Earth receive an honored guest;
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie,
Emptied of its poetry.
Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honors at their feet.
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
-- W. H. Auden, from "In Memory of W.B. Yeats"
When George Plimpton, the elegant gentleman and participatory journalist, passed away a little over a year ago, I was greatly saddened by America's loss. If the goal of life is to leave no stone unturned, then George lived as rich a life as any one of us could ever dream of. Here was a man who read Plato in the original Greek, sparred with Muhammad Ali, sailed with John F. Kennedy, went to training camp with the Detroit Lions and, in his spare time, founded The Paris Review. As a man and as a journalist, Plimpton was a lion.
And now we've lost Hunter S. Thompson.
Best known for his hard-living lifestyle and gonzo journalism, Thompson was more than just a cultural icon. He was the spirited voice of the counter-culture that questioned authority. As a writer, he was a trailblazer and a literary legend. Following Plimpton's lead, he not only was one of the so-called fathers of the New Journalism but he was also one of the first journalists to impart himself into his stories. In many instances, it was hard to tell where the fiction ended and the reality began.
I first discovered Hunter S. Thompson when I was 14 years old. I'll never forget reading "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." I didn't know what to make of it but I certainly knew that I'd never read anything like it. And I was hooked. From there on, I devoured the rest of his writings and became an ardent and life-long fan. As a young boy, I'd wait eagerly for the latest issue of Rolling Stone or Esquire to arrive, hoping that Thompson would have a new piece in that month's issue. But though his flame was bright and constant, his writing was often sporadic. And though it may have driven his fans and editors crazy, the wait was always worth it. Even today, I still have clippings of articles he'd written more than 20 years ago.
Mourning the loss of this great American writer, I've been perusing many of the vast homages, tributes and obituaries that are circulating online. However, of all of them, I think one of the most poignant happens to be written by Tom Wolfe. His remembrance of Thompson sums up all that will be missed about America's misanthropic man of letters.
Rest in peace, Doctor. We'll have some Wild Turkey tonight and fire off the shotguns in your honor. Don't take shit from anyone.
Long live the high priest of Gonzo.