The man was more than the myth

Updated: February 22, 2005, 11:51 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

When it came to the Gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson, few possessed the insider's perspective of John A. Walsh, Senior VP and Executive Editor of ESPN.

Walsh, who brought Thompson to ESPN.com's Page 2 in November 2000, worked as Managing Editor of Rolling Stone magazine during Thompson's Gonzo heyday.

"Hunter Thompson was a pioneer, a revolutionary, an inventor and a provocateur," Walsh said of the legendary writer, who fatally shot himself Sunday at age 67. "He loved foisting his prima donna artifice as the ultimate joke on journalists. Because the last thing Hunter was was a prima donna when it came to his work. He was warm, generous, and a story teller of the first order. His personality was bigger than the room and his persona was meant for the ages.

"When you were in his presence you caught the subtlety of the raised eyebrow, you were thankful for the huge hug, and you were intrigued by the big tease," Walsh said. "As a human being, he was most friendly, full of fun, and the foremost arbiter of wit and charm.

"Most of all, his literature will be remembered as one of the most formidable forces in the latter half of the 20th Century.

"Long live the high priest of Gonzo."

As giants of the literary world paid tribute to Thompson on Monday, Walsh recalled two informal honors that told as much about the man behind the accolades.

Walsh said Thompson's appeal bridged generations of readers, relating a story from the recent X Games in Colorado.

"Hunter had volunteered to create a Gonzo Award for the X Games, but he was going to do it only if he could be on hand to present the award," Walsh said. "But his health would not permit it. Hunter was tickled that the X Games athletes were so stoked about the idea of a Gonzo Award. He said it would be a great legacy for him to be associated with these great extreme athletes."

The other tribute was of a more personal, more intimate nature.

"You can really know a lot about Hunter from the nickname given him by his grandson Will," Walsh said.

Not Pappy or Poppy or Grampa or Granddad.

"He referred to his grandfather as 'Ace.' "