William Greider is the national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He's been a prominent political reporter for 35 years. He worked for the Washington Post for 15 years and was the national affairs editor at Rolling Stone for 17 years.
I think I met Hunter before this, but our great time together was the '72 campaign. He was in and out of that picture, and I was covering [Democratic presidential candidate George] McGovern that year, so we saw a lot of each other. Got drunk together a lot. Tim Crouse was along, too. I was a boy on the bus, writing for the Washington Post at the time. Everyone in the McGovern campaign loved him, for all the good usual reasons you love Hunter Thompson.
Page 2 contacted several of Hunter S. Thompson's closest friends for their recollections:
I reviewed his book, "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail." I wrote a kind of send-up review, in the Post, which he loved, starting the review telling the story of us being in a motel in Grand Rapids, Michigan, late at night. There was kind of a bar -- tables and drinking around the balcony of this swimming pool, and I described Hunter at a certain point in the evening stripping off his clothes and diving from the balcony into the pool. I was doing a little Hunter-esque turn on the man himself.
And it later got picked up in biographies. I felt like I contributed something to the lore. It wasn't true. We were drinking at the bar, but he didn't take a swan dive at one in the morning.
He really did get to the heart of things. If you remember the section [In "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail"] where he's describing [Democratic candidate Edmund] Muskie on this sort of strange Brazilian ibogaine -- you read that and it left you on the floor. But it was true about Muskie, there must be some explanation of why this man was so boring, and his behavior so bizarre.
And then Hunter had this other caper where he knew Hubert Humphrey was getting this huge satchel of dirty money from some bad guys. He was going to go the airport and catch them in the act. And again, poetically, that was true. And then his heartbreak at the end, at the end of the story [McGovern lost to Nixon in a landslide].
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He could do what an average reporter couldn't do and was prohibited from doing, which was invest his soul in the enterprise of George McGovern.
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I actually got to know him more deeply later, and that was scattered over many years. We had that moment in 1992 when the Rolling Stone team went down to Little Rock to interview Bill Clinton, then candidate for President. Which was a weird and, actually, wonderful moment.
Hunter and P.J. O'Rourke and Jann Wenner and I were the journalistic team. We were all in pretty bad shape the night before, and in addition my knee had gone out. Hunter took care of me.
I feel bad on a very deep level at this moment, but the side I got to see more than once of Hunter was a kind of sweetness in him. And a sort of little boy's sense of innocence and earnestness, really. I think people who felt close to him, even when you didn't see him that often, knew that about him, and therefore became more protective, no matter what bad shape he was in or what outrageous thing he was proposing or anything else.
Because you understood in some way -- I still don't fully understand -- that was the core of this man. And probably the core of his art was a strange sense of empathy at a certain level. And that sounds ridiculous, given who he was, publicly, and he was that guy -- that wasn't fake, he was that person, too. And his terribly, really awfully tangled personal life. And yet ... it was true about him also.
If you go back and read what he wrote, particularly about politics, it was laden with this sense of yearning for something decent and honest and honorable to happen. And that wasn't fake. He really felt that. And on a personal level, he really did share your pain. It's a cliché now, but he wanted you to get over it, whatever it was. It was almost like "let's get out of this, this is bad."
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We met in Weehawken (N.J.), that little airport across from New York City, got on Jann's private jet to fly to Little Rock. Hunter made the limo stop on the way to Weehawken and came out of the liquor store with these huge jugs of bourbon and all these other medicants.
And just as we were getting onto the airplane, my knee goes out. It's one of those things that happened every few months or few years and it's really painful. Hunter was carrying me onto the plane. We get onto the plane and we're yakking and drinking too much and everything.
We get to Little Rock and my knee is still frozen. And Hunter called for a wheelchair at the hotel, and is wheeling me through the lobby of the hotel, demanding the best sports doctor in Little Rock. He takes me up to my hotel room. I'm in the bed, still feeling pretty bad but now medicated somewhat, and he literally gets on the phone and he calls the leading hospitals in Little Rock, he calls the Clinton campaign headquarters and demands to know the name of the candidate's doctor.
And you know, if you heard it and you didn't know him you'd think he's doing an act. In fact, it was deeply sincere. He was calling these places and demanding that they send an orthopedist to my hotel room and to bring lots of medicine. He was ticking off the names of these pills. This is nuts, you don't make house calls, with drugs. And for some reason the pain didn't go away, so we went down and drank again that night.
I thanked him the next day. I said to him, "Hunter, that was really nice of you to stay with me." Because everyone else was going to the bar and sort of forgetting about me. And he said, "I can't stand to be around pain."
It was a Hunter joke on one level, on another level you could tell he was absolutely sincere. And I felt, there's something there, that's a big part of who he was.
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This also sounds like a joke, but I know it was also sincere. Hunter had brought down to Little Rock various gifts for Clinton. He had decided this rendezvous we had with Clinton was going to be the four of us delivering the Rolling Stone vote to the Clinton people. That's a put on; on the other hand, he wants to believe this.
We then go to the interview, and the first gift was these reeds for a tenor saxophone. He had gotten these special French reeds which he regarded as really extraordinary. They were actually pretty routine. He gave them to Clinton and Clinton kind of looked at them, rolled them around in front of his face. Hunter later described the future president as "Sniffing the saxophone reeds like a chimp." Which is just right.
His other present for Clinton, which was quite spectacular, was a photograph he had made, and it was blown up huge, like a 3-foot by 4-foot photograph in a frame, that he had had shipped down from Colorado to Little Rock. And the photograph showed Hunter squatting on his haunches in the night, firing a rifle at a big drum of gasoline. And when he fired the drum the gasoline ignites, and blows this huge flame back in his face. It was quite striking, a dramatic picture, and Hunter entitled it, "Politics is a dirty business." It was quite impressive and alluring.
Hunter wanted only one thing from Clinton, personally, which was for Clinton to endorse the fourth amendment, against unreasonable search and seizure. This was right after he'd been raided for drugs, and wrongly accused in that instance. He brought up the fourth amendment, and Clinton turns on him, obviously prepared with this possibility, and says, "I don't agree with you on crime. I want to put 100,000 police on the streets. We're going to stamp out drug crime." He didn't do it in a hostile way, but he was clearly separating himself from Hunter Thompson, on the air, so to speak.
Hunter was just crestfallen. I mean, genuinely crestfallen. And in the middle of the interview -- we were all relatively well hungover from the night before -- he gets up and leaves the table and comes back with a drink from the bar. And I don't think he said much else. I think it was such a disappointment to him that this guy was playing the same old cards, self-protecting B.S.
I certainly hope Hunter got whatever he wanted, you know.