Tales Of Ethics Dunces Past: Recalling the Self-Indulgent Suicide of Hunter Thompson

I can’t claim that I am surprised that my post about the suicide of Don Cornelius attracted comments that either showed a misunderstanding of what I wrote or a stubborn determination to change the subject. It was not a post about the virtues of suicide, but about how suicide’sethical calculations may be changing as a broken medical care system increasingly makes the final years and months of the elderly a burden that crushes families and constricts the quality of life  for the nation generally. In short, killing yourself for your country may have to become an accepted practice, an ethical and courageous act, if something doesn’t change. Killing yourself for yourself—to avoid pain, problems, or the consequences of your own actions, should always be considered wrong, for wrong it is.

Jeff Hibbert, one of my favorite contributors here and also one with a great memory, reminded me that I had written on this topic once before. I had forgotten, but that post may be a useful contrast to the Cornelius post. There is not a word of it that I don’t still believe. It concerned the 2005 suicide of Hunter S. Thompson, the cult “gonzo journalist” who lived like frat boy and  wrote like angel. Here it is:

Hunter Thompson’s values were admittedly always a little out of whack, but nothing diminished the self-styled “gonzo journalist” in this world so much as his manner of leaving it. He shot himself to death last February while talking on the phone to his wife, with both his son and grandson in his house with him. Nice. That should guarantee some lucky psychoanalyst or three a comfy income for the foreseeable future.

Thompson was not dying of some dread disease, like actor Brian Keith [the “Family Affair” and “The Parent Trap” star who shot himself]; nor was he disconsolate after the death of a loved one, like actor Charles Boyer, who killed himself after his wife of 50 years died. He wasn’t, as far an anyone knows, a clinical depressive like novelist Ernest Hemingway or his granddaughter, model Margeaux. He wasn’t newly psychotic like actor Gig Young, who was the suicide in a murder-suicide involving his young and newlywed wife. Thompson fans harbored romantic fantasies that their hero killed himself for principle, as some kind of lingering Sixties testament to all the bullshit in the world. He hated arrogance, rigidity, conformity, ambition and greed, and finally said, “Hey! The heck with you, world…you’re too screwed up to take seriously!”

Naaaaah. Hunter Thompson killed himself because he was bored, didn’t like getting older (unlike everyone else), and really, really missed the football season. His wife finally found his suicide note, and this is what it said:

“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won’t hurt.” 

Those who knew Thompson agree that far from being metaphors for human duplicity and the war in Iraq, “Games” means football games (the note was written shortly after the Super Bowl) and “Bombs” means long completed forward passes. The Washington Post reported that historian Doug Brinkley said of his friend, “An avid NFL fan, Hunter traditionally embraced the Super Bowl in January as the high-water mark of his year. February, by contrast, was doldrums time.”

Did I neglect to mention that Thompson entitled his suicide note, “Football season is over?”

Suicide is usually the most selfish of acts, and among the most unethical, harming many people deeply while guaranteeing that the one doing the harm will be insulated from accountability. Thompson certainly had problems: he was an alcoholic and a drug abuser, and had multiple ailments affecting his legs. His time as an influential writer had seemingly passed, and the market and readership for his quirky opinions were at an all-time low. But dispatching oneself out of a yearning for the NFL, and even when is amplified by the boredom of an aging speed freak and a waning career, sets some kind of record for irresponsible self-indulgence. Even accepting the dubious arguments of the pro-suicide crowd who would convince us that it was his life to abandon and thus an unassailable choice, the man had people who cared about him and needed him. “This won’t hurt?” This won’t hurt him.

I extend my sympathy and condolences to Hunter Thompson’s family, who now must know where they stood in his priorities. But the fact that the writer wouldn’t or couldn’t value his duties to his own family more than his addiction to a game marks him as unethical, trivial and a Dead Ethics Dunce

7 thoughts on “Tales Of Ethics Dunces Past: Recalling the Self-Indulgent Suicide of Hunter Thompson

  1. This was a self-indulgent, arrogant, and destructive man who produced nothing of note after 1972, and certainly nothing without constant coaxing and prodding from the people who counted on him.

    In the end Hunter Thompson died as he lived: leaving everyone else to clean up the mess.

    Truly an icon of for the Boomer age.

    • Edward…not objectionable at all. Well-reasoned, considered, defensible, well-stated. I disagree with your view, but ultimately, you know, persuading you really isn’t the reason I’m here. If the discussion helps you clarify your own views, I consider that an Ethics Alarms triumph 100%, and I appreciate your letting me know.

      You made my day. I mean it.

  2. As someone who attempted suicide twice by hanging myself and many other times sat there with a loaded weapon contemplating placing it in mouth and pulling the trigger I will say that suicide is the ultimate “fuck you” to every person you care about. No matter if they in the next room or across the country when you do it. Its basically say that you dont give a damn about their feelings and all you can think about is yourself.

    But with that said I fully understand why someone would think about it and do it.

  3. So after we encourage all the old, sick, lonely and broke to commit suicide for the good of society, at what point do we decide not enough of them are taking this new ethical solution and just euthanize them all so they will stop dragging down all the young and vibrant among us?

    I grew up taught that the old are to be respected, honoured, admired, engaged and learned from. We call them elders. Technology aside, I have never met an elder that didn’t have something important to teach me. I say shame on any society that would be so willing to label them a burden too big and encourage them to get out of our way by any means necessary.

    Instead of looking at their collective medical cost, try slowing down and talking to them for awhile. You might find they are worth the expense.

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