January 1, 2016

"I understood my mother’s feeling of helplessness in the face of his strength, his intelligence, his lies, and his malice, and I hated him."

"I hated him deeply and completely. If I could have called down a god’s wrath on him and destroyed him with a lightning bolt at that moment, I would have done it."

From the memoir of Juan Thompson, the son of Hunter S. Thompson, quoted in a NYT book review. Juan was in the house when his father committed suicide in 2005:
“I heard a weird cry and a crack,” Juan writes. “I thought nothing of it. Hunter was famous for his peculiar vocalizations, and the thump was probably a book he had dropped or thrown.”
Juan reports that there was, in fact, very little blood to clean up, which was something I'd worried about at the time. I said:
I have a hard time thinking of this suicide as a rational act, like that of a person in the advanced stage of a painful, fatal disease. He kills himself while he's in the middle of talking to his wife and trying to get her to come home and help him do his work. He doesn't say goodbye. And he shoots himself in the head, leaving the gory remains to be cleaned out of the kitchen. And meanwhile, his son, daughter-in-law, and 6-year grandson are in the house, doomed to come upon the scene before the wife comes home from the health club. That seems like a sudden, impulsive act that expressed some strong feelings toward the wife. 
But apparently there's a way to shoot yourself in the head that doesn't leave a lot of gory remains. Assuming Hunter S. Thompson knew about it and took care about that, I stand corrected.

57 comments:

surfed said...

A buddy's good friend committed suicide in his home one night seemingly at random. Went into the second bedroom, laid down on the bed and put a .22 caliber pistol to his head. The deed was done with minimal mess. But what an unfriendly way to go! At least have the decency for privacy among friends and family I'm thinking. But that's just me - others may differ.

Sebastian said...

"The parents of Woody Creek wanted what most parents want: excellent schools and even better dinner parties" But not, the reviewer explains, dinner as a family. In the NYT universe, "most parents" don't want that.

The Drill SGT said...

But apparently there's a way to shoot yourself in the head that doesn't leave a lot of gory remains

perhaps sticking the muzzle in your ear.

I know for a fact that sticking the muzzle in your closed mouth can produce a spectacular mess...

The Drill SGT said...

PS: It was a M1911A1. The best pistol for making messes. Since, well, 1911...

Big Mike said...

I have read that certain low-power rounds have enough power to enter the skull but not enough to leave it so it ricochets around inside the head. (Pardon me for not listing them.) As to whether Thompson knew that, he did start his career out by palling around with motorcycle gangs and he is supposed to have been very devoted to his collection of guns, so I would assume he did.

elkh1 said...

Best way to shoot yourself without leaving a mess: row a rickety boat to the middle of an ocean, a huge body of water, such as Lake Michigan, will do nicely too. Tie an anchor or a very heavy object that you want to get rid of to yourself, dig a hole in the boat, then shoot yourself. Nice water burial at minimal cost.

Don't forget to mail your will to yourself before your boat trip so your family will not look for you. Bon voyage.

Mark said...

Suicide is always irrational, contrary to right reason, whether one is physically unhealthy or healthy. But then again, our culture has embraced irrationality. It's no wonder then that scourge of self-murder is on the rise. And each one is an encouragement to another person to kill themselves, each one a push on the back of someone near the edge of the cliff. There is a reason that it was strongly condemned at common law and throughout history.

What a testament, what a legacy to leave -- to make your last act an act of violence, to go out as a killer.

EDH said...

There is a bit too much therapy talk, for my taste, in this memoir. The author gets into yoga and EST and 12-step programs. There’s a lot of murmuring about acceptance and spiritual growth.

But who am I to judge? My father didn’t like to get naked, almost every day, and sit on the porch firing large-caliber pistols while half out of his mind.


Yep.

Hagar said...

Minimum mess, 22LR, biut be carefuil about aim; maximum mess, .45 ACP, or larger, hollow point.

dbp said...

