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Celebrated author had style all his own

DENVER -- Hunter S. Thompson, the hard-living writer
who inserted himself into his accounts of America's underbelly and
popularized a first-person form of journalism in books such as
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," has committed suicide.


Those columns. Those books. That sense of humor.

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    Thompson was found dead Sunday in his Aspen-area home of an
    apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, sheriff's officials said. He
    was 67. Thompson's wife, Anita, had gone out before the shooting
    and was not home at the time. His son, Juan, found the body.

    Thompson "took his life with a gunshot to the head," the wife
    and son said in a statement released to the Aspen Daily News. The
    statement asked for privacy for Thompson's family and, using the
    Latin term for Earth, added, "He stomped terra."

    Neither the family statement nor Pitkin County sheriff's
    officials said whether Thompson left a note.

    Investigators recovered the weapon, a .45-caliber handgun. An
    autopsy was planned. Joe DiSalvo, a
    spokesman for the Pitkin County Sheriff's Department, said the investigation was continuing
    but declined to elaborate.

    Besides the 1972 classic about Thompson's visit to Las Vegas, he
    also wrote "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72." The
    central character in those wild, sprawling satires was "Dr.
    Thompson," a snarling, drug- and alcohol-crazed observer and
    participant.

    Thompson, whose early writings mostly appeared in Rolling Stone
    magazine, often portrayed himself as wildly intoxicated as he
    reported on such figures as Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Bill
    Clinton.

    "Fiction is based on reality unless you're a fairy-tale
    artist," Thompson told the AP in 2003. "You have to get your
    knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material
    you're writing about before you alter it."

    Thompson also wrote such collections as "Generation of Swine"
    and "Songs of the Doomed." His first ever novel, "The Rum
    Diary," written in 1959, was first published in 1998.

    In recent years, Thompson penned frequent columns for ESPN.com's Page 2 since its launch in November 2000.

    "Hunter Thompson's passing is a tremendous loss, not just to the ESPN family, but to any fan of American literature," ESPN.com Editor-In-Chief Neal Scarbrough said. "He was a trailblazer, a literary icon who has given generations of writers and readers many lessons in finding their voices. As with any sudden loss, there is a search for answers about Hunter's passing. ESPN.com owes him a debt of gratitude for continuing his work on Page 2, where he was -- from the start -- committed to the success of the page and gave us his best as he continued to reach out to his fans, old and new. Through it all, his writing and perspective managed to occupy a space that no other writer could fill. It's sad to realize it's a voice we won't hear from again …"

    Thompson was a counterculture icon at the height of the
    Watergate era, and once said Nixon represented "that dark, venal,
    and incurably violent side of the American character."

    Thompson was often linked with fellow writers Gay Talese and Tom
    Wolfe as part of a troika of literary titans who invented a
    reporting style in the 1960s that came to be known as the New
    Journalism. But Talese, for his part, never saw it that way, saying
    Monday that Thompson was an original.

    While all three writers took an eye for description and detail
    to new heights, only Thompson immersed himself so thoroughly -- and
    often so outrageously -- into his stories, Talese told The
    Associated Press.
    "I will miss him as a man who was amusing while he was also
    insightful," the author of "Honor Thy Father" said by phone from
    his New York City apartment. "He was amusing and also maybe
    wretchedly out of step with the current morality. At this time of
    political correctness, he was never politically correct, and that
    is what I'll miss the most about him."

    Thompson also was the model for Garry Trudeau's balding "Uncle
    Duke" in the comic strip "Doonesbury." He was portrayed on
    screen by Bill Murray in "Where The Buffalo Roam" and Johnny Depp
    in a film adaptation of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."

    That book, perhaps Thompson's most famous, begins: "We were
    somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs
    began to take hold."

    Later in the book he wrote, "We had two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets
    of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine
    and a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers,
    laughers."

    Whether he actually prepared for his assignments with that kind
    of indulgence, Talese said he didn't know.

    "You never know what these people do," the author said. "They
    know what is entertaining about their material, and sometimes what
    is not true about their life becomes part of their persona."

    Other books include "The Great Shark Hunt," "Hell's Angels"
    and "The Proud Highway." His most recent effort was "Hey Rube:
    Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of
    Dumbness."

    In one of his more recent books, "Kingdom of Fear," he
    described the members of the current Bush administration: "They
    are the racists and hate mongers among us -- they are the Ku Klux
    Klan." And those were his more polite terms for them.

    "He had more to say about what was wrong with America than
    George W. Bush can ever tell us about what is right," a fellow writer, Norman Mailer, said in a statement released Monday.

    And it was Thompson's relentlessness that drew so much appreciation.

    "He may have died relatively young but he made up for it in
    quality if not quantity of years," Paul Krassner, the veteran
    radical journalist and one of Thompson's former editors, told The
    Associated Press by phone from his Southern California home.

    "It was hard to say sometimes whether he was being provocative
    for its own sake or if he was just being drunk and stoned and
    irresponsible," quipped Krassner, founder of the leftist
    publication The Realist and co-founder of the Youth International
    (YIPPIE) party.

    "But every editor that I know, myself included, was willing to
    accept a certain prima donna journalism in the demands he would
    make to cover a particular story," he said. "They were willing to
    risk all of his irresponsible behavior in order to share his talent
    with their readers."

    Thompson's compound in Woody Creek, not far from Aspen, was
    almost as legendary as Thompson. He prized peacocks and weapons; in
    2000, he accidentally shot and slightly wounded his assistant trying to chase a bear off his property.

    But despite the gunfire and the wild, drug-addled image he projected
    in his writing, Thompson was on good terms with the sheriff's
    department and was friends with Sheriff Bob Braudis and with
    DiSalvo, the sheriff's director of investigations.

    "I would definitely call him a friend," DiSalvo said. "This
    was not the way I expected Hunter to die."

    Born July 18, 1937, in Kentucky, Hunter Stockton Thompson served
    two years in the Air Force, where he was a newspaper sports editor.
    He later became a proud member of the National Rifle Association
    and almost was elected sheriff in Aspen in 1970 under the Freak
    Power Party banner.

    Thompson's heyday came in the 1970s, when his larger-than-life
    persona was gobbled up by magazines. His pieces were of legendary
    length and so was his appetite for adventure and trouble; his
    purported fights with Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner were rumored
    in many cases to hinge on expense accounts for stories that didn't
    materialize.

    It was the content that raised eyebrows and tempers. His book on
    the 1972 presidential campaign involving, among others, Edmund
    Muskie, Hubert Humphrey and Nixon was famous for its scathing
    opinion.

    Working for Muskie, Thompson wrote, "was something like being
    locked in a rolling box car with a vicious 200-pound water rat."
    Nixon and his "Barbie doll" family were "America's answer to the
    monstrous Mr. Hyde. He speaks for the werewolf in us."

    Humphrey? Of him, Thompson wrote: "There is no way to grasp
    what a shallow, contemptible and hopelessly dishonest old hack
    Hubert Humphrey is until you've followed him around for a while."

    The approach won him praise among the masses as well as critical
    acclaim. Writing in The New York Times in 1973, Christopher
    Lehmann-Haupt worried Thompson might someday "lapse into good
    taste.

    "That would be a shame, for while he doesn't see America as
    Grandma Moses depicted it, or the way they painted it for us in
    civics class, he does in his own mad way betray a profound
    democratic concern for the polity," he wrote. "And in its own mad
    way, it's damned refreshing."

    Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.