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March 22 - 29, 2005
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Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (1937 - 2005)

LAS VEGAS - As promised, it was five years ago that we first sprung this MagicWebChannel and HatsandRabbits web portal on the world, and I have compiled the story of the origins and history of this amazing journey. Read our Progress Report, and please send us your comments. A lot of time, effort, sweat, and resoures, not to mention plenty of fine adult beverages, has gone into the creation of this website. We encourage your feedback.


Thanks for the kind words and wonderful feedback on our latest expanded version of conventions and events. Our GUIDE page, is now loaded with cool links, from magic shops, to organizations, websites, and of course, our complete guide to all magic events and conventions. It is the LARGEST interactive listing in the world of magic, but that shouldn't surprise you. Very special thanks to our web guys and gals for updating it. You can look all all of the magic gatherings in the world and link up to their websites instantly.


Jan and I have always been concerned with the endangered animals on our planet. The big cats, in particular, are close to disappearing forever, and we are not talking about a magic trick. Far more serious is the plight of the tigers, lions, leopards, all the big cats that once existed in large numbers throughout the world. Tigers are in the category of endangered animals. The Caspian, Bali and Java family of tigers has already become extinct while the number of South China tigers is estimated to be between 20-30.

If it wasn't for the efforts of people such as Big Cat Rescue, Siegfried & Roy, Tippi Hedren and so many other generous, kind people, these magnificent creatures would be completely gone. We now have a complete section on MagicWebChannel which features articles, photos and information. It is our hope to educate people and spotlight the people and places that exist to save these nearly extinct cats. And if possible, a donation, however large or small, would be appreciated at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa to help pay for the food and the daily care of their family of cats. And, unlike some organizations, every penny received at Big Cat Rescue goes directly to the cats.


SInce the tragic news of the suicide of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson first hit, I have been thinking about the man a lot. He was, in his words, the father of "gonzo" journalism, and he had many fans the world over, from his writings in Rolling Stone magazine and his many uniquely entertaining books, the most popular being "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas". I had the distinct pleaure of an encounter with the good Doctor many years ago. I have replayed that event in my mind a lot these past weeks, and at first thought that I should just keep the incident to myself.

After reading the latest issue of Rolling Stone, and hearing from friends all over the States who have talked about Thompson, and the numerous tribute articles online and off, and while sitting at a locals saloon in Vegas not far from where he used to hang, it dawned on me that this man touched so many, and he left a legacy in print and in the minds of those who had the chance to meet or know him. With that in mind, I have decided that on this day, my birthday, I would share with you my lucky and fateful encounter with the gonzo man himself...


I must begin by saying how much I loved Hunter Thompson long before I had the experience I am about to tell. I read everything he ever wrote, devoured his articles in Rolling Stone, and read The Vegas Book (his description of the best selling Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) three times (so far). His style was like nothing I had ever encountered. He broke all the rules. And, as a writer who is constantly trying to find my own inner voice, I have always been fascinated by other writers. Thompson touched me through his craft, and I like to think that his influence on me is evident in my writing today. But I digress.

Many decades ago, while plying my trade as a traveling magician, working as an opening act a lot, and writing screenplays in between gigs, this story begins.

Back in 1976, I was booked to play in Chicago as the opening act for the one and only Tony Orlando. This began a long, cherished friendship with the man we all know from the "Tony Orlando & Dawn" TV show days and "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" song. To this day, Tony and I remain in touch, we see each other whenever our paths cross, and I regard him as a friend and mentor in so many ways.

I mention this, because as a result of that first show together, Tony brought me to his agency, the famous William Morris Agency, and told them I should be working through their offices. As a result of this kind gesture, I found myself being represented by the world's largest talent agency, and I was immediately booked as the opening act for many of the big stars of the time.


As the years lfew by, one of the many bookings I had was in Denver at a place called Turn of the Century. The agent told me that this joint was a dinner theatre, very upscale, and the patrons were used to seeing a Vegas-type show. My contract called for a five week stint. Each week I would be the opening act for a different headliner. I remember the first was Charo, followed by The Temptations, Bill Cosby, Carol Channing, and finally, The Mills Brothers. We worked shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, then the place was dark from Sunday until the following Thursday.

It was during these breaks that I would take the opportunity to get out of Denver, and drive off to some mountain top to write. I'd go to Estes Park mostly, or Aspen, and just hang around, soak up the crisp clean air, the wildlife (human and non-human) and work on those screenplays I knew I would be directing some day.

On the eve of one Saturday night show, while sitting in the dressing room, a friend from LA had come by to see the show and have a few laughs. We talked about Aspen and she mentioned the Woody Creek Tavern, a place not far from Aspen that she had once visited with her parents. A light went on in my brain. I remembered that Hunter Thompson lived near there, and was a frequent visitor to that hole in the mountain.

