateurs, and even seasoned professionals can make mistakes that are often fatal. The System can grind up the Innocent as well as the Guilty, and that is what I believe happened to 20-year-old Lisl Auman, who was unjustly found guilty of murder and sent to prison for the rest of her Life Without Parole.

    ....In all my experience with Courts & Crimes & downright Evil behavior by the Law & the Sometimes criminal cops who enforce it, this is the Worst & most Reprehensible miscarriage of "Justice" I've ever encountered -- and that covers a lot of rotten things, including a few close calls of my own. ....I learned a lot about Karma in those moments, and one thing that sticks with me is a quote from Edmund Burke that says: "THE ONLY THING NECESSARY FOR THE TRIUMPH OF EVIL IS FOR GOOD MEN TO DO NOTHING."

    ....That is what got me into the Lisl Auman case, and that is why I will stay in it until this brutal Wrong is Righted.

  • Abandon all Hope Ye in Tampa (included not because I agree but because it's classic Hunter):
    Some people will tell you that Bill Clinton fits that description far better than Bush or Nixon -- and they are not entirely wrong. Nixon stabbed his Enemies in the back, but Clinton did it to his Friends. His lust to inflict Punishment surpassed even Nixon's, and he put more people in prison than Caligula. He had his own brother locked up & he refused to pardon his old friend Webb Hubbell. Richard Nixon was a criminally insane Monster -- Bill Clinton is a black-hearted Swine of a friend.

    One of Clinton's most Ignoble acts as President was not to pardon an Innocent 22-year-old girl named Lisl Auman, who will now go to prison for the rest of her life without Parole for a crime she was never even Accused of committing. It is a long, ugly story & we don't have time or space for it now -- but you can get the gist of it from Lisl.com.

  • Hunter stayed involved in Lisl's case until he died. He kept the pressure on and rallied so many people to her cause. Boulder Weekly reported her website had 750,000 visitors after Hunter took up her cause. In 2004, he wrote Prisoner of Denver, a scathing article criticizing the police and district attorney (now our Governor) for Vanity Fair. It's excerpted here, and if you are a fan of Hunter's writing and haven't read it, it's great.

    After Hunter's death, Lisl's family posted:

    We are grateful for his empathy and willingness to join in the effort to free Lisl from prison. As our friend, mentor and ally, he sustained and encouraged our family and Lisl's supporters. His energy, advice and knowledge were invaluable and seminal as we brought her case to the attention of our community and the world. He opened doors to opportunities which we would not have thought possible.

    Matt Mosely wrote:

    I believe that getting Lisl Auman out of jail is the most substantative achievement of Hunter's life. This was real action that galvanized a national campaign to literally save an innocent woman's life. The Free Lisl campaign took his written words off the page and made them come alive with purpose and meaning. I think he is smiling somewhere about now, dragging on a Dunhill and thinking, 'Hot damm, I knew we would prevail.'

    Hunter died in February, 2005. (Lisl was freed in April, 2006.) He stayed with her case as he promised till the end of his life. His writing about her was widely praised.

    You can also judge by what Hunter wrote on politics and other topics near the end of his life. His final ESPN "Hey Rube" column, directed to actor Bill Murray, published days before his death, is here. His Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, dated October 2004 is here. There's Hunter on the Bush Presidency in the Independent/Guardian, also October, 2004. His Hey Rube in particular was praised by many, including John Nichols at The Nation.

    Yes, Hunter slowed down at the end and was in pain. He couldn't write as frequently. But he remained a great writer and a skillful activist and he certainly was not a has-been. I think Jann Wenner is just wrong there.

    Again, I'm not suggesting Wenner's oral biography isn't worth reading. But take it with a grain of salt. It's far from a complete portrait and at least with respect to his final years, is of questionable accuracy. Hunter deserves better.

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    This is not reality. (none / 0) (#1)
    by Susie from Philly on Sun Nov 04, 2007 at 08:39:27 AM EST
    Hunter was even more brilliant in his last years. I know - I often linked to his ESPN columns, work that was a sheer joy to read, even as he chronicled the downward spiral of the American dream.

    In a very real way, it just doesn't matter what pissants may allege about his talent. It's the work itself that proves the lie.

