Very sad news. Thompson hadn’t written much of interest lately — though he did turn out the occasional column accurately registering the utter vileness of the Bush regime and of America’s lurch toward xenophobia, repression, and willful ignornace — and it might even be said that in his later years he became, as a writer, a living parody of himself, his paranoid content and the lurid rhetoric having become all too predictable reflexes. But at his best, and very much so in his earlier years, he definitely was a great writer. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas remains a masterpiece, an absolutely brilliant, savage, and hilarious decoding of the American Dream, the only work of “New Journalism” that (unlike the tomes of Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer) has outlived the times in which it was written. Much of his other journalism from the 1960s and 1970s is nearly as good. Thompson was well-nigh definitive on Richard Nixon. All in all, he was the conscience of his times: times that were more accurately represented by his “gonzo” excesses than they could have been by any more conventional, naturalistic, and restrained mode of reportage.
Of course, you can’t talk about Hunter Thompson as a writer without confronting, as well, Hunter Thompson the legend, with the beer and the pot and the drugs and the guns and the continual acting out. By all accounts, he really was outrageous and crazy and bigger than life, and his written self-dramatizations are not as wildly exaggerated as they might seem. But as narcissistic self-mythologizing monsters go, Hunter Thompson was, by all accounts, an unusually honest and decent one.
There’s no information (at least so far) about why Thompson killed himself. The news story only quotes his son as requesting that the family’s privacy be respected. I have no way of speculating, and I can only say that, whatever the reasons for his act, Hunter Thompson will be missed.