Hunter S Thompson goes out with a bang as locals whimper

He was right. From across the floor of the valley you could see this huge, imposing structure, 150ft or so high, wrapped in blue plastic cladding. To be honest, from a distance it looked more like a long, thin penis than a cannon. But on top, what looked like a swollen head waiting and ready to explode, was actually a huge, fibre-glass clenched fist packed with a mixture of explosives and human ashes.

This, apparently, was what Hunter S Thompson wanted, and this was what Hunter S Thompson was to get. As far back as 1978, the inventor of so-called Gonzo journalism, had said that after his death he wanted his mortal remains blasted into the sky.

And last night at Thompson's Owl Creek farm, set in an otherwise peaceful valley in the Rocky Mountains, the writer's family, friends and a handful of celebrity guests did their best to ensure that his wishes were met.

"No crying, no tears, only celebration," his wife Anita, 32, told a reporter earlier in the week. "He wanted to celebrate. He envisioned it to be a beautiful party. His friends would celebrate his life and he was even specific that there would be clinking of ice and whiskey."

The $2.5m cost of the private send-off was met by the actor Johnny Depp, a friend of Thompson's who played the journalist in the 1998 film of his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Other celebrities among the 250 invited guests included Lyle Lovett and Sean Penn. There were also rumours circulating up and down the valley that Bob Dylan had flown in for the memorial for the man, who killed himself in February at the age of 67.

On Friday night at the Woody Creek Tavern, one of Thompson's regular hang-outs, there were actually few genuine celebrities but no shortage of fans of "Uncle Duke", who had travelled from across the US to witness the blast-off. Travis Canaday, 25, a student, had driven 12 hours from Kansas. "I was 16 when I read Fear and Loathing," he said. "After that I was hooked."

Kevin Coy and Johnny Haney had driven even further - 1,600 miles from West Virginia. They pointed out several times that they had brought with them a gallon of Wild Turkey bourbon and "some pills". "We did it the Gonzo way," one of them said, trying a little too hard.

There were also some of Thompson's drinking buddies, stretching back over the 35 years or so that he lived in the area. Two men were passing around a little dope pipe, inhaling deeply and screwing up their faces as they held the smoke down.

"In the old days, Hunter was in here quite a bit," said one of them, 62-year-old Andy Paul. "Everybody knew if he was coming down here, he'd pick up the tab."

Aside from his friends at the bar, it was not entirely clear what the residents in Woody Creek made of the blast-off for Thompson. But most tellingly, it was also unclear whether he would have welcomed all the fuss. One wonders what the man would have written had he been sent by Rolling Stone to cover such a send- off for a dead writer whose most compelling work had been completed more than 30 years earlier.

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