Today in History: August 20

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson designed his funeral plans with his friend, the artist Ralph Steadman, in the 1970s: he wanted his ashes to be fired from a cannon along with red, white, and blue fireworks. Further, the cannon was to sit atop a 150-foot-tall replica of his Gonzo logo: a two-thumbed clenched fist holding a “peyote button.”

Thompson committed suicide on February 20, 2005, and friends including Johnny Depp (a fellow Kentucky native who portrayed Thompson in film and became a friend) saw to it that his final wishes were granted. Depp largely financed the fifteen-story tower.

On this date in 2005, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes were fired into the Colorado sky with “Spirit in the Sky” playing and former presidential candidates, senators past and present, actors, and journalists in attendance. (Video featuring Steadman and Thompson and the event itself below the jump.)

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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s orchestral celebration of Russia’s successful defense against Napoléon’s 1812 invasion, titled The Year 1812, but known as The 1812 Overture, was premiered on this date in 1882 in Moscow. His orchestration includes live cannon fire, but only in outdoors performance settings.

(If you were ever an nine-year-old, as I once was, and one of your first experiences of live music came at a 4th of July concert at the U.S. Military Academy, which is performed at Trophy Point, a bluff overlooking the Hudson River at West Point, New York, and that performance concluded with the 1812 Overture performed with fireworks and artillery fire, it would make sense that when you were asked at school which musical instrument you wanted to learn how to play and you answered “cannon” and had that request rejected, a life of musical disappointment would follow. If you were ever those things.)

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H. P. Lovecraft was born on this date in 1890. Jacqueline Susann was born in 1918 on this date. Dimebag Darrell would be 50 today.

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Don King is 85. Senator George J. Mitchell is 83. Rep. Ron Paul is 81. Graig Nettles is 72. Connie Chung is 70. Robert Plant is 68. John Hiatt (a favorite of The Gad About Town’s) is 64. Here is Hiatt playing his song “Ridin’ with the King” (later recorded by Eric Clapton and B.B. King) with Sonny Landreth on slide guitar:

Al Roker is 62. David O. Russell is 58. KRS-One is 51. Amy Adams is 42.

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