'Loving' farewell to writer
Wife details family gathering with Thompson dead in chair
By Jeff Kass, © 2005, Rocky Mountain News
February 25, 2005
ASPEN — Hunter S. Thompson heard the ice clinking.
The literary champ was sitting in his command post kitchen chair, a piece of blank paper in his favorite typewriter, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot through the mouth hours earlier.
But a small circle of family and friends gathered around with stories, as he wished, with glasses full of his favored elixir — Chivas Regal on ice.
"It was very loving. It was not a panic, or ugly, or freaky," Thompson's wife, Anita Thompson, said Thursday night in her first spoken comments since the icon's death Sunday. "It was just like Hunter wanted. He was in control here."
Anita Thompson also echoes the comments that have been made by Hunter Thompson's son and daughter-in-law: That her husband's suicide did not come from the bottom of the well, but was a gesture of strength and ultimate control made as his life was at a high-water mark.
"This is a triumph of his, not a desperate, tragic failure," Anita Thompson said by phone, recounting that she was sitting in her husband's chair he called his catbird seat in the Rockies.
She added: "He lived a beautiful life and he lived it on his own terms, all the way from the very beginning to the very end."
Anita Thompson, like her husband's other close relatives, understood how Hunter Thompson wanted to make his ultimate exit.
"I always knew that Hunter was going to die before me," Anita Thompson, 32, said of her 67-year-old husband. "I'd accepted that. I just did not know it was going to be like this. I would rather have him back."
Yet Anita Thompson quickly came to embrace Hunter Thompson's gesture with a .45-caliber handgun.
She was at the gym when her husband took his life. And when family friend and Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis confirmed the news, her mind raced. "I have enough will power," she thought. "I can turn back time. No, no, no. This is not right. This can't happen."
But upon seeing Hunter Thompson's body, she embraced him. "Since he'd done this, I did not want to make it difficult for his spirit," she said. "I wanted to make it loving."
Anita Thompson believes she will stay on at the expansive property and famous house that was an ever-changing archive of political, literary and name-your-category items. And she will continue to help administer Hunter Thompson's works.
"I'm going to keep on working for Hunter," she said. "He wanted this. He made sure that I was in place to continue on. I'll just do my job until I can be with him again."
She adds, citing the property's nickname: "It will remain Owl Farm. It will remain Hunter Thompson's Owl Farm."
The last book they had read out loud together was parts of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, a dense classic that explores the fragility of civilization by one of Hunter Thompson's favorite authors. Yet, said Anita Thompson, "He thinks Conrad is funny."
Anita Thompson and her husband had a small tiff that afternoon. Hunter Thompson told her to leave the kitchen that was known across the world as his funky and sacred work space. A weird look came across his face.
"I don't know why he wanted me to leave the room," she said. "It's all speculation. He'd never asked me to leave the room before."
But Anita Thompson did not go to the office with Hunter Thompson's son, as he had requested. Instead, she left the house.
"I'm going to get my gym bag. I'm going," she recalled. "He said, 'I don't want you to leave the house.'"
But she went to the gym. At 5:16 p.m., according to her cell-phone display, she called and spoke with Hunter Thompson for 10 minutes and 22 seconds.
Hunter Thompson put almost everyone on speakerphone. But he picked up the handset to speak with his wife.
"I knew it was odd, first of all, that he picked up with the handset ... I thought, 'That's sweet,'" she said.
The talk was good.
"He said, 'I want you to come home after you work out. Come home and we'll work on a column,'" she recalled.
The conversation, however, never really ended. Before formal goodbyes, Anita Thompson heard a clicking sound. She thought Hunter Thompson might have put down the handset and was typing. Or maybe it was the television. She waited. Maybe a minute passed.
"He did not say anything about killing himself," she said.
The official time of death is 5:42 p.m.
But did Hunter Thompson shoot himself while on the phone with his wife?
"I did not hear any bang," she says, noting that Hunter Thompson's son, who was in the house at the time, believed that a book had fallen when he heard the shot.
Anita Thompson can imagine what was going through Hunter Thompson's mind before the fatal shot: My beloved son, grandson and daughter-in-law are here. I'm in my perch. The fireplace has fire.
"I don't know if it mattered if I was here," Anita Thompson says. "I just like to think, and believe in my heart, he felt happy in his life."
A woman at the gym saw Anita Thompson in the bathroom. She asked if Hunter Thompson was OK. Anita Thompson pretty much blew it off. Rumors about Hunter Thompson were always in the air. Anita Thompson replied, "Oh yeah," but added, "he's been pretty stressed out lately."
A strange look was on the woman's face. She told Anita Thompson to check her phone messages. The woman said she would stay at her side.
Now she was shaking, and could barely dial.
There was a message from Juan Thompson, Hunter's son. "Anita, you have to come home now, he's dead."
Anita Thompson then spoke to the sheriff on the phone.
Had Hunter Thompson intended for his wife of two years to be in the house?
"I don't know, and it's not that important," Anita Thompson says. "I know he loved me. There's no question ... I know he did not want me to find him alone. He knew I was opposed to it."
After wading through the police officers outside, Anita Thompson recalls seeing her husband's dead body for the first time. "He was sitting in the chair when they brought me in, and I got to hug him and kiss him and rub his legs," she said. "All the anger was gone when I saw him."
Anita Thompson does not know why Hunter Thompson chose the .45 from his vast collection of guns. But he was deft with his death. "He did not destroy his face," Anita Thompson says. "He did it in his mouth. His face was beautiful. It was quick. It was not grisly or gruesome by any means. That's probably why he took that gun. He spared us a gruesome scene."
She adds: "His face did look calm and peaceful. He looked content. Like he wanted it."
For Tuesday's cremation, Anita Thompson dressed her husband. He was wearing a light blue, seersucker suit, a Tilly hat and his reading glasses, which he had on when he died. He had asked her to include a lock of her hair with him on this occasion. She complied, and more, cutting off her one-foot long blonde ponytail.
Anita Thompson is depending on mundane chores, but also family, friends and the estimated 50 messages a day.
"Being alone with Hunter in our bedroom, and I've been reading his letters to me," she added. "They have a different charge now. He wrote the most beautiful love letters I have ever seen ... I'm so lucky."
Then there was the flag. Hunter Thompson is an Air Force veteran. And following protocol, according to Anita Thompson, a deputy coroner from neighboring Garfield County presented her with a U.S. flag. It now hangs on a storyboard in the kitchen area, normally used for Hunter Thompson's works in progress. A white, silk scarf that the Dalai Lama presented to Hunter Thompson — the two men looked alike — drapes over the flag.
The house is filled to the brim with flowers — especially orchids, Hunter Thompson's favorite.
"It's nice in here," says Anita Thompson. "He would like it. He does like it, I guess."
Yes, Anita Thompson says, the landmark writer is nearby. "Mainly in moments when you're quiet, you can feel him; it's a different energy than when he was in his body," she says. "It's in the chest. It's all encompassing, but just for a second. It's beautiful."
Hunter Thompson was huge on swimming for his exercise. But he was also known for his love of fine whiskey, and to put it far too mildly, for experimenting with most every intoxicant known to man.
"He loved his body, look what he did to it," Anita Thompson jokes. She then adds a line that maybe even she fails, on its face, to grasp the significance of: "He gave his body everything it wanted."