I got his bright idea that I would drive to Aspen the next day, and stop at the Woody Creek Tavern to see the place where Thompson allegedly spent a part of every day, drinking, smoking, writing and sometimes shooting guns. I never expected to encounter him....okay, that's a lie. I FULLY expected to encounter him. I somehow KNEW I would seee him there and I imagined having a conversation with him, if he didn't shoot me first. He hates strangers, I knew, and he was known to be over-the-top violent for no reason whenever he felt the urge to shake things up. But, I am, after all, the world's greatest sleight of hand man, and I figured that just might be my ticket to staying alive long enough to have a chat.



(photo by Loiza Aldea of Hunter in San Juan in 1960)

Sunday morning. Up late after a long, wild night with the Temptations, friends, card tricks and numerous bottles of Jack. I load up the rental car and head off to the mountains near Aspen. I rented a hotel outside of Aspen for a few nights, but my mission was to find the elusive Woody Creek Tavern...which was remarkably easy, given that anyone in the vacinity knows exactly where it is. I stopped for gas just outside of Aspen, and as I paid the attendant, I asked if I was headed in the right direction to get to Woody Creek. He smiled, as if he knew Thompson was always hanging out there, and said, "Yep...just down the road on the right."

Perfect. I was somehow drawn to the location, I figured. I drove for about an hour, thinking I must be lost, and as I searched for a safe spot to turn around, I found myself in the small parking lot - really just a clearing in the trees - of the Woody Creek Tavern. If you blink, you'd miss this place, which sits in a flat clearing among lots of tall trees, almost hidden from the huge piles of snow that plows have pushed out of the parking area. I parked. I got out and stretched my legs. I took a deep breath of that cool mountain air and thought about what I might expect inside.

I opened my briefcase, loaded a deck of cards in one pocket, a few coins, thumb tip, and sponge balls in another. I was ready for anything.

When I pulled the big old wooden door open, the smell of smoke and whiskey filled my nostrils. Or was it beer? Maybe a little of both. It was dark, smoke-filled and cozy. The noise level dropped sharply as I walked in, and I could tell the locals inside were checking out the stranger. I smiled, walked to the large bar and sat down in a spot where there were a few empty stools, by myself, as I looked around, squinting in the darkness and waiting for my eyes to adjust to the atmosphere. A big, crusty guy behind the bar appeared in front of me with a smirk. "You lost?", he asked. "What makes you say that?"

"Well, we don't get many hippies in these parts."

Hippies? Is that what I look like? I guess the long curly hair, tie-dyed shirt peeking out from under my leather jacket and the earring marked me as a stranger in these parts. A quick look around at the patrons, obviously locals, and I'd say I was the only one not wearing torn and worn-out jeans and jackets, and I was clearly the only one in the place that had shaved or showered within the last few days.

As if in an old Western film, I uttered, "Just passin' though." I smiled, ordered a beer - a manly thing to do, I figured, and sat by myself as I eyed the crowd. Not too crowded, Charlie Daniels playing on the jukebox, and most of the people had decided they had checked me out sufficiently and went about their conversations as if I wasn't even there.

I scoured the place, wondering if the man was there. Hiding, sipping his Whiskey, cleaning his guns. I decided he wasn't. I knew I couldn't really ask anyone. I figured I would have to be satisfied with knowing I was actually there, in the very place where Doctor Hunter S. Thompson hangs, sipping a brew, waiting for inspiration to hit.

At Right: Benicio Del Toro, Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp (who played him in the movie) at CeneVegas.


Suddenly, as if on cue, the bright light from outside lit the room up as a figure appeared in the doorway. I squinted, tried not to stare, and as the door closed, the darkness returned, and the shadow of a man walked in, stopping at a few tables to talk briefly, then heading to a spot at the bar, an empty seat in the corner, obviously a familiar spot for this person. When he sat down, I immediately recognized the long cigarette holder dangling from his mouth and the hat pulled down to the rims of his glasses. There he sat. Hunter S. Thompson in the flesh. Looking just like I had anticipated from the photos I had seen of him. Eyes darting about and immediately landing on me, the stranger at the bar. He took a long puff, then looked away as the bartender dropped a drink in front of him. They talked a bit, then the barman walked off, and Thompson nodded, it seemed, in my direction.

I gulped down my beer, took a deep breath, and got off the stool. I looked around. Nobody seemed to be looking at me, it was if I was not there. I glanced at Thompson, and he was gazing away. I decided this was the moment I was secretly waiting for, so I slowly and deliberately walked around the bar and over to the man himself. Thinking carefully about what I was going to say, I was suddenly shocked as Thompson swung around, looked right THROUGH me and said, "Get your candy-ass out of here before I have you thrown out."

Well, that's not what I was hoping for.

"Uh, right. I'm not here to bother you, sir, I just wanted to thank you for your writing. I'm a big fan, that's all."

I turned to walk away. My encounter was over. "Hold it". I stopped and look back at him, fully expecting to be staring down the barrel of a shiny handgun.

"You are obviously a man of incredibly good taste. Sit down, let me buy you a libation, then you can get the hell out."


I smiled. My opportunity had arrived. I shook his hand, thanked him, and sat down next to him, my heart racing a million beats a minute. I had met a lot of great people in my life at that point, people like Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, lots of world-class folks, and I was always amazed that I was never once nervous.

