DENVER — It wasn't a reckless obsession with liquor, drugs and gunplay that made Hunter S. Thompson the undisputed king of Gonzo journalism, his widow says. Instead, it was old-fashioned principles such as working hard and telling the truth, enlivened by the glee Thompson took from learning and from being right.
"I don't deny his lifestyle, because his lifestyle was pretty extreme," Anita Thompson said, but that lifestyle was made possible by his success as a reporter and writer, not the other way around.
In her new book, "The Gonzo Way: A Celebration of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson," Thompson says her husband built his career with a tireless dedication to the craft of reporting, a keen awareness of his own shortcomings and his personal blend of patriotism: loving his country while mistrusting authority.
And in a wide-ranging interview, she spoke about a rift between her and her stepson and the agonizing doubts that dogged her in the days after her husband's suicide.
Hunter Thompson, 67, shot himself in the kitchen of his home outside Aspen, Colo., on Feb. 20, 2005.
He had established himself as an original and riveting voice with "Hells Angels," published in 1966, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" in 1971 and "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail" in 1972. It was Gonzo journalism -- irreverent, outlandish and unapologetically personal. The image it projected, coupled with his undisguised love of guns and explosions, gave him a reputation as an unbridled outlaw surfing on a wave of drugs and excess.
After his death, Thompson said, she got stacks of e-mails and letters from young people who thought they could duplicate his success by mimicking his infamous consumption. "They wrote me these letters about drinking bottles of Wild Turkey and doing grams of cocaine," she said. "And I realized, 'OK, I need to correct that.' "
Her book, published by Fulcrum Publishing, depicts the man who used the pseudonym Raoul Duke in his famous "Fear and Loathing" books as a relentless researcher and a voracious reader. He viewed politics as worthy and necessary to get things done, the book says, and he believed nothing could be accomplished without friends and allies.
"The Hunter I want people to understand is hardworking, righteous and a patriot -- a bedrock patriot and loyal to his country and loyal to his friends," Thompson said. Even his most savage political commentary was written in hopes of inspiring change: "He believed we were better than what we were electing."
Her husband also knew his faults and either compensated for them or harnessed them, she said. He thought he was lazy, so he worked hard. He could be angry and violent, so he poured that energy onto the page.
But not all of it ended up there.
"Sometimes, it felt like the walls of the cabin would come down when we would get into our big fights," she said. "Things would fly, grapefruits and a lamp would fly -- a lot of shouting."
Their marriage worked, she said, because she fought back, and he was never physically violent toward her.
"To me he was a great husband. He could be scary at times . . . but so could I," she said, laughing.
Their 35-year age difference -- she was 32 when he died -- enriched their relationship, she said. Thompson described him as her teacher, boss and best friend, while she sometimes played the role of designated grown-up. "He was such a child at heart that I was often the adult between the two of us."
Thompson was born in Fort Collins, Colo., and attended UCLA, but got so heavily involved with environmental groups on the campus that she burned out. She moved to Aspen in 1994 for what she thought would be a one-semester break, but it stretched into years.
She went snowboarding every day during ski season and was working as a nanny and a ski shop bookkeeper when a friend introduced her to the writer. They became friends, and he asked her to go to work as his editorial assistant on a book of his letters.
They fell in love. She moved in with him in late 1999 and they were married in April 2003.
Writing "The Gonzo Way" has helped her heal from his suicide, she said, but the path has been uneven. The first few weeks were especially dark, complicated by a split with Juan Thompson, her husband's son from a previous marriage.
Twice before the suicide, Juan and his wife had asked Anita to leave Hunter, said Thompson, who does not know why and refused to consider it.
"I had no intention of leaving him," she said. "He was the love of my life and he was sick at the time." He had undergone a hip replacement and back surgery, and had broken his leg.
After the suicide, her stepson told her that his father had wanted to end the marriage, and that a paper found near his body was a divorce document, she said. She didn't believe it, but then recalled a note her husband had written two weeks earlier saying, "I love you enough to set you free." She had asked what he meant but he didn't want to talk about it.