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I was watching Benecio del Toro on ‘Inside the Actors Studio’ discussing his role of Dr. Gonzo in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, the film version of Hunter S. Thompson’s story about a weird, wired and crazy trip that only someone as insane as Hunter Thompson could come up with, or rather, live through. Johnny Depp played the Gonzo journalist as pretty much close to perfection as he usually does with most roles. He did have the advantage of spending loads of time with the man, so his getting all the subtleties of the character down exemplified his technique and commitment to his craft.

Anyway, back to Benecio and the interview with James Lipton. He actually put on forty-plus pounds to play the role of Hunter Thompson’s lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta – ‘Dr. Gonzo’ in the film – and, he said, he didn’t have the advantage of spending time with the real thing (like Depp did), as the good lawyer just upped and disappeared mysteriously and hasn’t been seen since, so he had to do the next best thing and spend time, together with Johnny Depp, getting to know Acosta through the eyes and mind of Thompson, whilst Johnny was busy absorbing Thompson’s personae. I thought that his (Benicio’s) performance was as good as he gets, although critics’ views were divided. However, in the end, vindication came in the cult following both he and Terry Gilliam’s (yup, the same guy who was part of the Monty Python gang) film earned since it was released in 1998.

Hunter S. Thompson (for those who don’t know) was the original ‘Gonzo Journalist’ and a very strange character to boot. ‘Gonzo’ journalism is defined as ‘a style of reporting that blurs distinctions between author and subject, fiction and non-fiction’. The book came out of the experiences Thompson and his lawyer Acosta had when Thompson was doing a piece for ‘Rolling Stone’ on the controversial death of Rueben Salazar, a Mexican-American journalist, at the hands of the LAPD. They left Los Angeles together for so many reasons, and headed for Las Vegas to kill two birds with one stone by covering another assignment he had for ‘Sports Illustrated’ on the Mint 400 Motorcycle Race held there in Vegas. The experiences encountered on the trip was developed into the first person account by his nom de plume – journalist Raoul Duke – about the trip with his 300 pound Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo, to cover a narcotics officers’ convention as well as the ‘fabulous Mint 400’. As the trip progresses the duo get sidetracked searching for the ‘American Dream’ assisted by copious quantities of alchohol, marijuana, mescaline, LSD, cocaine, and all sorts of other drugs, inebriants and stimulants – even ether!! The story is hilarious, weird and amazing, employing Thompson’s ‘gonzo’ journalistic technique and style and exposing it to a wider public. Critical acclaim followed, including being heralded as “by far the best book yet written on the decade of dope” by the New York Times and a “scorching epochal sensation” by Tom Wolf, pioneer of ‘new journalism’ and author of ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’.

Hunter S. Thompson shot himself in February 2005. The following description of the aftermath is from Wikipedia:
On August 20, 2005, in a private ceremony, Thompson’s ashes were fired from a cannon atop a 153-foot tower of his own design (in the shape of a double-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button) to the tune of Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man, known to be the song most respected by the late writer. Red, white, blue and green fireworks were launched along with his ashes. As the city of Aspen would not allow the cannon to remain for more than a month, the cannon has been dismantled and put into storage until a suitable permanent location can be found. According to widow Anita Thompson, the actor Johnny Depp, a close friend of Thompson (and portrayer of Raoul Duke in the movie adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), financed the funeral. Depp told the Associated Press, “All I’m doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out.” [5] Other famous attendees at the funeral included U.S. Senator John Kerry and former U.S. Senator George McGovern; 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley; actors Bill Murray (who portrayed Hunter S. Thompson in the movie Where the Buffalo Roam), Sean Penn and Josh Hartnett; singers Lyle Lovett and John Oates; and numerous other friends. An estimated 280 people attended the funeral.

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