Until now. Here was a guy who many people did not even know, but yet, I found myself a bit unnerved. Maybe it was the uncertainty of this character. His love of guns and explosives was well documented, and he'd been arrested for wild exploits all over America. Unpredictable, brash, outrageous...when you look up any of those words, you see a picture of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. But that wasn't it either. I think that, being a writer, I have always admired people who made a living as writers. Journalists, novelists, screenwriters...I look up to them all. Here was a man who could write in a style that was original, and ground-breaking, and who was not afraid to be different and live life on his own terms. Maybe that was it. Or maybe I was not sure of which card I had placed discreetly under my glass at the other end of the bar.


He ordered me a drink. Jack, straight up. I figured I should be manly now. Show him I was not a mamsy-pamsy wierdo who happened upon him this sunny afternoon. I admitted that I had stopped in on purpose, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. "So, what do you think this is, a fucking zoo? Stop in to see the animals, maybe feed 'em some peanuts and be on your way?"

After explaining that I was working in Denver, and revealing my profession, his eyes lit up. "I just love a good magic trick. Not the bullshit stuff that long-haired freak does (his impression of Doug Henning), the real stuff with the hands. Go ahead, show me something."

Yep, that's what it was. I was probably nervous because I didn't know when and if I would be able to show his a trick, and if I did, if he would respond favorably to it. Now the moment was actually upon me. I threw my drink down, stood up and pulled out a coin. I turned it into two. Made one vanish and join the other, he nodded. I clearly remember his comment: "Fuck, that was good."


Next it was sponge balls. I figured I should hit him with the "A material" while I had the chance. He flipped. When he opened his hand and saw two where there used to be one, he nearly fell off the stool. He was reduced to uncontrollable laughter. He hugged me and said I was spooked. He beged me to promise not to put any wierd spells on him. I assured him I would not. "You do anything with cards?" Ah yes, the perfect question...

When I had him select a card randomly from the deck and caused it to fly across the bar and land under my glass at the far end, he nearly stopped breathing. He insisted - no, make that DEMANDED - that I repeat that, or else he would have his friends who had gathered around us, kill me and bury me outside. I smiled. This was the easy part. I told him I would do one better. I would show him something that he would be talking about for years. I gave him the deck, told him to remove any card, sign his name to it, and return it into the deck. (Yes, I still have that card. I'll have it on eBay next week...kidding, it will remain in my celebrity autograph collection until I pass it on to my son, Jesse. Then he'll probably sell it on eBay.)

Well, I don't have to fill in all the details her, but you can just imagine what happened when I slowly unzipped my fly and reached in and removed one card...


"If that's my card, I'll shit." I said, "please don't do that", and with a sly grin, I slowly revealed the card with his signature. The entire place exploded in cheers and applause. But not Thompson. He just sat there, smiling and nodding and puffing. When the noise subsided, and they all seem to quiet down and wait for the expected comment from the man, he said, "you are an amazingly talented and sick individual."

I spent about an hour with the man. Or maybe it was three hours. I lost track. I probably showed him a dozen tricks, and whenever I stopped and we sat and talked, he was asking about the practice methods, the sources of these tricks, the origins of the moves I had perfected, and other extremely technical aspects of the art of magic. He was doing research. He was learning.


And he was fascinated by magic, by sleight of hand, and the skill and time needed to perfect it. Whenever I could, I asked him questions about his life, which he gratiously answered, but he always changed the subject back to magic And sports. I related some stories of my performances for Ted Williams, and Micky Mantle, and he listened with great interest.

Knowing he was from Kentucky, I related my encounter with another great Kentuckian, Cassius Clay. He was interested in hearing about the legendary boxer's magic skills, which I explained were not very good, but he still presented the few tricks he knew with enthusiasm and grace. For a while, it became two guys at a bar talking, not Hunter S. Thompson, but just another magic fan, laughing and enjoying magic and conversation. It was an amazing afternoon.


When it came time to leave, I stood and shook his hand. Before I could speak, he got off the bar, hugged me one last time and said these words. "You are a freak of nature. It was a pleasure to know you".

No, was a pleasure to know you. I shall never forget my special day in the Woody Creek Tavern with the gonzo man himself. I am a better person as a result of my brief time with him. He lived and ultimated died by his own plan, in his own way, in control right up until that final second. Friends that knew him, those lucky few, knew it was never IF he would do it, it was always WHEN. And because his writings and books are all around us, it is nice to know that even though he came to the end of his own physical journey among us, his memory will live on for generations to come.

Rock on, Dr. Thompson.


Magically yours,



Last Week's Article

Johnny Carson says his final good-night

Previously: Johnny Thompson Gala Event in Vegas

Previously: Gerry & The Pacemakers

Previous AbracaDACRI Columns

Tony Brook's "In Conversation With..."


Disclaimer:The opinions expressed in this or any of our columns represent the opinions of the writers, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Magic Web Channel or it's Esteemed Panel of Magic Advisors. (The lawyers made us say that.)
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