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Aren't all heroes suicidal?

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
February 22, 2005

 

The Edge ... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. — Hunter S. Thompson

I read Hunter S. Thompson for the first time in 1982 after a gnarly punk with a dirty Mohawk handed me a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A nihilist, schooling myself in counter culture I followed his advice. Not one for guns or random acts of violence, still I was mesmerized by the clarity in which he detailed the chaos of a Las Vegas binge, and the absurdity of unaltered reality.

On my right forearm is a tattoo inspired by a very much alive Hunter S. Thompson after reading an interview he gave to an obscure music magazine. A variation of Dr. Thompson's personal logo, my gonzo tattoo is a way of paying tribute to a journalistic hero… a hero who shot himself in the head last Sunday.

That Hunter S. Thompson is dead is not a shock. That Hunter S. Thompson killed himself is no surprise. The ultimate gonzo journalist he had no problem being part of the twisted tale he told. As a reader, I get why he chose to end the story of his life the way he did. Having lived life by his own terms, it makes sense he would end his life in the same idiosyncratic way.

It's a shame someone had to clean up after him.

I have always been a proponent of suicide, assisted or otherwise. There are more than six million people polluting the planet, I figure if a person doesn't want to hang out anymore who am I to judge. Self-determination is human right, right? After all who would want to go to a party they were not free to leave?

As documented by his writing, Hunter S. Thompson lived on the edge. His commitment to drinking, drugs, and fire arms was as hard as his prose. As a writer, Thompson contributed significantly to the 20th century. His muse may have been intoxicated, but his genius was clear. Not always easy to read, sometimes disturbing, Hunter S, Thompson was a first rate journalist, who approached his subjects from an alternate reality. A product of his time, Dr. Thompson, was never a role model, merely a messenger, with an odd way of channeling the truth.

Suicide is just another way of telling the truth.

As someone who never met Dr. Thompson, I can only guess at the reasons why he chose to take himself out of the human equation. But mourn his passing? Hell no! That would be an insult to his intent, and a disservice to his life. He did his time on planet earth, and did it well. If he wasn't murdered, is how he died really important?

Recently, the term hero has been bandied about like gossip at a second wedding. Heroes are good for morale. America loves heroes. And there are all sorts of heroes. Firefighters are heroes. It's their job right? Soldiers are heroes. Some cops are heroes. Doctors, nurses, teachers, and citizen activists are heroic by intent and action. Even tripped out artists, whacked writers, and greedy sport stars can be heroes. We all got heroes, at least we should.

Question, what do you do when a hero gives up the fight?

After much consideration I decided the question was flawed, because it assumed Dr. Thompson was responsible for fights other than his own. Heroes do what heroes do. That's what makes them heroes. Their sacrifice is their own. Some are made heroes in the act of dying, others in the act of living. Hunter S. Thompson was of the latter type. The bullet to the brain was just his way of saying goodbye.

This speaks to the larger question of the right to life, and the equally important right to a dignified death of you own design. Suicide and assisted suicide are hardly crimes, when compared to the tolerance of the cigarette industry and the profitability of the personal arms market. As a culture America has perfected suicidal tendencies. Obesity, alcoholism, drugs, danger, and utilitarian ecocide are just different ways of killing ourselves.

I suspect a suicide note will surface soon, or a semblance there of, and we will know why Hunter S. Thompson died the why he did. If not, perhaps his words finally caught up with him, and pushed him over the edge.

Whatever the case, the original gonzo journalist went out with a bang.

 
 
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