Johnny Depp Bankrolls Thompson Send-Off

08/22/2005 at 08:00 AM EDT

Johnny Depp Bankrolls Thompson Send-Off
Nancy Kaszerman/Zuma/Newscom

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp

Six months after his suicide, renegade muckraker Hunter S. Thompson was feted in grand style Saturday night in a bash paid for by Johnny Depp and attended by Hollywood and Washington luminaries including Bill Murray, Lyle Lovett and Sen. John Kerry, the Associated Press reports.

The culmination of the event, which took place at Thompson's ranch in Woody Creek, Colo., featured an explosion during which the author's ashes were blasted into the night air from a 15-story tower built to resemble Thompson's logo of a clenched fist holding a peyote button and rising out of the hilt of a dagger.

Prior to the blast, guests inside a pavilion next to the structure toasted each other with champagne amid decorations that included blow-up sex dolls and masks of former President Richard Nixon, Thompson's mortal enemy, as chronicled in books like The Great Shark Hunt and Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72.

Thompson, whose relentless and personal style coined the term "gonzo journalism" with the publication of such books as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was played by Depp in the 1998 film adaptation of that book.

Ironically, most journalists and other spectators were prevented from attending the party by a phalanx of guards outside Thompson's compound.

Depp reportedly paid $2.5 million for the event, according to the AP, but not everyone was convinced it was the sort of send-off Thompson would have wanted.

"I'm pretty sure this isn't how Hunter would have done it," said George Stranahan, a longtime friend of Thompson's. Another neighbor likened the guards to an invasion "by the Viet Cong."

But Ralph Steadman, an illustrator and longtime Thompson collaborator, said if anything, the party "wasn't quite big enough." Added Steadman, "We want him back. (The party) was a kind of pleading for him to come back. All is forgiven."

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