"But apparently there's a way to shoot yourself in the head that doesn't leave a lot of gory remains. Assuming Hunter S. Thompson knew about it and took care about that, I stand corrected."

The .45 ACP is a powerful but slow-moving round: It has a lot of stopping power but does't make a mess--relatively speaking. Thompson was a fan of very powerful pistols using rounds whose names tended to end with "magnum". He was sensible to avoid the use of these for his final act.

Big Mike said...

Oops! I should have done more research. Thompson killed himself with a .45 which no one would characterize as "low power."

@Drill SGT, are you sure it was an M1911A1? His wife (whom he had on the phone at the time) reported multiple clicks, which makes me think of a Colt revolver. (For those not aware, cocking a single action Colt revolver produces four distinct clicks.)

coupe said...

If you put a 38 caliber to your forehead at a downward angle toward your cerebellum, it will kill you instantly and leave very little blood. A little bondo, and presto, you're ready for display.

Don't try that with a magnum though... big mess...


Je souhaite une Bonne Année à tout le monde !

Archie Waugh said...

My father did this while in the throes of depression recovering from heart surgery. I have never forgiven him. His poor wife, who found him, now suffers from dementia. I blame him for that too.
You wanna off yourself? Go drive off a cliff or something, make it look like an accident. Anything else is selfish, thoughtless cruelty.

harrogate said...

With all the pressure and everything that is happening and the lack of general compassion, I'm always surprised we aren't seeing a tremendous spike in these acts.

Bay Area Guy said...

I was about 20 when I first read "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by HST, and I thought it was the most exhilirating book I'd ever read. I had an old Dodge Charger, V-8, 383 Engine, and would often drive between LA and SF and LV with friends - I was the designated road trip guy, so I identified with the book.

I've read all of HST's books, and loved almost all of them. That free, reckless, pioneer, political, spirit touched something in me.

But, when I started learning about HST's actual life - something else emerged: the guy was a complete anti-social jerk. There was almost no joy or beauty in the guy's life. Just alcohol, cigarettes, quaaludes, guns and a typewriter.

What a waste. I hope to teach my kids and grandkids to experience the thrill of life, Yes, but do so in a productive way. Don't embark on a path to self-destruction - like this fool. And, when you get older, slow down a bit!

Ann Althouse said...

Oh, man. I'm sorry to see the specific advice. Here's a tip: Don't murder yourself.

The Drill SGT said...

@Drill SGT, are you sure it was an M1911A1?

absolutely not.

Other than to use a 22lr pistol in the ear, I have no good advice on low mess solutions. I was trying to be witty by suggesting how to make max mess...

William said...

It's the pre mortem mess that counts.......I suppose that's the advantage of being an artist. You're remembered for the beauty you create and not the slag heaps and open pits that you leave behind in the creation of that beauty........Hunter Thompson was truly ugly, but his books were fun to read. His son sounds like a decent human being, but his book is a downer, and I won't read it.

rcocean said...

"I've read all of HST's books, and loved almost all of them. That free, reckless, pioneer, political, spirit touched something in me."

I loved them as a young man. Sadly, I went back 15 years ago and re-read them. They didn't hold up for me. They all seemed phony and forced. Too much "hey, look at me, I'm a wild and Crazy guy". A lot of it reminded me of Capote's old quip: "That's not writing, that's Typing".

I'm not surprised that a guy who praised drugs and booze was a complete anti-social jerk in real life.

rcocean said...

And the problem with shooting yourself is that x percent of times, the bullet merely maims instead of killing you. Result: you end up as a vegetable or a cripple.

The booze and sleeping pill route seems better.

Big Mike said...

Oh, man. I'm sorry to see the specific advice. Here's a tip: Don't murder yourself.

People do survive jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, and a follow-up study claimed that every survivor realized on the way down that they wanted to live after all. Which creates the question -- does everyone change their mind on the way down? Or do the people who change their mind consciously of subconsciously do things to increase their odds of survival?

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quaestor said...

