High in the sky | VailDaily.com

High in the sky

Laura A. Ball
Special to the Daily "When I Die," a one-hour documentary chronicling the making of the Gonzo Monument, plays Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the Lodge at Vail in Vail Village.

Imagine, Anita Thompson poses, if in some cruel world, you opened a book and the pages inside turned blank because the man who had written them had died and taken his words with him. For Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s widow, the words that her husband left behind begift a powerful legacy. If ever you are feeling sad or confused, just open up anything Hunter S. Thompson wrote, and Anita promises, “It will make you feel better.”We’re lucky we do not live in that cruel world, and lucky is the first word that comes to her mind when she starts talking about him – “lucky,” she said, to have known and loved a man like Hunter.When 25-year-old Anita Bejmuk mentioned she wanted to learn about football, a close friend knew just the person to teach her. Anita had heard of Hunter, the infamous outlaw journalist who had created his own genre of writing. She had read an article he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine about President Bill Clinton. Before long, Hunter deemed Anita his protege. “Even though I never fancied myself a writer,” she recalls. The truth was, they had a spark, a flicker of recognition between souls.

The two began courting by 2000. One night, Anita recalls, at 2 a.m., Hunter decided he wanted to go swimming. He had a lease on the neighbor’s pool from midnight to 5 a.m. A blizzard outside had left four feet of snow on the ground, and the storm was still in full force. Off they went into the white night wearing only snow boots and bathrobes, and after they had a swim, Hunter wanted to take a drive. They got in their green Jeep Cherokee and drove over the mesa and up the hill where the car squatted and stopped. They tried to shovel. It was hopeless. Hunter’s back was hurting badly at the time, and Anita had no choice but to walk to the neighbor’s house for help. Hunter gave her his bathrobe and off she went, once again through the snow, this time with two bathrobes on. Hunter waited in the car wearing only his snow boots. They finally got back to the house at 6 a.m. and feasted on omelettes and tequila. Afterward, Hunter wrote a short story titled “The Polish Girl,” about a woman who went walking through the woods with two bathrobes on, finding herself in all sorts of adventures. Anita was Polish. Together, they had endless compassion for one another and endless fun. “Anytime we left the house, it was a great adventure. We had a checklist of things we needed to go out of the house, even if we were only leaving for 30 minutes,” Anita said as she retrieved the list from the refrigerator.The list: cigarettes and filters; wallet; hat; sunglasses; silk handkerchief; Gatorade; snacks – cookies and chips; Chivis, water and ice; all the newspapers – USA Today, New York Times, the Denver Post and then all the dailies; a packed pipe and a smile.When Hunter suffered from writers’ block, she felt an unexpected responsibility to Hunter and the world to “keep him writing.”When Hunter’s typewriter would suddenly break, “because he always had every excuse of why he couldn’t write,” Anita would have three more in the closet, set and ready to go.On Feb. 21, 2005, Hunter was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. When she misses him, she types him a letter on one of his typewriters. Her responsibility to keep him writing morphed into a responsibility for the widow to keep the Gonzo spirit alive.

Hunter left clear instructions upon his passing. He wanted a 150-foot obelisk built in his backyard with his trademarked two-thumbed Gonzo fist clutching a peyote button on top from which his ashes would be shot five hundred feet in the air and explode over his beloved Owl Farm in Aspen’s Woody Creek. Filmmaker Wayne Ewing, Hunter’s longtime friend and neighbor, approached Anita requesting to document the making of the Gonzo Monument. A few years back, Ewing made a film compiled of 20 years of footage of his dear friend called “Breakfast With Hunter,” that debuted at the Vail Film Festival. Anita happily agreed.”Hunter was undoubtedly charismatic,” Ewing said. “He affected anyone who came in contact with him, even if they hated him. What Hunter was in an nutshell was a phrase he used to quote: “Perhaps every culture needs an outlaw God of some kind,” and this time around, Hunter was it, a very insightful commentator and cultural critic of American society.”During the course of the film, Ewing follows the design and construction of the colossal tower to the trials and tribulations of the elaborate production to the final pyrotechnics sending his ashes into the air. “The beauty of the monument was that it filled a huge whole in our lives,” Anita said. “Hunter didn’t do it for himself, he did it for us a huge project to ease some of the pain of the loss. It was time-consuming and fun, and it was important. We were working as a team, and that’s what you need to do when you’re healing. Being there that night on Aug. 20, everyone realized that night that is was for us. He could be larger than life and also at times, difficult, and I think it shows in Wayne’s film. The monument took on a lot of characteristics that Hunter had.”What’s also clear from the film is Anita’s immense dedication to the man who was himself “lucky” to have this woman forever by his side.

Gonzo spiritWhat: “When I Die,” a one-hour documentary film by Wayne Ewing, chronicles the making of the Gonzo Monument to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, and the blasting of his ashes into the heavens. The infamous oultaw journalist who created his own genre – “Gonzo journalism” – described his funeral plans very specifically in a clip from a 1978 BBC documentary, which opens “When I Die.” When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday followed by Q&A session with Anita Thompson and filmmaker Wayne Ewing; 4:30 p.m. Sunday Where: The Lodge at VailFor more information about the film, visit http://www.breakfastwithhunter.com.

For more information about Hunter S. Thompson, visit http://www.gonzostore.com.For more information about the Vail Film Festival schedule, visit http://www.vailfilmfestival.org.Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14641, or laball@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado

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