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No tears, just celebration at Thompson send-off

Widow plans all-star party for writer's memorial on Saturday
/ Source: The Associated Press

A hand-scrawled note on the refrigerator in Hunter S. Thompson's kitchen says, "Never call 911/Never/This means you/HST." Over the sink, a snapshot shows the famously reckless father of Gonzo journalism nuzzling a tiny kitten.

This room, jammed with cooking utensils, writing mementos and a giant TV, is where Thompson wrote some of the acerbic books and articles that made him an American treasure in the late 1960s and early '70s. It was here that he held court with friends and admirers. It is also where he shot himself to death six months ago at age 67.

The kitchen remains a center of Thompson's still-swirling universe as family and friends wrap up plans to blast his ashes out of a 150-foot-tall monument behind the house at Owl Farm this Saturday. It's what he wanted.

"No crying, no tears, only celebration," Thompson's widow, Anita, said during a 2 1/2-hour interview with The Associated Press at the home and her makeshift office, providing a rare glimpse into the writer's world.

"He wanted people to celebrate," she said. "He envisioned it to be a beautiful party. The most amazing people would be there. His friends would celebrate his life. And he was even specific that there would be clinking of ice and whisky."

The monument towers over a field between the home and a tree-covered red rock canyon wall. It is shrouded in gray and blue tarpaulins that ripple in the wind and it will not be unveiled until Saturday. It is modeled after Thompson's Gonzo logo: a clenched fist, made symmetrical with the addition of a second thumb, perched atop a dagger.

Anita Thompson said Saturday will include some reminiscence, readings from Thompson's work and performances by both Lyle Lovett and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. About 250 people were invited, including Thompson's longtime illustrator, Ralph Steadman, and actors Sean Penn and Johnny Depp, close friends of the writer.

Depp, who portrayed Thompson in the 1998 movie version of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," is financing much of the send-off, Anita Thompson said. She said she doesn't know the total cost and said others have offered to chip in.

"Everybody's bringing what they have to offer," she said.

The event is private and security will be tight. David Meeker of Specialized Protective Services in Aspen would say only that the precautions will be more elaborate than for any similar-sized event he has ever protected. The narrow roads that thread the canyon will remain open, but Pitkin County deputies will bar anyone from stopping to watch from outside the property, Anita Thompson said. Sheriff Bob Braudis, a friend of Thompson, did not return a call.

After Saturday, the monument will be taken down. Anita Thompson said it may be put up elsewhere, but she's not sure. Thompson's son, Juan, did not return calls seeking comment.

A storied careerThompson's suicide ended a storied career that included landmark works of new journalism such as "Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs," published in 1966, 1971's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream" and "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72."

He built a public persona as a drug-fueled risk-taker, but friends and family say that masked the Kentucky-born writer's true nature — a Southern gentleman and meticulous craftsman who lived and wrote at Owl Farm from the late 1960s until his death. The telephone-answering machine still barks at callers with Thompson's voice, mechanically commanding them to "Please. Leave. A message."

Anita Thompson, 32, who married the writer in April 2003, said she plans to protect and promote her husband's legacy.

"I'll be working for Hunter the rest of my life. I know that. I made that commitment, and I'm honored that I can," she said.

At least three new books are planned, including the third volume of his letters, a collection of unpublished short stories and an unfinished novel, "Polo is My Life." She is seeking a permanent home for Thompson's archive, which fills some 1,200 boxes now stored in a vault off the property. Plans are in the works for a Hunter Thompson Foundation to help young people his widow describes as unfairly ensnared in the criminal justice system.

She also plans what she calls "a small book of wisdom" based on things her husband told her.

"'Never think you're the smartest one in the room. And never think you're the dumbest one in the room.' Little things like that," she said.

Leaning against a sun-drenched woodpile at Owl Farm, she lifted a large green gemstone hanging from a small chain around her neck. It used to belong to her husband.

"He got this in Saigon. He believed this is why he lived so long," she said. He took it off only a handful of times, when he underwent surgery or to briefly place it around her neck.