February 23, 2005

Comparing the reactions to the deaths of Hunter S. Thompson and Arthur Miller.

Have you noticed the difference in how the press has covered the deaths of these two prominent writers? When Arthur Miller died, the press did what was necessary to mark the passing of the man who was generally recognized as a major literary figure (and had the celebrity plus factor of having been married to a mega-celebrity). But the outpouring of interest in Hunter S. Thompson doesn't seem to be an effort to give coverage equivalent to his literary standing. It seems to be an expression of genuine, spontaneous love. That's my impression anyway. Do you disagree? I realize part of it is that journalists have a special feeling for another journalist. But the coverage of Thompson has been extraordinary.

Just to take the NYT, in addition to the usual obituary, there are a number of extra articles, like "The Thompson Style: A Sense of Self, and Outrage" ("To Mr. Thompson, it was all true, every word of it. Maybe not literally, you-can-look-it-up true, but true in a way that the bean counters would never understand.") and "With an Icon's Death, Aspen Checks Its Inner Gonzo" ("Some said that Mr. Thompson's suicide on Sunday night marked the stilling of a voice that kept some of Aspen's old counterculture alive. Others said the roots that he helped establish here ran too deep and would live on without."). In contrast to the usual circumspection about the use of guns, the Times picks up an AP story that begins this way:
Hunter S. Thompson, the "gonzo journalist'' with a penchant for drugs, guns and flame-thrower prose, might have one more salvo in store for everyone: Friends and relatives want to blast his ashes out of a cannon, just as he wished.

"If that's what he wanted, we'll see if we can pull it off,'' said historian Douglas Brinkley, a friend of Thompson's and now the family's spokesman.

Thompson, who shot himself to death at his Aspen-area home Sunday at 67, said several times he wanted an artillery send-off for his remains.

"There's no question, I'm sure that's what he would want,'' said Mike Cleverly, a longtime friend and neighbor. ``Hunter truly loved that kind of thing.''

Shooting the remains of a gunshot suicide out of a cannon? Isn't it extraordinary for the NYT not only to refrain from the usual headshaking about the suicide risk from keeping a gun around the house but also to seem to celebrate the craziness of shooting a gunshot victim from a cannon?

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