I can't claim to have ever met Hunter S. Thompson. Though I encountered him on a few occasions.
The first time was when The Booksmith (where I work) hosted him for booksigning around the time Proud Highway
was first released in 1997. I hung around in the back room of this San
Francisco bookstore while Thompson and his entourage (which consisted
of actor Johnny Depp and science writer Timothy Ferris) and staff of
the Booksmith drank and smoked and talked. It was a sort of huddle
before the big play.
Thompson's booksigning was really a receiving line - a kind of meet and
greet, as the author let it be known that he would not sign books under
any circumstances. Earlier, he had signed a few hundred bookplates.
Once the event began, my job was to affix the bookplates to copies of Proud Highway as customers and fans passed through the line. (It's glamourous work, I know.)
Most were thrilled to simply meet the famed "gonzo journalist."
Thompson said "hello," raised a glass, chatted, and had his picture
taken. Some brought him gifts, such as drawings, or bottles of whiskey.
One or two - thinking themselves clever - slipped an edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Hell's Angeles
out of their jackets and asked Thompson to sign their "special" copy.
The poor fools. . . . His voice raised, Thompson would let out a string
of expletives and pound the table with his fist. And the once bold
autograph seeker would then shrink away. This "booksigning" went on for
a couple of hours, until the ranks of the curious and the devoted
dwindled. On the way out, Hunter S. Thompson shook my hand.
A year later, at the time Thompson's long lost novel, The Rum Diary,
was published, I had the chance to work on a collaborative web project
with the author's publisher, Simon & Schuster. The project was the
"Rum Ring" - a webring set up
among four independent bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area. The
webring was meant to promote Thompson's new book. And to that end, with
the author's cooperation, his publisher sent us a large batch of
digital files - scans of unpublished letters, photos, manuscripts, and
other material related to The Rum Diary.
The scans were divied up among the four stores. And a webring,
featuring unique content of interest to the author's many
readers, was launched. I had initiated the webring project in hopes of
luring the increasingly reclusive author back to the Booksmith. But no
such luck. Instead, our payoff was signed bookplates, which the four
stores were able to offer their webring customers as an incentive
to purchase The Rum Diary. (Remember, this was way back in 1998, when the internet was still a brave new world.) The "Rum Ring" was
a big success. It received a good deal of media attention (with
coverage appearing in both local newspapers and in national trade
journals), and it sold a lot of books. I think the Booksmith sold more
than 800 copies of The Rum Diary at the time.
The "Rum Ring" hung around
on-line for a number of years, where it continued to attract viewers
and individuals seeking information on Thompson. And thus, my last
"encounter" with the famed journalist occurred in the early 1990's when
I was called by a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner (or was it ESPN)
and asked to comment on Thompson's latest endeavor, that of a sports
writer. I don't know why this reporter called me (I suppose I was as
close to a source as he could get), and I don't remember what I
remarked. I suppose I commented on this or that. I was quoted
somewhere. What is clear in my memory, though, is Hunter S. Thompson's
larger than life personality. It is a sad thing that he took his own
life yesterday. His many readers will certainly miss him.