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A Last Blast for Hunter Thompson


Last night in Woody Creek, Colorado, Gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson went out with a bang.

(Soundbite of Hunter Thompson's ashes being fired off)

HANSEN: Thompson's ashes were blasted into the sky as part of a fireworks display near the home where he died last February of a self-inflicted gunshot. Hundreds of Thompson's family and friends attended the invitation-only event. Among them was NPR senior foreign editor Loren Jenkins, a longtime friend and neighbor of Thompson's. Loren Jenkins joins us from his home in Colorado.

Hi, Loren.

LOREN JENKINS reporting:

Hi, Liane.

HANSEN: Now we want to hear all about it. Start with the fireworks display. Describe it.

JENKINS: Well, the fireworks display was sort of an anticlimax. I mean, the real party began many hours earlier on the back 40 of Hunter's owl farm. There was a huge tent for guests. There were actually a great variety of guests that ranged everywhere from former presidential candidate George McGovern and John Kerry to--you name it--to dozens of lawyers, law enforcement officials, writers, historians, artists and even half a dozen retired drug addicts.

HANSEN: And their mood was--What?--festive, mournful?

JENKINS: Yeah, festive and mournful, respectful, trying to honor and understand the legacy of Hunter Thompson, who was described by one of his future biographers as the Mark Twain of our era.

HANSEN: Hmm. Well, you said the party started earlier, but what did the fireworks look like?

JENKINS: Well, the fireworks were actually somewhat less than had been announced. There was this giant 150-foot tube crowned by Hunter Thompson's clenched fist logo out back, and everyone thought that the fireworks were going to shoot out of that. Instead, they shot out out of the sides--they'd been set up on the grounds--and the giant logo was used to flash his clenched fist onto the clouds above.

HANSEN: Huh. It sounds like the kind of thing that Thompson would have crashed if he had not been invited.

JENKINS: Oh, yeah. Well, it really was a sort of send-off that Hunter would have enjoyed. As a matter of fact, he'd actually scripted this in his will, that this is what he wanted to have done. He wanted to have this giant tower of his logo and have his ashes fired over his owl farm. And that's exactly what happened.

HANSEN: Were there actually gatecrashers at this thing?

JENKINS: It's hard to tell. Among all the milling, there was a huge security. There was Secret Service because of the politicians' presence. There was private security. There was local security by the sheriff's department. I don't think there were many gatecrashers, actually.

HANSEN: Yeah. A lot of celebrities.

JENKINS: A lot of celebrities. Johnny Depp, who actually played Hunter Thompson in the movie "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," was there. He actually contributed the $2.5 million it took to stage this bash.

HANSEN: Hmm. You know, many who knew Hunter from his writing and then by, you know, reading articles about him--he became almost this mythic character, but you knew him well. You worked with him in Vietnam and other places. Looking back--I mean, it's been a few months since his death--what are your remaining impressions of him, as both a friend to you and a journalist?

JENKINS: Well, he was an extraordinary personality. He had broke all bounds in ways he thought, in ways he wrote, in ways he behaved, obviously. But when I think back on his legacy outside of his writing--and he was more than a journalist; I think he really was a Mark Twain--and he made such an impact on so many people. But he was someone who actually--in a society like ours that treasures individual freedom, he was one of the few people who actually had achieved total freedom: freedom to write as he wanted and be published; felt freedom to speak as he wanted and be heard; freedom to live as he wanted and be admired or condemned.

HANSEN: Hmm. When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

JENKINS: That was his methods to everybody that he knew.

HANSEN: NPR's senior foreign editor, Loren Jenkins. Thanks very much, Loren.

JENKINS: Thank you, Liane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Loren Jenkins
Loren Jenkins brings over 30 years of experience to his post as the senior editor of NPR's foreign desk.