LIVE: Hunter S. Thompson Panel @ UAlbany Campus Center, 09/17/2022

The Hunter S. Thompson panel discussion by three writers who knew him, Douglas Brinkley, William Kennedy and Gary Trudeau, was just what I needed to hear in these insane times.

Douglas Brinkley, William Kennedy, Gary Trudeau (photo by Stan Johnson)

More than once I have wondered what Hunter (the main reason I achieved a degree in Journalism) would think about these current times. And more than once I have caught myself sitting in front of the TV, imagining what Mike Doonesbury and Zonker would make of the latest media circus our lives have become.

Well, I don’t know if this panel answered those questions, but it was a huge amount of fun for those who like their humor literary. I would have gone to this panel discussion, which was part of the Albany Book Festival sponsored by the NYS Writers Institute and UAlbany, if only one of these panelists were there, but all three…the only one missing was Hunter himself, and in many ways (including on video) he was present in the packed lecture hall (even though his ashes were scattered by a mega canon blast following his passing in 2005).

Like many, I followed Hunter after reading “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” in Rolling Stone magazine. In many ways, his writing in “Hells’ Angels” and “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail” inspired me to become a newspaper journalist. I even wrote to him in college, although he didn’t respond.

Gary Trudeau (photo by Stan Johnson)

The closest I came to meeting him was in the men’s room of the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco during the eighties when he was working as the night manager of the O’Farrell Theater next next door. He apparently popped in to check out Little Charlie and the Nightcats. Although I recognized him, I wasn’t comfortable about bugging him in a men’s room in San Francisco. Someone else later told me it was just as well because he probably would have had me buy him drink after drink of Chivas Regal, which I was in no way able to afford at the time. While my journalism writing career never took off, I never stopped reading about Thompson.

Saturday’s lecture was generally somewhere between a memorial and a roast, with lots of laughter. Gary Trudeau said Uncle Duke was based on Hunter’s public persona at the time and as a result Hunter threatened him with dire consequences. But Trudeau suggested that maybe Hunter was a little trapped in the role and did what many expected the crazy character to do. Kennedy said his friendship with Hunter began when he refused to hire Hunter when he applied to the paper where Kennedy was working in Puerto Rico in the early sixties. Later in their friendship, Kennedy refused to hire Hunter as a speaker for the Writer’s Institute in Albany because he said Hunter wouldn’t have shown up. The whole talk should soon be available in the archives of UAlbany, so I won’t review the whole thing. I have a better idea: pick up one of Thompson’s books and read it. Or read one by Brinkley, Kennedy or Trudeau. Despite living among many anti-literate, non-intellectuals, (you are one of the few exceptions) I find there is comfort and solace from the stupidity of far too many in these divided times. God bless you Hunter; laughter is the best antidote to anger.

Photo Gallery by Stan Johnson

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