Friday, February 25, 2005

Eccentricity counts

A few sanctimonious bluenoses are dismissing Hunter S. Thompson as little more than a souse and drug addict undeserving of obituary tributes since his suicide over the weekend in Colorado.

If the creator of wacky "Gonzo Journalism" is relegated to history as merely a lush, then the whole pantheon of artistic geniuses whose style bred generations of copycats is in for a rude shakeup and realignment.

Check off the names of those once considered misfits who abused the bottle or chemicals, or engaged in sexual errancy—Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, Noel Coward, James Jones, Graham Greene, John Huston, John Barrymore, et al—and one discovers that the path to recognition required eccentricity at a minimum, along with ample craftsmanship.

Most great figures that dominate their fields—authors, generals, scientists, educators, explorers, physicians, politicians, actors, musicians, aviators—share common streaks of unfashionable individuality and a disinclination for conformity.

Thompson introduced, for better or worse, a form of personal journalism in which the reporter was part of the mix, just as others pioneered new forms of journalism—Baron Paul Julius von Reuter, whose 1800s pigeon delivery service grew into the first international telegraph news service; Woodward and Bernstein, with modern investigative journalism during the Watergate scandal, and Ted Turner with CNN's 24-hour television news.

Like his lifetime hero, Hemingway, Hunter Thompson was tormented in late life and chose to end it with a gun.

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