According to Hitler's personal SS adjutant Otto Günsche the Nazi leader shot himself through the right temple with a 7.65mm (.32 ACP) Walther PPK pistol, a weapon more popularly known as the 007 gun. Günsche testified to the Russians that the fatal wound did not produce the nasty blood/brain mess one might expect, just a small pool of blood under Hitler's head. The NKVD was determined to prove that Hitler died by poison (the coward's way out in Stalin's opinion) therefore they attacked this detail of Günsche's account relentlessly during his eleven years of captivity, even using torture in their attempt to break his testimony.

It is possible that Günsche, a loyal SS man to his dying day, concocted the suicide by pistol shot story to protect the reputation of his Führer, however it seems to me that if he was lying he would have garnished his deception with more believable details. Why claim there was little blood when a Grand Guignol gorefest might seems more plausible? Günsche said he did not examine Hitler's body, partly out of respect and partly because he had seen enough dead men to know one on sight. However, he did see the entrance wound when he helped Martin Bormann and Hans Bauer wrap Hitler's body in a blanket, which was small, round, and showed evidence of contact range. He never saw an exit wound.

How did Hitler's suicide appear so clean? Seeking to refute JFK conspiracy nuts I have armed myself with a smattering of gunshot wound pathology, and my dangerously little knowledge informs me that much of what people expect about death by gunshot comes more from Hollywood than personal experience, whereas forensic pathologists know that small-caliber bullets fired into the skull can produce unexpected results. While modern .32 ammunition can be quite potent, in 1945 the .32 was a notoriously weak penetrator. When Walther designed their famous PPK (Polizei Pistole Kurz) they chose the .32 partly because the round was unlikely to over-penetrate. The living skull is tough, and a weak round fired into it may shatter, deflect, or pass straight through depending on a number of uncontrollable factors. When a bullet strikes a skull a hole with a typically cratered, or scooped-out backside is created. However, the cranium is often also fractured with several cracks radiating out from the entry point. Next the brain is disrupted by a pressure wave that often creates more bone fractures at right angles to those radiating from the entrance wound. Depending on the energy of the bullet, its path, and its condition (shattered, mushroomed, "pristine") and other factors there may or may not be an exit wound. If there is no exit wound the skull may be held together by the flesh and musculature such that to a cursory glance it may seem undamaged. In those cases blood and brain matter may drain into the lungs and alimentary tract, thus reducing outward bleeding to a minimum.

(repost with typos corrected)

Dr Weevil said...

Big Mike (12:33pm):
That reminds me of a news story from 20+ (?) years ago. Quebec passed a motorcycle helmet law, and a lot of motorcyclists were pissed, arguing that they had a right to do things that might get them killed. Whatever minister was in charge of the decision said something like "Yes, but unfortunately they do not always die, and then we are left with years of medical care". I've always liked that "unfortunately" and imagine the line read with a French-Canadian accent. (I've probably mangled the quotation, but I'm pretty sure "unfortunately they do not always die" is word-for-word.)

Static Ping said...

It would not shock me if Hunter had planned this out. It would also not surprise me if he had had phone conversations before with the gun to his head and this was the incident where he pulled the trigger. He was so random that almost anything is believable.

Denever said...

"You wanna off yourself? Go drive off a cliff or something, make it look like an accident. Anything else is selfish, thoughtless cruelty."

My father killed himself by driving off a cliff. He chose that method, I believe, to make the cause sufficiently uncertain that the insurance company would have to pay out on his policy. But it's not as if we couldn't figure it out, given what was going on in his life at the time.

That said, what's truly thoughtless, and ignorant, are some of the comments here about people who commit suicide. Not a surprise, though, as Althouse leads the pack in the ignorance/cruelty/thoughtlessness department on this particular subject.

rcocean said...

Interesting about Hitler's suicide. I thought he supposedly bite down on a cyanide capsule while shooting himself.

I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved if we'd told Hitler and the top Nazi leaders that if they surrendered, we'd spare their lives and give them a one-way ticket to Argentina.

Quaestor said...

