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Remembering a journalism pioneer

He was strung out, he was eccentric, he was an outlaw. But despite everything that made up just who Hunter S. Thompson was, he was a journalist.

The self-described “outlaw journalist” killed himself on Feb. 20 in his Aspen, Colo. home. The founder of gonzo journalism — a unique form of writing he pioneered in which the reporter becomes the center of the story — left no note.

Rather, he left a legacy.

On a personal level, Thompson is the sole driving force that made me want to pursue a career in journalism. I read my first Thompson novel — “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” — when I was 13. My parents were livid; they couldn’t believe I was reading “trash” about “drugs and drugs and more drugs.” The books were a bad influence, my parents asserted, and would drive me into the dark spiral of hallucinogenic drugs.

Thompson’s books didn’t make me want to go try acid. They made me want to write; to have a point of view, and to unabashedly stand by it.

While other budding journalists in high school wanted to be the next Katie Couric or Dan Patrick, I set out to be the next Hunter S. Thompson. I set out on the career path with the firm belief that as a journalist, I had a divine right to be heard and to incite change. After reading “Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist,” any doubt I ever had of my purpose in life was eliminated.

I was going to be a journalist — a gonzo journalist, a prophet of church of Hunter S. Thompson — and I was going to be a damn good one.

Like Hunter said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Thompson almost always painted himself in his literature as the smug, all-knowing, invincible witness of all things. He became the omniscient narrator and the cruel god, watching over the world he painted for the reader. Seldom did he get personally revealing in his writing — but he never really needed to.

He didn’t always have the most widely-accepted perspectives, but that has never been the point. His lifestyle choices were never ones to parade in a D.A.R.E. pamphlet (Thompson once said, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”) — but that isn’t the point, either. The point Hunter made, even in the very end of it all, was the right to choose and to stand firmly by our choice, and pursue the truth.

Even if the truth was unsettling. Even if it was disturbing. Even if it was raw and made you sick to your stomach. “Absolute truth,” he wrote, “Is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.”

He was a public figure who was pro-gun and pro-choice, and wasn’t ashamed of it. He never wanted to be politically correct — to do so would go against everything he’d ever tried to convey in his literature. If he was a firm believer in one particular ideology, it was the freedom, the inherent right, of individual choice.

Even to the very end, he followed his ideal. He made a choice. He stood by it. And for whatever reasons, he went through with it. It may not have been a choice we can necessarily condone, but coming from a man who lived the epitome of freedom of choice, I respect it.

The journalism community lost a talented writer, a distinctive journalist, and maybe most importantly, a distinct point of view. Thompson was one of the few journalists, and one of the rare Americans, whose perspective had not been altered or watered down by the political correctness that oftentimes dictates our world. He didn’t fit himself into one particular ideology, and he never tried to.

It is with that that I lift up a shot of string liquor and a renewed sense of purpose as a journalist, to a man who baffled some and inspired many.

In the end, it’s just another crazy trip for Hunter.

Send comments to Chelsea at [email protected].

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