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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 9, 2001

'Gonzo' journalist returns for marathon

 •  Marathon to close roads in East Honolulu
 •  Sunday's Honolulu Marathon route map

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

It was late afternoon — the start of the day for the occupants of the seventh-floor suite in the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel — and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson was multi-tasking or, as he called it, "cross-fertilizing."

Hunter S. Thompson is collaborating with actor Sean Penn.

Advertiser library photo • 1996

While trying to open a whisky bottle with a fork, he searched for the tactic he would use in today's Honolulu Marathon; his stint as a sports columnist for ESPN.com, after all, was the reason he was back in the Islands for the first time since 1980.

"We've been thinking about a lot of strategies," offered Sean Penn, the actor-director who would like to turn Thompson's Hawai'i-based book, "The Curse of Lono," into a movie. "We've had a lot of strategists up here. I think we're settling on cheating."

"No, cheating is wrong," said Thompson, who took a chug from the bottle. "Let's call it 'creativity.' "

Thompson has offered tips to Penn, who is considering running.

"He has a very impressive athletic background in short bursts," Thompson said.

"My intention," Penn said, "is to combine several short bursts, and give it a go."

Drivers yield to runners
 •  Traffic control measures, beginning as early as 12:30 a.m. today and involving street closings and lane alterations, will be in effect downtown and in Kaka'ako, Ala Moana, Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kahala, 'Aina Haina, Niu Valley, and East Honolulu for the Honolulu Marathon. Information about canceled or detoured bus routes may be obtained by calling the TheBUS at 848-5555.
Plan B, according to Penn, is to hook up to a sidecar, although it has not been resolved "should he or I want to be the puller or the pullee. If we can get the harness to hook up properly, then we'll be in the race."

This adventure, which Thompson will chronicle in his column, will double as the necessary research for "The Curse of Lono" project. After receiving an all-expenses-paid invitation from race director Jim Barahal, Thompson asked if he could bring along Penn and his family.

"It's all work," Thompson said. The companionship, he added, "makes the work more fun." All the better, he said, is "to get paid for being crazy ... I'm not crazy. Crazy is dysfunctional. I function pretty well."

Penn said he is a big fan of great writers, and Thompson is "arguably the most flamboyant of the great writers in the world right now."

Penn read "The Curse of Lono," then called Thompson and said, "Let's do this." They have had discussions for the past year, interrupted only by Thompson's return to sportswriting, his first creative love.

"I started out as a sportswriter," he said. "You can see it in my work. I've never found anything, any kind of journalism writing, where you have so much freedom to use words. I'm a student of words. I like them. They're pearls you can run through your hands. I like to string them. I like to hear them bounce."

One word absent from his stories is "gonzo," the term he coined to describe his approach to reporting.

"There are so many takeoffs on the word now," he said. "People kind of use it as 'unstructured, goofy, dialogue-free.' 'Did you see that dialogue-free movie?' I don't endorse any of the current uses of it."

For his first attempt at the Ho-nolulu Marathon, "I wanted to get out of the gate fast and demoralize the competition," he said.

Instead, he said, "I was demoralized by the frenzy of the greasing up at the start — 10,000 people slapping grease on each other. I had never seen anything like that before. I was knocked off my mental stride. Nobody told me about the hugging and the greasing and screaming of those chants. I couldn't figure it out. Maybe I was hallucinating."

Thompson said he has relinquished "some troublesome habits. I gave up public violence a while ago. There's no upside to it."

He is writing two books as well as introductions to an ESPN book and one on the history of the Harley-Davidson.

"I'm busy, busier than I've ever been," Thompson said.