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Hunter Thompson’s last stand

MATT KRANE

It’s hard to ignore the juxtaposition between the current battle over the words and ideas of University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill and the loss of another of Colorado’s radical literary voices in the suicide of Hunter Thompson. Whether Churchill has committed professorial suicide remains to be seen. This writer hopes that the state will heed the words of Betsy Hoffman and Benjamin Franklin, not those of our milquetoast governor.Whether Thompson left this world out of pain, boredom or to escape the inevitability of old age will never be known. Ironically, the writer left no real note.A close friend of Thompson’s was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “He ran away from us.” At the time of his demise, the writer was suffering from the aftereffects of a broken leg and hip replacement surgery. Another close friend said Thompson had taken to using a wheelchair to get around in his home; and that Thompson had a number of writing projects going.Whether you enjoyed Thompson’s writing or not, hopefully you read some of it. His essay about the fall of Saigon for Rolling Stone in 1975 set a standard for a new voice in wartime reporting. The “Fear and Loathing” books put the planet’s tilt on a slightly different axis.

He was a highly knowledgeable sportswriter, a community activist (gay rights and animal rights especially) and a beacon for young writers worldwide. It’s come to light this week that as a young writer, Thompson typed out several of Ernest Hemingway’s novels, “just to see how they were put together.”Hemingway’s influence showed itself throughout Mr. Thompson’s work, even to the end. Though Mr. Thompson chose a .45 to the head (Mr. Hemingway chose a shotgun under the chin), this is just a stylistic difference.I feel angry, sad and betrayed. I, for one, always looked forward to any new work from Thompson. Seems there’s just no reckoning with the act of suicide except for the victim.So, I will reread “The Curse of Lono,” “Generation of Swine,” “The Proud Highway” and others, but this week, I have been reading from the website of The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) (www.suicidology.org):- Geographically, rates of suicide are highest in the mountain states.- In 2001, there were 30,000 suicides in the U.S. (83 per day, one every 17 minutes).- For every successful suicide, there are 25 attempts (750,000 attempts annually).

– Firearms remain the most commonly utilized method of completing suicide.- Males complete suicide at a rate four times that of females.- Females attempt suicide three times more often than males.- Suicide is the third leading cause of death in ages 15-24.- Rates of suicide are highest among the elderly (65 and over).- Talking about suicide does NOT cause someone to be suicidal. So, is there anything we can do? Are there ways to be helpful? According to AAS, learn the warning signs such as the presence of a psychiatric disorder, impulsive and aggressive behavior and frequent expressions of rage.

Other signs include the increased use of alcohol or drugs. The expression or communication of thoughts of suicide, death, dying or afterlife.When hearing such things, people should get involved. Become available. Show interest and support. Be willing to listen. Allow for expression of feelings. Accept those feelings. Be nonjudgmental. Don’t lecture on the value of life. Don’t ask why.Offer empathy, not sympathy. Offer hope that alternatives are available. Take action. Remove means. Get help from individuals or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention such as Colorado West Mental Health and any number of local counselors/therapists.It’s all easier said than done, of course. Anyone reading this who has not thought about suicide at one time or another probably knows several people who have. Last fall, a number of us had to deal with the suicide of a good friend. Half a year later, although time and distance have softened the loss, I still find myself going back to the morning I found out.And they say don’t ask why. Matt Krane writes from his home in Breckenridge.


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