By Chris Nashawaty
Updated February 28, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

The first time Johnny Depp met Hunter S. Thompson, their evening began innocently enough with drinks at a bar. By dawn, the pair were at the writer’s Colorado compound, detonating tanks of propane gas with a 12-gauge shotgun.

A strange first encounter, to be sure, but a commonplace one for the Good Doctor. With a highball in one hand and a cigarette holder in the other, Thompson the writer was often eclipsed by his own reputation: He was played by Depp and Bill Murray on screen, inspired Doonesbury‘s Uncle Duke, and ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colo., on the Freak Power platform (and nearly won). Through it all, Thompson’s chronicles of his outlaw escapades made him as unique a literary voice as Ernest Hemingway. Sadly, the link between the authors didn’t end there: On Feb. 20, Thompson, 67, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Woody Creek, Colo.

Born and raised in Louisville, Ky., Thompson began his writing career covering sports for the Air Force. After working at a string of small-town papers, he forged his gonzo journalist persona with 1967’s Hell’s Angels, about his year spent with the notorious biker gang. But it was 1971’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and 1973’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 that elevated Thompson to countercultural icon, cementing his bare-knuckle writing style — an outraged and outrageous rat-a-tat prose that attacked all the phonies, hypocrites, and political snake-oil salesmen who he believed sold out the American dream.

”Bless his heart, old Hunter, man. He had the patience of a saint with me,” Depp said to EW in 2003. ”I told him if I tried to do something fairly accurate he’d wind up hating me. But luckily, our friendship prevailed.”