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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Tomorrow, there will be a one-of-a-kind funeral for a one-of-a-kind writer. More than 350 friends and relatives of the late Hunter S. Thompson will gather in Colorado to say goodbye. Six months ago, Thompson committed suicide. Andrea Lee of Aspen Public Radio reports.

ANDREA LEE reporting:

Woody Creek is a small community tucked away in a valley by the Roaring Fork River just eight miles west of Aspen. Its own town caucus once described it as a bump, two dips and a rumble strip. But it's no hick town, and for years has been a haven for successful artists, musicians and ex-politicians who want to live near but not in Aspen. It's a tight community that Thompson was very much a part of...

Ms. ANN OWSLEY (Manager, Woody Creek Store): Hello.

LEE: ...according to Ann Owsley, who manages the Woody Creek Store on the town's main road.

Ms. OWSLEY: As he has written, this was his home fortress. This is where he would come back to pull himself together, because he knew that he was beloved here, and he knew that everyone accepted him for whoever he decided to be.

LEE: Especially next door at the Woody Creek Tavern, where Thompson was a regular fixture.

(Soundbite of tavern activity)

LEE: The tavern is pure kitsch. The carpet's leopard print. There's a disco ball, an Elvis clock and a buffalo head wearing a cowboy hat hanging in one corner. What's left of the walls is covered in 60 years' worth of posters, bumper stickers and Polaroid pictures. A picture of Hunter S. Thompson in his later years is taped to the beer cooler behind the bar. In it, he sits behind a typewriter in a blue shirt and reading glasses that are perched on the end of the nose, his expression unsmiling and unafraid.

On the wall, there's also a picture of Jimmy Ibbotson.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JIMMY IBBOTSON: (Singing) ...is all going up in smoke, and this world is like a...

LEE: A former singer with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and a longtime local, Ibbotson's rehearsing here for his performance at the funeral.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. IBBOTSON: (Singing) I promise you one thing. I'll be a human bottle rocket, and I'll go out with a bang here at this...

LEE: Ibbotson says the tavern's been getting busy lately with people coming from around the world, wanting to be a part of the great memorial.

Mr. IBBOTSON: It's filled every day with Hunter hunters. We've got good craziness. Ol' Hunter, he used to talk about bad craziness, and I'm sure that before the weekend's over, it's going to get weird enough around here.

LEE: Saturday's memorial starts at 6 PM. It will include performances by Ibbotson and a Japanese drum band. When the sun goes down and the band reaches its crescendo, boom, a giant red fist will shoot the sky full of one-of-a-kind fireworks.

Ms. MARCY ZAMBELLI (President, Zambelli Fireworks): I would have to say this is probably one of the most unique requests that we've had.

LEE: That's Marcy Zambelli, president of Zambelli Fireworks. Thompson's widow hand-delivered her husband's ashes to Zambelli's Pennsylvania factory earlier this month. The specially made fireworks were delivered to Thompson's compound yesterday by armored truck.

Ms. ZAMBELLI: They're going to go up, make a white flash, and they'll have noise in them, and then the ashes will fall to the ground.

LEE: The fist sits atop a giant tower custom-made for the event. It's 153 feet tall, two feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. The Fiberglas two-thumbed fist itself is 17 feet tall and clutches a peyote button above a dagger. Thompson came up with the symbol when he ran for local sheriff in 1970. He lost the election, but the symbol remained.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

LEE: That symbol is part of what drew fan Travis Kennedy to Woody Creek. The 25-year-old student sitting here, drinking a beer at the tavern, drove 12 hours all the way from Lawrence, Kansas, simply to be in town for the weekend.

Mr. TRAVIS KENNEDY (Fan): I mean, to me, Thompson represents freedom and fun more than anything else. You know, you talk about the American Dream. I mean, he made it doing his own thing, you know, without compromising too much, you know.

LEE: Despite the fans, the tower and the hype, the event remains a private funeral and a chance for those who knew Thompson best to bid farewell.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. IBBOTSON: (Singing) ...fireworks stand. Boom!

LEE: And it's a funeral many say is fitting for the revered doctor who will leave this world, not with a whimper, but a bang.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. IBBOTSON: (Singing) Bye!

LEE: For NPR News, I'm Andrea Lee.

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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