Why claim there was little blood when a Grand Guignol gorefest might seem more plausible?

Damn, I hate my typos. For some reason I am unable to spot errors in my own writing until ten or twenty minutes elapse.

Steve M. Galbraith said...

But, when I started learning about HST's actual life - something else emerged: the guy was a complete anti-social jerk. There was almost no joy or beauty in the guy's life. Just alcohol, cigarettes, quaaludes, guns and a typewriter.

And he was, politically, a self-admitted, full-throated Marxist; a big defender of Mao especially. And, of course, Che.

So, here he is raging against the US police state and at the same time defending - indeed supporting - governments that made the US look like Lichtenstein.

Politics aside, he could write and was incredibly funny. But there was a nihilism behind it; it served no purpose other than to set fire to everything. And the last few years he was dreadful, just lost.

Quaestor said...

Denver wrote: He chose that method, I believe, to make the cause sufficiently uncertain that the insurance company would have to pay out on his policy.

I for one never wish to appear ignorant or thoughtless, though occasional cruelty is sometimes warranted. However, I will risk becoming a functionary of the Althouse Ignorance/Cruelty/Thoughtlessness department to point out that one may surmise that your father contracted with the insurance firm fully aware of the policy limitations, which implies that he ended his life in a manner intended to defraud. Assuming you benefited from that fraud, have you considered reimbursing the company?

cubanbob said...

@denever: well said. The urge to destroy ones self is inexplicable. It goes against our most primal instinct yet something over comes it. I don't believe in condemnation of the suicide since only they know what pushed them to go over the edge. My sympathies to those commenting here that had friends and family members do themselves in.

Michael said...

Denever:
"That said, what's truly thoughtless, and ignorant, are some of the comments here about people who commit suicide"

Point out the thoughtless and then the ignorant. Interested in your take given your proximity to the issue

Mark said...

what's truly thoughtless, and ignorant, are some of the comments here about people who commit suicide

A father (or any man) killing himself is a far more cruel and evil act than people noting how cruel and evil it is.

Look -- a LOT of people go through bad times, periods of depression, severe depression, where they hate life and really do not want to face another day. What these people need is genuine care.

They do not need someone who, by their example, effectively whispers in their ear to go ahead and kill themselves, who effectively push them in the back over that cliff. Nor do they need people who would justify these cruel and evil acts because they do not want to speak ill of the killer.

donald said...

I'm just waiting for my dad to die, then I'm outta here.

I see nothing wrong with it. My wife is gone, my mother is gone, it's just me and him and I've done pretty much everything I wanted.

leah b said...

Never new he had kids. Yeah, that wouldn't be fun having him as a father. Hope junior got lots of $$$ and the Colorado property.

David said...

I remember that post. I believed then, and I believe now, that it was an ugly aggressive and hateful act by Thomson. The amount of gore does not change my mind.

Quaestor said...

I thought [Hitler] supposedly bit down on a cyanide capsule while shooting himself.

While little about Hitler's death can be independently verified the accepted scenario does involve prussic acid. In the days leading up to his death Hitler consulted with his personal physician Dr. Werner Haase about surefire suicide techniques. Haase had seen enough near-fate head wounds to known that it is possible to bungle a suicide attempt. Haas advised a bullet to the brain and fatal poison just to make sure.

Some time earlier Hitler had acquired some suicide capsules containing prussic acid from Heinrich Himmler. When Hitler received news that Himmler had tried to negotiate a surrender through Count Bernadotte of the Swedish Red Cross, he expelled the erstwhile Reichsführer-SS from the Nazi party, and being thoroughly paranoid Hitler began to suspect Himmler's poison capsules as well. He had one of them tested on his dog just to make sure of their potency.

Quaestor said...

I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved if we'd told Hitler and the top Nazi leaders that if they surrendered, we'd spare their lives and give them a one-way ticket to Argentina.

I suspect not a single one.

Allison said...

