At this moment in our checkered cultural history, when buff young hotties eat cockroaches on Fear Factor just to get on TV, it's comforting to think about HUNTER S. THOMPSON, somebody for whom extreme behavior was neither a pose nor a ploy. Thompson, who committed suicide on Feb. 20 at his home in Woody Creek, Colo., at the age of 67, was best known for his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, an account of a lost week he spent reporting from the gambling capital and succumbing to ranting, hallucinatory, pharmaceutical paranoia. The book is subtitled A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, and it may be about America, or it may be about Thompson--by the end you don't really distinguish between the two.
Thompson's fearlessly subjective, expressive, propulsive journalistic style (in succeeding books like Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72) has been endlessly imitated but never equaled. That's because nobody else had Thompson's gift for describing altered states of mind with absolute lucidity. More important, no one else had his curiosity about this country and his righteous, inexhaustible rage at its numerous shortcomings, a rage that never cooled or hardened into cynicism. If he overindulged--and he did--it was in pursuit of a truth he felt he could find in no other way. "There is no honest way to explain it," he wrote, "because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over." He has gone over now, and we can only hope he finally found what he was looking for. --By Lev Grossman