April 27, 2006
So Long to the Bear
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
We met in 1973, and discovered that we were fraternity brothers and that we had both been drill sergeants at Fort Knox, Kentucky in 1968, although we never ran into each other. Gary worked for the National Shooting Sports Foundation for a number of years, and then moved west where he started writing about guns for a living.
He was a hugely gifted writer, and he knew his stuff, and he was the funniest son of a bitch I have ever known. But his best humor didn’t appear in print. It couldn’t have. In these politically correct times it would have gotten him fired, or shot. It was dark, bitter humor, the humor of despair.
If he had been less talented, he would simply have been obnoxious, but he was hysterical to read. Ed Zern used to ask me for his letters when I was done with them.
The Bear drank and lived hard and pissed away a good part of his talent and his life, and people who knew him were convinced that they would get a phone call one day telling them that he had died by his own hand.
It didn’t work out that way. He was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in the summer of last year, and was given 3 to 5 months to live. He called me in August to tell me the news, and said that he was at peace. “All the trouble I’ve had,” said the Bear, “I’ve brought on myself.”
Then he said “I’ll call you again before it comes.” But he never did. It came in the night only a few weeks later, and I never spoke to him again.
So I’d be grateful if you would remember the Bear kindly. He was a genius, and his own worst enemy, and a friend of mine.