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Shortly after William McKeen published his first biography of the famous gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Hunter S. Thompson: A Critical Biography, he received a 17-page fax from his subject, who called him a “shit-eating freak” and warned him that “a bushy-haired stranger in a dimly-lit parking lot” might blind him.

“I could recognize his handwriting as the letter was coming through, and I thought, well, he’s got the book, let’s see what his response is,” says McKeen, a College of Communication professor of journalism and associate dean. “His assistant called me right away and she said, ‘You know that means he liked it, right?’ If he hadn’t liked it, he probably wouldn’t have written anything. He was one of those people who showed affection through abuse.”

McKeen has only one page of the obscenity-laced letter framed in his office, although the full version is printed in his 2008 book Outlaw Journalist: A Biography.

He remembers receiving a call from Thompson shortly before he killed himself with a handgun in 2005. In true Thompson fashion, he left no phone number, and McKeen was unable to return the call.

“When he died, I thought it would be good to have his full life story,” says McKeen, who went on to write the second book on “the doctor.” “Other people wrote books about him, and they were always about the caricature, the craziness, the drinking, the drugs, and no one really explained why we should care about him. I wanted to write his life story, which had its moments of outrageousness, but I wanted people to recognize that he was a pretty good analyst of life and a really wonderful writer.”

McKeen feels he did a better, more thorough job on Outlaw Journalist, although it was based on the earlier, shorter book. “I wish my first book had been better, because one of his friends told me that he kept it on a shelf above where he cooked,” he says. “Every so often, his friend and assistant told me, he would ask people to read from it and sit there and smoke. He would say, ‘That guy understands me.’”

In our new series “Office Artifacts,” BU Today highlights interesting artifacts professors display in their office. Have a suggestion about someone we should profile? Email amlaskow@bu.edu.

Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

6 Comments on Office Artifacts: William McKeen

  • Patrick Jordan on 09.26.2016 at 12:39 pm

    Hunter did not kill himself with a shotgun. Whoever wrote this, please get the facts straight.

  • KM on 09.26.2016 at 12:40 pm

    Cool new series. Can’t wait for the others.

  • Gregg Numme on 09.26.2016 at 1:36 pm

    Aaah-“The Doc” I laud your efforts in as much as you’ve tried to disseminate the vast chasm that whenever my Hero is written about, it seems to me that more of his legendary and outlandish Behavior always supersedes his overwhelming ability to cut through any particular topic and get to the absolute heart of the matter. Hunters written word for me was often if not always Sage. When I heard of his death, I was sad, overwhelmed and felt in my soul of Souls that the American public had been robbed of one of the most prolific and important writers of our time. The Manner of his death was not surprising to me, it was never in the cards for him to wither away in a hospital bed. The ” Period” at the end of his life had to be as stunning as his bombastic written word. I dedicated my first novel to him. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and, we had missed each other numerous times, coming and going in and out of restaurants. As time passed, I had been meaning to send him a copy and a letter. An opportunity missed and now a door forever closed. A stupid mistake on my part I despise myself for it. My regrets are few on my journey, NOT contacting H.S.T. is an absolute tragedy to me. Politically speaking, there is not a soul extant who would have enjoyed the circus environment surrounding our current Presidential election. Every time I see an add or Trump’s stuttering idiocy, my fist waves in surrender. Our beloved brother is not here to put his legendary observation and insight on the matter. Some other writers, try to write In his inimitable style and always end up sounding like a parody of the master. But his eligiac rhythms are not lost to us. Those pulsing words that came pouring out of his Smith & Corona from the bowels of his Woody Creek office will forever resound for us all should we dare seek his wisdom. I’ve yet to find anyone who could muster, or dare find the cojones to find a voice even close to that of Hunter. So we must go it alone here in 2016. Words will be written, but, a lone singular Gonzo Journalist, his typewriter now silent, will be sorely missed. If you then Sir, can find a way to cut through the periphery, and find a way for the masses to grasp just how clever, witty and show finally that when the mask of outrageous behavior is removed, Hunter was the ultimate ” Artful Dodger” – not hiding behind the bombast, but forcing his readers to do a little work to find his truth. Forever missed, now there is silence where there should be another missive boring out of the mountains like a ribald satellite of the coming sun…
    Vale my Brother!
    To Anita & Juan our love and humble and deepest condolences. He will ride on forever on that Vincent Black Shadow; Always remembered and always revered for the blessing of his noble gifts, resolute honesty and his words.
    Red Ipsa Loquitur
    xo Gregg

  • Gregg Numme on 09.26.2016 at 3:18 pm

    I sincerely detest this autocorrect. and yes you’re right it was not a shotgun…

    • Amy Christine Lacombe on 05.15.2017 at 2:05 am

      This is so so so you

  • Joel Brown on 01.18.2017 at 1:36 pm

    We have corrected the gun reference.

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