    The Good Doctor, and revisionist weasels (none / 0) (#2)
    by Aaron on Sun Nov 04, 2007 at 07:14:21 PM EST
    It's hard to respect these people who publish books within five years of someone's death, they're kind of like obituary writers, who have a stockpile of obituaries just waiting for someone to die.  There are writers/hacks who actually almost make a living doing this.  Doubtless dozens of so-called writers have been working on books about Thompson for years, just waiting for the opportunity.  Always safer to publish after the person's death, that way these folks don't have to worry about the subject himself refuting their assertions publicly.  In my opinion it's cowardly.

    These are also the same kind of people who tried to get an interview with Hunter late in his life, by calling his agent and publicist (assuming he still had these), or offering him things through back channels in the hopes of enticing him to come out of his hole in Colorado.  Their attempts of course failed because this was entirely the wrong approach for getting in Thompson's good graces.  If they'd been real men, they would've just showed up at the Owl Farm on the latest model Ducati, with the Russian RPG strapped to their back, and a backpack containing a few bottles of Johnny Walker Blue and an oz. of Dutch Amnesia, offering to spark up a fat one and blow something up with the rocket launcher.  Instead of knocking on the door, they should've just continually revved that Italian V-twin to the red line in hopes of enticing Hunter out the front door.  :-)

    Of course journalists being what they are today, a bunch of dead hearted embittered jaded chicken liver cretinous worms, who turn up their noses at anything that smacks of illegality or social impropriety, while at the same time writing some of the most cruel hateful insidious predatory and ultimately inhuman tripe, it doesn't surprise me that Hunter didn't want to have anything to do with most of them.

    I read hunters last book, Kingdom of Fear, and found it quite entertaining, and though it was a construct that incorporated many of his previous writings, and a limited memoir, it also sharply exposed and assaulted the Bush administration and our foreign-policy, at a time when many Americans had yet to realize what was really happening, before the Iraq war.

    I also used to read hunters ESPN column in Page 2, that was only loosely about sports most of the time, and touched upon everything from his medical problems and personal exploits to what was happening in the Bush administration, Al Gore and Bill Clinton. Always irreverent, nonpartisan and politically incorrect, it was the classic Good Doctor at work.  I always looked forward to reading it, because even in his 60s Hunter was always ahead of the game, and put most everything in a historical context as well.

    [The Rumsfield-Cheney axis has self-destructed right in front of our eyes, along with the once-proud Perle-Wolfowitz bund that is turning to wax. They somehow managed to blow it all, like a gang of kids on a looting spree, between January and July, or even less. It is genuinely incredible. The U.S. Treasury is empty, we are losing that stupid, fraudulent chickencrap War in Iraq, and every country in the world except a handful of Corrupt Brits despises us. We are losers, and that is the one unforgiveable sin in America. ]

    [The Bush family must be very proud of themselves today, but I am not. Big Darkness, soon come. Take my word for it. ]

    Welcome to the Big Darkness

    [The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now -- with somebody -- and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives. ]

    [We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once.]

    [This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed -- for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won't hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force. ]

    fear & loathing in America

    [It is no accident that this vicious mess has come to a head in Florida. I know the state well. Florida has been very good to me in many wild & beautiful ways that still make my whole body hum when I think about them. ... I know Tallahassee & I know Palm Beach. I have run amok in Naples & suffered terrible boat crashes in the waters off Miami & the treacherous channels of Key West. ... I have run aground at midnight on sandbars far out in the ocean; I have lost control of my boat in many posh marinas & been rescued at sea by the Coast Guard so often that they came to recognize my voice on the short-wave radio. I have known great happiness in Florida & I still have a certain love for it.

    But I also know it to be the most corrupt & profoundly degenerate state in the Union. So many of its elected officials are so openly For Sale that politics in Florida is more like an auction than a democratic process. Its Congressmen have been jailed for Felony Fraud & its Senators have routinely committed more heinous crimes than Richard Nixon was ever accused of. ... More murders & rapes go unreported in Florida each year than in Corsica & Sicily combined. The state has no Income Tax & essentially no Law. Its cities are ruled by Depraved sots & its Universities are snake-pits of cheating & random sex in Public. The libraries are filled with Beer-Drunkards looking for Skull sessions & beautiful girls who are proud & Eager to oblige them. Oral sex is more common on the streets of Miami in the daylight hours than anywhere else in America. ]

    State of Disgrace