Former Editor Recalls Hunter Thompson as Newspaper Columnist

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By: E&P Staff

While Hunter S. Thompson, who committed suicide this past weekend, was best known as a magazine and book writer, and as the model for a “Doonesbury” character, he also worked at times as a newspaper columnist. One of his old editors, Larry Kramer, former CEO and chairman of Marketwatch and now an executive at Dow Jones, wrote an appreciation/recollection at the Marketwatch site today. An excerpt follows:

“When I became Executive Editor of the San Francisco Examiner in 1986, I inherited Hunter as our lead political columnist, once a week. He had been hired by my predecessor Dave Burgin, and had already worn out his welcome with several line editors, who almost killed themselves trying to get his column into the paper. I found the same problem, and every once in a while, when all the usual suspects had quietly slipped out of town, I would take the Sunday night duty of cajoling Hunter to get his Monday column to the desk, and would often have to edit it right on deadline, which was about 4 a.m. Monday morning.

“I had heard thousands of stories about what a wild character he was and every time we met in person, he never failed to live up to his billing. The first time we met, he arrived an hour late for a dinner we had planned in a suburban Marin County restaurant. He showed up with a gym bag that had a bright pink Day-Glo tag which read ‘Firearms.’ He had flown to San Francisco with special permission to carry a bag loaded with weapons, including a knife and gun. (This was pre-9/11, of course).

“He immediately set off for the bathroom for a long period of time. When he returned and sat down he ordered two large scotches… 16 ounce glasses filled with some pretty old stuff. He downed them both in seconds. The dinner had just begun. He then proceeded to captivate all of us around the table with his predictions for the upcoming elections.

“Sometime later I had the occasion to visit him in Woody Creek, Colorado. We agreed to meet for dinner at the Snowmass Resort Clubhouse, not far from his home. He was about an hour late for this one, too.

“But that didn’t slow him down. He showed up with his newest assistant, a stunning 19-year-old Russian lit major from Princeton, I think, who had taken a semester off to live and work with Hunter in Woody Creek. They drove up in the biggest Cadillac I’d ever seen, and he proceeded to plop down at the table and order two bottles of Dom Perignon Champagne — despite the fact that I already ordered a couple bottles of very expensive Chardonnay. Silly me.

“He had several appetizers and at least two main courses, and when the desert tray rolled by, he glanced at the dozen or so deserts being offered and with a theatrical wave of his hand said: ‘I’ll take one of each….wrap ’em up.’ Then he left for the bathroom. Half an hour later his assistant said maybe we should try to find him. After a quick pass at the men’s room, I found him at the bar singing with a bunch of visiting German sailors. I have no idea what they were singing, and I’m quite confident that neither did Hunter.

“The only time I ever heard him humbled was one Sunday night after midnight. He was returning my call. I had been trying to reach him to get his column in. Unfortunately, my wife Myla answered the phone from bed before I could get to it. She lit into him like no one ever had, calling him a prima donna who didn’t care about anyone but himself. While I listened with my mouth open to the floor, she hung up before I could grab the phone.

“Half an hour later the column arrived on my fax. It was terrific as always, but two or three hours earlier than he usually got it in. I learned later from someone who was with him at the time that he was stunned by her diatribe and quietly went back to his typewriter and banged the column out.”

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