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Exploding head pays tribute to Hunter S. Thompson

Last Updated: Thursday, March 10, 2005 | 3:53 PM ET

Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau paid tribute to the late Hunter S. Thompson this week by drawing the head of Uncle Duke as an exploding fireball.

Thompson, the legendary writer known for his brand of first-person "gonzo" journalism, committed suicide on Feb. 20 by shooting himself in the head.

Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson

Trudeau has set aside this week's strips as a way to pay his respects to Thompson, the original inspiration for Uncle Duke.

In Tuesday's strip, the bald opportunist — who started out, like Thompson, as a writer for Rolling Stone — is pictured surfing the web.

Duke comes across a story about Thompson's death, at which moment his head goes "Ka-boom!"

Duke doesn't believe the news. "That can't be right. Better Google it ... ," he thinks to himself, and in the final panel his head explodes a second time.

Doonesbury, which is carried in some 1,400 newspapers, is sometimes pulled by publications that deem it offensive. But according to the strip's distributor, Universal Press Syndicate, no papers had pulled the Tuesday instalment.

"Why should they?" Alan McDermott, a senior editor at the syndicate, said in an interview with the Associated Press.

"Uncle Duke has been kind of a wild character over the years, so how he's reacting to the death of Hunter S. Thompson is no different than his reactions to many things over the years."

In an e-mail interview this week with the Washington Post, Trudeau said Duke's reaction was not out of character. "I've been exploding Duke's head as far back as 1985," he said.

"I also had a rocket burst out of his head, a flock of bats, and during Duke's run for president, Mini-D, a tiny self that conducted Duke's business, even gave speeches when the candidate was incapacitated."

Unlike Thompson, Duke went on to a career as a drug dealer, gun runner and U.S. diplomat following his days as a magazine writer.

Monday's Doonesbury gave readers a hint of what was to come this week. Duke is shown sitting in his office in Iraq, where he has installed himself as mayor of Al Amok.

"You seem out of sorts today, boss," notes his long-suffering assistant, Honey.

The next panel shows wildly distorted versions of the two characters, rendered in a style similar to that used by Ralph Steadman — the British illustrator who accompanied Thompson on many of his drug-fuelled adventures.

"I know," replies Duke. "It's like some nasty karmic shift."

Subsequent strips have shown Duke morphing into different shapes as he copes with the news of Thompson's death. Trudeau says his art will not imitate life: he has no plans to kill off the character.

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