15 years ago today, Hunter S. Thompson's ashes were blasted out of a cannon at a ceremony held at the writer's home in Woody Creek, Colorado. Fireworks and Norman Greenbaum's 1969 anthem "Spirit in the Sky" added light and sound to the spectacle.
Attendees at the private funeral on August 20, 2005 included Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Bill Murray, Jack Nicholson, and Senators John Kerry and George McGovern. Lyle Lovett and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performed along with Tibetan drummers.
The event was reported on August 21, 2005 in the New York Times. No byline.
WOODY CREEK, Colorado — With a deafening boom, the ashes of Hunter S. Thompson were blown into the sky from a 153-foot (47-meter) tower as relatives and a star-studded crowd bid an irreverent farewell to the founder of "gonzo journalism."
As the ashes erupted from the tower's pinnacle, red, white, blue and green fireworks lit up the sky late Saturday over Thompson's home for nearly 10 minutes as the crowd cheered. The actual blasts with the ashes took about 30 seconds.
"I'll always remember where I was when Hunter was blown into the heavens," Thompson's neighbor Rita Sherman said.
It was later reported Depp paid $3 million for the event, which included construction of a 150-foot tower topped with Thompson's signature symbol, a double-thumbed clenched fist clutching a peyote button.
“All I'm doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true,” Depp said to the Associated Press at the time of the funeral, “We had talked a couple of times about his last wishes to be shot out of a cannon of his own design. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out.” Depp portrayed Thompson's alter-ego in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream," a movie based on Thompson's best-known book.
Thompson was an American writer best known for a writing style that became known as Gonzo Journalism. Counter to traditional journalism, he embedded himself in his stories and wrote first-person narratives with minimal editing and objectivity that pushed the limits of American literary journalism into bold new directions. He spoke to writer Matthew Hahn for a story in The Atlantic in 1997.
"I don't get any satisfaction out of the old traditional journalist's view: 'I just covered the story. I just gave it a balanced view. Objective journalism is one of the main reasons American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long. You can't be objective about Nixon.
Thompson visited the NYS Writers Institute in the late 1990s for a program at the University at Albany with historian Douglas Brinkley titled "Conversations on Politics and Literature." During that visit, Thompson sat for drinks with his longtime friend, Writers Institute founder William Kennedy.
Hunter S. Thompson at the NYS Writers Institute in 1997
Thompson's history with Kennedy goes back to the 1950s, when he applied for a sports editor job at the San Juan Star where Kennedy was managing editor. Upon learning he did not get the job, Thompson wrote a follow-up letter to Kennedy. Excerpt below:
your letter was cute, my friend, and your interpretation of my letter was beautifully typical of the cretin-intellect responsible for the dry-rot of the american press. but don't think that lack of an invitation from you will keep me from getting down that way, and when i do remind me to first kick your teeth in and then jam a bronze plaque far into your small intestine.
Brinkley later edited a three-volume collection of Thompson's letters that included a foreword by Kennedy.
"The tools Hunter S. Thompson would use in the years ahead--bizarre wit, mockery without end, redundant excess, supreme self-confidence, the narrative of the wounded meritorious ego, and the idiopathic anger of the righteous outlaw--were all there in his precocious imagination in San Juan. There, too, were the beginnings of his future as a masterful American prose stylist."
Fun fact: At the Democratic 1976 Democratic National Convention, Hunter S. Thompson received one delegate vote for vice president.
Hunter S. Thompson explains his wishes for his ashes to be shot out of a cannon
In a second-day story in the New York Times, reporter Katharine Q. Seelye talked with Thompson's widow, Anita Thompson, about plans for the cannon.
"The monument, taller than the Statue of Liberty, is temporary because it violates local ordinances. Mrs. Thompson said she hoped to keep it up for two weeks, then would build a pond nearby as a permanent sanctuary, with a government-issued tombstone. (Mr. Thompson was an Air Force veteran.) She plans to inscribe it with a Thompson saying: "It never got weird enough for me."