Hunter S. Thompson is gone today. However he might have romanticized it, and whatever his ultimate reasons were, in his own particularly astringent way he probably thought all along that spraying his brains out with the firearm of his choice would be the way to go, at least for him. The isolation of the Woody Creek compound, good for retreat and for the production of Gonzo Journalism, finally, as the demons began shouting louder, provided the stage for the ultimate getaway. Like Loxjet, I first read Hell's Angels at a wildly inappropriate age-- I think I was around eight or nine when I squirreled a copy out of my aunt's book club-derived library-- and it scared the hell out of me, which is exactly what I think I wanted it to do. I wouldn't return to Thompson until my late college years, and during the Reagan '80s I devoured the entire twisted Thompson bibliography, perhaps as a way to escape the crushing reality of that most depressing of decades, but also because I felt transported by the grandiose hallucinatory historical vision and fecund imaginative connections produced by reading Hell's Angels (again), Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, The Great Shark Hunt, Generation of Swine and, of course, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas virtually back-to-back. As Loxjet suggested, now that Thompson is gone all we're left with is a long string of imitators and watered-down pretenders to the throne, and watered-down is even worse when it comes to Thompson (as his later work, cut by increasing paranoia and incoherence, certainly proved) than it is when speaking of a tumbler of his beloved grain alcohol. Writing in The New York Times in 1973, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt worried Thompson might someday "lapse into good taste":
"That would be a shame, for while he doesn't see America as Grandma Moses depicted it, or the way they painted it for us in civics class, he does in his own mad way betray a profound democratic concern for the polity," he wrote. "And in its own mad way, it's damned refreshing."
That lapse certainly never happened. While the trajectory of his career and life may leave a bitter aftertaste, for those who loved his writing, in its peaks and its valleys, there is a freakish kind of solace from revisiting his contributions to the continuing surgery being done on "that dark, venal, and incurably violent side of the American character." R.I.P. seems a strangely inappropriate sentiment on this day. Better to think of Dr. Thompson hitting the highway on the other side and letting 'er rip.
And goodbye as well to another icon of the '60s who was never able, as Thompson was, to burst out and make her mark on the subsequent decades of her life. Sandra Dee was Gidget (1959) long before anyone ever heard of Sally Field, and it's for that movie she'll be most fondly remembered. But as a kid I was always partial to her two appearances as country girl Tammy Tyree, the role Debbie Reynolds originated in Tammy and the Bachelor (1957). Dee first played the role in Tammy, Tell Me True (1961) and then again in Tammy and the Doctor (1963). Her coming-of-age adventures were favorite rainy Sunday afternoon TV fare, and while no one, not even me, would mistake them as anything but corny fluff, they were well served by her unpretentious charm and precocious energy. Her split from husband Bobby Darin in 1967 got her stuck with the label "divorcee," not exactly a scarlet "A," but close enough for a Hollywood mired (at least publicly) in outdated moralistic attitudes toward actors who would dare to be open about such personal matters. The last thing I ever saw her in was her damsel-in-distress turn in the American International Pictures H.P. Lovecraft adaptation of The Dunwich Horror (1970), frightening enough to a ten-year-old but certainly not worthy of her warm and easygoing presence. Dee was diagnosed with throat cancer and kidney failure in 2000 and died of complications from kidney disease at the age of 62. Those who knew her well will mourn the passing of a friend who likely treasured her early Hollywood experiences and her life beyond them. For those of us who knew her only as Gidget and Tammy, her relatively low profile over the past 30 years will make it easy to preserve that bubbly starlet persona as our remaining fond mems of Sandra Dee.