Anne Taylor Fleming Remembers Author Hunter S. Thompson

March 29, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: I was saddened and troubled by the recent suicide of notorious journalist Hunter Thompson. I came of age with him, his exuberant, drug-fueled reportorial lunge at America.

Thompson, along with Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote and Gay Talese, pioneered a newer, freer, and much more personally inflected brand of journalism than had been seen before in our newspapers and magazines. In many ways, all those men are my godfathers of sorts, licensing young women like me at a time like that to find and use our own voices.

We did, and I am grateful. It was a crazy, sometimes awful time; the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King; Vietnam; the days of rage in Chicago; Nixon and Watergate –

RICHARD NIXON: Well, I am not a crook.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: The anti-war movement and the women’s movement, a tangle of emotionally laden subjects that stirred the juices and outrage of many writers, Thompson among them. The world moved on, calmed down. Mailer and Wolfe turned to fiction. But Thompson kept the faith, if that’s what you can call it, railing till the end.

The obits were generally laudatory, suggesting, a number of them, that he died on his own terms, and that that was just fine. Was it? What do we think about this, a self-confessed lifetime drug and alcohol abuser putting a gun to his head? I ask, because I was asked, in particular by my teenage niece, who a month earlier had called to tell me that a 15 year-old girl she knew had taken her own life. She was sad then, and deeply bothered.

Suicide is now the third leading cause of death for young people, a very troubling statistic. So what do I say: That it was okay for Thompson because he was older and wearier, and his back and hips hurt, and he’d had enough to drink and snort to last two lifetimes? And that it’s not okay if you’re young, because the darkness will pass and you will see the sun again? That’s what we do say to the young, our high school and college kids, venturing forth often with complicated feelings and fears and mood swings: That it will pass, the suicidal impulse.

We read about their deaths: Jumping off a building, hanging themselves, drinking enough to go blotto into the night. And we say, “No, no, shouldn’t happen, not then, not so young.” Maybe we have to say, too, contrary to the tenor of Thompson’s own writing and some of his obits, that a lifetime of alcohol and drugs isn’t cool, doesn’t breed happiness; that it’s not fun and it’s not funny, and that it is, by definition, a depression-inducing lifestyle, not recommended if you indeed want to see that sun again.

And maybe those of us who owe a journalistic debt to Thompson ought to be the first to say that. I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.