“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”
― Hunter S. Thompson
.......and skid into the afterlife in a cloud of smoke is exactly what eccentric cult journalist and outspoken hell raiser Hunter S. Thompson did. After 67 years of brilliance, madness, and rabble-rousing, the father of Gonzo journalism ended the ride with a single shot from a .45 while sitting in front of his typewriter.
Thompson, who had been suffering a number of painful health ailments and was confined to a wheelchair at the time of his death, had been courting his demise for years. His misanthropic, drug-addled, sometimes savage stories were, in part, reflections of his true self, and his tendency toward self-destruction was well recorded. He often spoke of his own death with family, friends and interviewers, and in a 1977 documentary by the BBC, he casually suggested how it should be properly celebrated – by shooting his ashes out of a cannon encased in a giant, two-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button, an image he had created as his insignia.
In August of 2005, that's exactly what happened. A 153-ft tower in the shape of Thompson's iconic fist was fitted with a cannon, and in a private ceremony, his ashes along with a fireworks display was launched into the Colorado sky while Bob Dylan's “Mr. Tambourine Man” jangled dolefully in the background. The price tag on the funeral of his own design is said to be around the $2 million mark, the majority of which was covered by actor and friend Johnny Depp.
A year after his death, a small group of friends and admirers created a shrine for Thompson in the Snowmass ski area, near his home in Woody Creek. The group, who call themselves “GLUM”, standing for “Glorious Leaders of the Underground Movement”, have built a bench and devoted several trees to remembering the fallen anti-hero. The shrine is updated every year on President's Day, and is a mishmash of photos, relevant articles, and the usual things you'd find at a memorial site, peppered in with more specifically Thompson-esque items – bullet shells, mannequin arms and booze bottles hung from the tree branches.
The woods within the Aspen and Snowmass ski areas have a tradition of becoming home to shrines for celebrities and locals alike. Bob Marley, John Denver, Elvis, and others have been memorialized among the trees, but the great Gonzo's is the only one where you can sit, have a pull of whiskey thoughtfully left behind by GLUM, and reflect on buying the ticket, and taking the ride.