NewsHour Remembers Hunter S. Thompson, Sandra Dee and John Raitt
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KWAME HOLMAN: Hunter S. Thompson, the writer and raconteur trained an acerbic pen for more than 40 years on American politics and the cultural landscape nearly always focusing on their underbelly.
Together with Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese in the 1960′s, Thompson pioneered what came to be known as New Journalism, in which the writer becomes part of the story. Literacy critic Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post:
JONATHAN YARDLEY: In my view what they did at their best was very good. The style was original. It was arresting. It was often amusing. It was smart. It was perceptive. They saw things in ways that other people didn’t.
KWAME HOLMAN: Thompson took that one step further, practicing what he called gonzo journalism, the melting of fact and fantasy with Thompson playing a central role. Ralph Steadman was Thompson’s longtime friend and illustrated many of his books.
RALPH STEADMAN: You know, gonzo is you become part of the story. That’s what it is. That’s all it is. You just suddenly turn the story around and say it’s a boring old story let’s make it interesting. We’ll become part of it. You draw the pictures. So there we go.
KWAME HOLMAN: Thompson was born in Louisville in 1937, and during a brief stint in the air force found his way to journalism, later writing for newspapers and magazines. He also authored ten books. Thompson’s best known work was “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
JOHNNY DEPP PLAYING HUNTER S. THOMPSON: We were on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.
KWAME HOLMAN: Made into a movie in 1998, it was a drug-fueled journey through Las Vegas played out amid the tumult of the Vietnam era. It became a countercultural touchstone.
Thompson’s dispatches for Rolling Stone Magazine from the 1972 presidential campaign were the bases for “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72,” a work of vintage Thompson style — journalism about politics. His writing about politicians often was scathing. President Richard Nixon was a favorite target. Thompson’s carousing was legendary.
THOMPSON: Always roll my ice in chlorophyll before I drink whiskey. All right. What were you saying?
SPOKESMAN: He was an actor. In certain aspects of the way he presented himself to the public and at the time that he was at the highest point in his career, which is in the ’70s, there was a built-in and highly receptive audience for just the kind of stuff he was peddling, the counterculture, the wild behavior, the in-your-face, up yours behavior that was very central to the persona presented.
KWAME HOLMAN: His years of drink, drugs and hard living were echoed in the epigraph to “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” It read “he who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” Yesterday Thompson shot himself in the head in the kitchen of Owl Farm, his compound outside Aspen, Colorado. Hunter Stockton Thompson was 67 years old.
JIM LEHRER: Actress Sandra Dee was a top box office attraction at the height of her fame in the 1960s. She often played the perky good girl with the squeaky-clean image dealing with the pain of adolescent romance. She died yesterday at the age of 62, suffering from complications from kidney disease. Here she is in one of her best known films, Gidget, trying to persuade her father to give her some more money.
SANDRA DEE PLAYING GIDGET: Oh, daddy, I mean, I don’t mean to be edgy or rude to you. Gee, I’ve got a real serious problem.
ACTRESS: Darling, why didn’t you tell us?
ACTOR: What is it?
SANDRA DEE PLAYING GIDGET: Money.
SANDRA DEE PLAYING GIDGET: I’ve got to raise a mint in a hurry.
ACTOR: How much is a mint?
SANDRA DEE PLAYING GIDGET: Well — including what I have on hand, an extra $21.50 would do it.
SANDRA DEE PLAYING GIDGET: Oh, pop, please. Pop, it could mean sheer heaven or months and months of stark solitude.
ACTOR: Do you know what she’s talking about?
ACTRESS: No, I don’t.
SANDRA DEE PLAYING GIDGET: Well, you see what I need the money for is a surfboard.
ACTOR AND ACTRESS: A surfboard?
SANDRA DEE PLAYING GIDGET: A surfboard. I’m a perfectly good swimmer and I’d be extra super careful. Oh, please. Surfing is out of this world. You just can’t imagine the thrill of shooting the curl. It positively surpasses every living emotion I’ve ever had.
JIM LEHRER: And finally, singer and actor John Raitt. His powerful voice and romantic presence made him a Broadway star, best known for his roles on stage in Carousel and The Pajama Game. In recent years, he would collaborate with his daughter, singer Bonnie Raitt.
Here he is in an excerpt from the film version of The Pajama Game, a musical comedy looking at union workers in a pajama factory in the Midwest. The song is called “Hey There,” and in it, John Raitt confides his feelings for Doris Day into his Dictaphone.
JOHN RAITT SINGING: Hey, there you with the stars in your eyes Love never made a fool of you You used to be too wise Hey there you on that high-flying cloud Though she won’t throw a crumb to you You’d think some day she’ll come to you Better forget her — her with her nose in the air She has you dancing on a string Break it and she won’t care Will you take this advice I hand you like a brother Or are you not seeing things too clear Are you just too far gone to hear Is it all going in one ear and out the other.
JIM LEHRER: John Raitt died yesterday at age 88 from complications of pneumonia.