Having been suicidal, it is not inexplicable. When you feel a great despair at your life, and you feel the pain is too great to bear, sometimes you think ending your own pain is all that matters.
It is often coupled to the thought "and this pain won't end", or worse, "on the whole I cannot foresee a time where the area under the curve of my joy is net positive."

This thought may simply be a mistaken belief, or it may be much worse than a mistaken belief.

That you cannot imagine feeling so empty of joy does not make it inexplicable. And perhaps you should try: if my life is empty of joy now, and I have significant reason to believe it will largely continue to be so, maybe I'd want to commit suicide too. Not just a bit of pain. But emptiness of feeling.

Regardless, it is an incredibly selfish thing to choose, because it means your desire to end your inability to have joy is worth the complete destruction of joy on your loved ones, and for many of them, a permanent destruction of their joy. That is what makes it evil.

Some folks do mistakenly believe "they are better off without me", but usually that is a lie they know is a lie, merely a way of rephrasing the envy of others' ability to be happy.

Other folks, especially the young adolescent or teen, honestly are "experimenting". " I wonder what it is like if I do ...." This is not inexplicable either. It's a lack of connection to living a life of meaning, so the idea of suicide takes hold more than the reality of death.

YoungHegelian said...

Well, I hate to change the topic of the thread somewhat, considering it's such a bundle of New Year's cheer, but I was touched by the part of the article where Juan Thompson describes his joy at being sent to learn sailing with Jimmy Buffet:

Mr. Buffett taught him about sailing, was “firm and knowledgeable,” and best of all, “there was no fighting, no screaming, just a boatful of slow-moving, stoned, happy people.”

Learning sailing for a child who wants to is a joy in any case. For Juan Thompson, it probably was like ascending into Heaven for a month. Imagine his feelings at the end of that month when he realized what he had to go back to. It's probably like what a soldier on R&R feels like knowing he has to go back into the front line.

orthodoc said...

"I loved them as a young man. Sadly, I went back 15 years ago and re-read them. They didn't hold up for me. They all seemed phony and forced. Too much "hey, look at me, I'm a wild and Crazy guy". A lot of it reminded me of Capote's old quip: "That's not writing, that's Typing"."

Before he fried his brain, and decided to be a gonzo journalist, HST was actually a fine writer - the Hashbury and Hells Angels articles were good.

Doesn't help that fact that he was an asshole, of course.

JCC said...

Like most of my age group, I read some Hunter Thompson early on. I have always thought him to be a doper piece of trash, with minimal talent, using juvenile sarcasm on easy targets in place of wit...I'll stop there but you get my POV on him. It doesn't surprise me to read that he abused and neglected wife and family, stayed high all the time, handled firearms when spaced, and decided to commit suicide with family and children in the same house, etc.

The list of attendees at his funeral is likewise unsurprising.

BTW, predicting the damage done by specific cartridges on the human body is a loser. Wounds inflicted are inherently unpredictable other than in generalities.

surfed said...

@YoungHeglelian - Yup. Check out my profile pic.

Helenhightops said...

@Donald 3:37 PM.

Please, please don't kill yourself.

Ann Althouse said...

Yes, Donald, please don't kill yourself. Even if all your loved ones have gone, life is worth living, and you can find value. It will end soon enough and you can never get back if you choose to leave.

Humperdink said...

@donald. May I suggest you go volunteer at the Salvation Army. You will find people who need you.

Jeffrey said...

Yes, Donald, please don't kill yourself. Even if all your loved ones have gone, life is worth living, and you can find value.

Hey Donald, you can find value in life by buying something through Althouse's Amazon portal, right?

dbp said...

I have never felt suicidal but have imagined what I would do if it came to that. I would buy a motorcycle that could go 180 mph and take it to that speed. My guess is that it would be so much fun, I would decide to live and continue doing things like that.

Other than thrill-seeking, there are always books I have wanted to read, new things to learn about, people to get to know, languages to learn. It would take many lifetimes to come close to exhausting the possibilities.

khesanh0802 said...

