Uncle Gonzo

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Hunter was so sure the heavily favored Hurricanes were going to crunch Penn State that he proposed the following wager, straight-up: I'll bet your $21 to my $21,000, he told me over the phone.

In other words, Penn State wins and I win $21,000.

Hold on, I replied, let's put this on tape. I threw a cassette into my machine, turned it on, and asked him to repeat his offer.

A few days later, I went to the game at Sun Devil Stadium, and it was a beaut. Miami had a golden opportunity to win in the closing seconds, but fell just short. Penn State 14, Miami 10.


I called Hunter late that night (this was before cell phones), and told him I sure could use the money.

He immediately switched the subject to something about how the Mafia owned Phoenix, including New Times (well, maybe Irish mobsters, i.e., Lacey and Jim Larkin. But that wasn't what he was talking about).

After a time, I just hung up on the welshing bastard.

Hunter had been calling me incessantly before that bet became due. That suddenly stopped.

Over the next several months, I was the one on the line bird-dogging him.

By then, I'd learned that he'd been cruel to the person whom I'd come to cherish, the fabulous Maria.

She finally left him behind in his fabled compound at Woody Creek, Colorado, which proved to be a very good thing for her, in both the short and long runs.

Maria landed back in Arizona, where she later went to law school and eventually became a speechwriter and top adviser to Arizona Governor J. Fife Symington III.

These days, she's the picture of propriety, a married mother of two who is executive director for a consortium of prominent real estate developers.

Her brother, assistant fire chief Bobby Khan, remains an extremely popular public servant who is one of the Valley's most recognizable faces.

As for Hunter, his books -- including a third great one, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 -- have been selling like crazy since he put the .45-caliber into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Truth be told, Hunter was mostly known for his booze- and drug-addled revelries in the years following publication of those three tomes. (Wonder what's becoming of Uncle Duke in Doonesbury?) But he was a madman ahead of his time. Before Saturday Night Live when Walter Cronkite was the most famous journalist in America, the angry, young Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was thrilling us with his spectacular stories.

He was a chiseling SOB, but he was an original.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin