Cannon Wanted for Thompson's Bang-Up Salute

Funeral Industry Ready to Turn Cremated Remains Into Fireworks, Jewelry and Statuettes


March 8, 2005 — If you have a cannon and don't mind blasting a member of the media, the friends and family of the late Hunter S. Thompson need your help.

Thompson died on Feb. 20, and as a final request in his bizarre life, the self-described "gonzo" journalist wanted his cremated ashes blasted into the air over his farm in Woody Creek, Colo., as loudspeakers play Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man."

Johnny Depp — who portrayed Thompson's drug-addled alter ego in the 1998 film "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" — is among the friends hoping to cannon-ize the outrageous writer. Step one, of course, is finding proper military ordnance.

To help the family out, Thompson's local newspaper, the Aspen Daily News, is organizing a "Cannon Blast-Off Contest," asking entrants to answer, in 100 words or less, "Why should your cannon be used to blast Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's cremated remains into the sky?"

The paper is looking for cannons with historic value or possibly one from Kentucky, where Thompson was born. Photographs must be included. The entry deadline is March 13.

The fact that the 67-year-old writer died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound isn't dissuading friends and family from this unusual memorial. Perhaps the only surprise to Thompson's hard-core fans is that he didn't already own his own cannon. Over the years, strange blasts and the crackle of high-powered guns frequently brought police to his door.

In his 1989 book "Generation of Swine," Thompson recalls blowing up a Jeep with high-powered explosives, purely for his own amusement.

"The explosion shook the whole valley and sent chunks of red shrapnel flying over the house and all the way back to the White River National Forest," he wrote. "All traffic stopped on the road and the elk herd scattered in panic.

"But not for long. It was over in 22 seconds. Nobody was injured and no animals were killed …"

In recent years, Thompson wrote a weekly column for, where, among other things, he advocated "Shotgun Golf," a sport he invented, which involves shooting balls out of the air rather than hitting them with clubs.

"It will bring a whole new meaning to the words 'Driving Range,' " his friend Bill Murray remarked in one column.

Clearly, Thompson's writing was not for everyone. But he had a cult following. At a private memorial service in Aspen on Sunday, Depp and Murray were joined by such Hollywood headliners as Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson and Benicio Del Toro.

Guests say celebrity speakers recalled Thompson's days riding motorcycles with the Hells Angels, his reportage as national affairs editor for Rolling Stone and the wild tales that made him legendary.

The event surely would have pleased the author, who had a viciously dark sense of humor and a strange reverence for ceremonies.

In 1994, after the death of former President Nixon, who was the central figure in Thompson's "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72," the journalist wrote:

"If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning … His body should have been burned in a trash bin."

It should be noted that while Thompson was often identified as a hero of the left, he often savaged Democrats, including President Clinton. "It's almost embarrassing to talk about Clinton as if he were important," Thompson wrote. "I'd almost prefer Nixon. I'd say Clinton is every bit as corrupt as Nixon, but a lot smoother."

The humor in Thompson's overboard style might have been lost because of his sad end. Nothing is funny about suicide. Still, many writers, including Ernest Hemingway, one of Thompson's heroes, have also taken their own lives — and their work is no less revered.

Perhaps that's one reason why Thompson's loved ones plan to follow through on his final request.

"If it can be done, we will do it," said Thompson's longtime lawyer, George Tobia Jr. "Maybe it will be part of a public thing, or maybe one night a shot will ring out and people will know."

But as the call for a cannon goes out, it should be noted that Thompson's requests aren't that far out of line with the times.

Cremation, now the funeral choice of 26 percent of Americans, has been steadily gaining on traditional burial for three decades.

Human ashes are largely stored in urns. But a growing number of companies are offering spectacular services. Cremated remains are now being mixed with fireworks, blasted into space and even crushed into diamonds.

Surely Thompson would approve of these gonzo practices, and if the family can't find a suitable cannon, they may wish to consider one of these ash alternatives:

1. A Flare for Drama: If you're ready to go out in a blaze of glory, several companies will mix your ashes with an assortment of fireworks. For $3,500, Angels Flight of Castaic, Calif., will put on a beachside funeral service filled with snap, crackle and pop.

For an even greater high, the Florida-based Eternal Ascent Society scatters human remains in high-altitude balloons. For packages ranging from $1,000 to $2,000, you get a 5-foot-wide, biodegradable balloon filled with helium that will soar 30,000 feet in the sky. Once reaching that altitude, the balloon will freeze and burst, scattering the ashes of your loved one.

2. Wearable Cremations That Sparkle: If you think your spouse is a real gem now, a funeral service in Illinois is ready to turn your loved one's ashes into diamonds that you can wear as jewelry.

"The Wolf Files" originally reported on LifeGem in 2003, when the company transformed the cremated remains of a 27-year-old woman from Phoenix — its first human client —into six sparkling stones. The company has now taken more than 300 orders, and the service is available through 482 funeral parlors throughout the United States as well as Canada, Australia and Britain.

A .29-carat gem made from your loved one's ashes costs less than $2,500. It will have "the same brilliance, fire, and hardness as any high-quality diamond you may find at Tiffany's," according to company literature.

Just remember one thing: Before you're tempted to rush an unwanted relative off to the diamond factory, just remember that a laboratory-made diamond still costs more than natural ones.

3. Eternal Shelf Life as a Knickknack: Now, you can rest in piece, and on someone's desk. Crystal Eternity of California handcrafts molten glass mixed with human ashes for a one-of-a-kind, 3-inch sphere that is mounted on a silver base with an engraved plaque bearing the person's name.

What a fitting end for a trophy wife. Your mini-monument can take its place on your mantelpiece with other keepsakes. And unlike an urn, it can never be mistaken for an ashtray.

4. Who Lives in a Cement Pineapple Under the Sea?: Here's a funeral option that's sure to please ecologists and rabid fans of SpongBob SquarePants: You can find an eternal resting home under the sea thanks to Eternal Reefs, a Georgia company that will mix your cremated remains with cement to form seabed habitats for sponges and ocean coral. Costs range from $1,500 to $5,000.

5. Painted Love: If you want your loved one to hang around forever, Eternally Yours Memorial Art, a Mississippi company, will mix cremated remains with oil paints to create a work of art. At prices ranging from $350 to $550, you can proudly say you had your spouse framed.

Ending life as artwork certainly appealed to Marvel Comics editor Mark Gruenwald, a creative force behind such classics as "Captain America" and "Quasar." In 1996, his wife honored his final request and mixed his ashes with ink during the printing of a comic book. There's a little piece of him in "Squadron Supreme," a limited-run poster of Marvel characters that's popular with collectors.

6. Beam What's Left of Me Up, Scotty: In September 1999, the ashes of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry along with those of LSD guru Timothy Leary, boldly went where no urn had gone before — into orbit, via a U.S. satellite. Now, a countless number of Trekkies have rocketed into that final frontier.

For $5,300, Houston-based Celestis Services prepares cremated space travelers for blastoff, packing each one into a lipstick-sized aluminum tube. Riding in a memorial satellite, your loved one will orbit Earth for up to 15 years. Eventually, the satellite will re-enter Earth's atmosphere and vaporize — or as the company literature describes it, "blazing like a shooting star in final tribute."

7. Ultimate Frisbee: Frisbee legend Ed Headrick put a new spin on the afterlife by having his remains molded into flying discs.

Headrick patented the first Frisbee in 1967 and came to think of the plastic plaything as a way of life — an alternative religion best described as Frisbitarianism. "When we die, we don't go to purgatory," he once said. "We just land up on the roof and lay there."

In 2003, friends and family received limited-edition Frisbees made from Headrick's remains. Another batch of Headrick Frisbees is now up for sale, to help raise money for a Frisbee museum and flying disc golf course in California. For $210, you can play with the Frisbee inventor whenever you want.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at "The Wolf Files" is published Tuesdays.