I think I have said this before but the thing that kept me here when clinically depressed was the thought that October is a month never to be missed by a bird hunter and I certainly wasn't going to miss it. Finally pills fixed the depression and October keeps coming around!

Roughcoat said...

Some of you are just showing off.

Michael said...

Long term solution to a short term problem.

I have always prayed for the strength to experience how it works at the very end. I think I am curious enough to see it through.

BN said...

I wonder what the suicide rate would be if society embraced it? If it was simply ok? Or even if it was exalted? How many would choose it then? Plenty, I'd guess. I hope we never get there. I fear we will.

Life... well sometimes the cost/benefit analysis just doesn't add up. Not just sometimes. See Hobbes. So perhaps, even as we throw away religion and three fourths of our other "no longer necessary" traditions, it's important that we maintain at least some of our ancient values. The intrinsic dignity of life. The most basic instinct to keep on keeping on. To "do your best." To reject the so-called "wisdom of Silenus".

I believe the biggest challenge we face as humans is to come up with a reason to keep on living. In spite of the evidence! I believe the most beautiful thing in the universe is that we (mostly) do. We keep on trying. In spite of the evidence that life is mostly just a tragic waste of time, we keep on trying! We keep on trying to make the best of it. Humans are beautiful creatures for that alone. Perhaps that's why God loves us.

Hang in there Donald. As suggested, volunteer somewhere maybe. Special Olympics kids will make you smile--a lot. That's worth something.

Steven Davis said...

I too was an admirer of HST in my youth. Being a reckless irresponsible asshole with a marketable skill was my dream life then. My respect for him waned well before his death, and alot more because of it.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

As far as I knew, I had never heard of Hunter S. Thompson until I bought Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in a used bookstore for $1 in 1978. I read it cover to cover and I laughed until I cried several times. My girlfriend kept coming in the room and laughing at me because she had never seen me like this. He became my favorite writer and I read everything that he had written and would write. I realized soon after Fear and Loathing that I had read Hell's Angels when I was about 11 or 12 or so because my eleven year older sister had gotten it from Book of the Month Club when it came out and it was around the house. I didn't remember his name. (I still have the book).

As I got older and matured, but he only got older, he stopped being as cute and funny but I still followed him through his tenure at ESPN Page 2 (I think they called it) and I checked out most anything that came out about him. He probably influenced how I express myself on paper more than anyone else I have read and I still love some of his stuff, especially the quasi-sports writing (Kentucky Derby, Super Bowl....) and he would have enjoyed the Sugar Bowl here in New Orleans last night and written it up well, I am sure, in his prime. There was some first class partying going on in the Super Dome and out into the French Quarter after the game. I took my little family straight to our cheap suburb hotel after the game. Narcissistic alcoholism and drug addiction can be really fun and funny (trust me) and then it isn't.

Rusty said...

donald said...
I'm just waiting for my dad to die, then I'm outta here.

I see nothing wrong with it. My wife is gone, my mother is gone, it's just me and him and I've done pretty much everything I wanted.

So. Donald. What kind of car you drivin'?

Bill Peschel said...

I heard the best argument against suicide recently, that you are depriving your future self from finding someone or something worth living for.

In re Thompson, I would also recommend his Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail book. Brilliant reportage on the McGovern campaign and how they organized to take the nomination. Probably his last great book before he fell off the cliff.

I thought his Las Vegas book was pretty good until he admitted in his letters that he had most of it written before he went there. Then it became obvious that it wasn't a wacked-out memoir of a trip but complete fiction.

donald said...

Chevy Slverado 2500. ��I post stuff here periodically, nobody ever really responds, but this hits a nerve with people. I've discussed it with my closest friends and they're kinda split. They Know what my wife's death did to me (Let's just say she didnt pass peacefully in her sleep, and discovering her is something that I see every fucking Saint and often sleeping second) so they get it, even the ones that implore me to carry on. All I got to say is nope. Not interested. I'm going to Joshua Tree in a couple of weeks. Staying in Gram's room. That'll be cool. We'll play it by ear after that.