|Hunter S. Thompson|
|Sunday, 29 August 2010 09:17|
Hunter Stockton Thompson
Born: July 18, 1937, Louisville, Kentucky
Died: February 20, 2005 Woody Creek, Colorado
Cause of death: Self inflicted gunshot to the head.
Notable because: A writer, thinker and individual who left a deep impression on many with his enthusiasm for learning. Chose the circumstances of his own death with a suicide note titled 'The football season is over' and had his remains fired out of a cannon at a remembrance party of his own design.
Hunter S. Thompson was an American journalist and author, most famous for his seminal works Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. He is credited as the creator of Gonzo journalism, a style of reporting where reporters involve themselves in the action to such a degree that they become central figures of their stories. He was also known for his unrepentant lifelong use of alcohol, LSD, mescaline, and cocaine (among other substances); his love of firearms, and his iconoclastic contempt for authoritarianism. After a long bout of health problems, he committed suicide at age 67 in 2005.
Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the first of three sons born to Jack Robert Thompson (September 4, 1893 - July 3, 1952), a public insurance adjuster and a World War I veteran from Horse Cave, Kentucky, and Virginia Ray Davison (1908 - March 20, 1998), a reference librarian from Louisville, Kentucky. His parents met after being introduced by a mutual friend from Jack's fraternity at the University of Kentucky in late 1934, and married on November 2, 1935.
The Thompson family resided in the Cherokee Triangle neighborhood of The Highlands in Louisville. Two weeks before Hunter was 15 years old, his father died of myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease, on July 3, 1952, and his sons Hunter Stockton, Davison (born 1940), and James Garnet (February 2, 1949 – March 25, 1993) were raised by their mother. Contemporaries indicated that after the death of her husband, Virginia became a "heavy drinker".
Interested in sports and athletically inclined from a young age, Thompson joined Louisville's Castlewood Athletic Club, a sports club for teenagers that prepared them for high-school sports, where he excelled in baseball, though he never joined any sports teams in high school, where he was constantly in trouble.
Thompson attended the I.N. Bloom Elementary School, and then Highland Middle School, then Atherton High School, transferring to Louisville Male High School in 1952 following the death of his father. That same year he was accepted as a member of the Athenaeum Literary Association, a school-sponsored literary and social club that had been founded at Male High in 1862. Its members at the time, generally drawn from Louisville's wealthy upper-class families, included Porter Bibb, who became the first publisher of Rolling Stone.
As an Athenaeum member, Thompson contributed articles and helped edit the club's yearbook The Spectator; however, the group ejected Thompson from its membership in 1955, citing his legal problems. Charged as an accessory to robbery after having been in a car with the person who committed the robbery, Thompson was sentenced to serve 60 days in Kentucky's Jefferson County Jail. He served 30 days of his sentence, and joined the U.S. Air Force a week after his release.
Thompson did his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and later transferred to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois to study electronics. He applied to become a pilot but was rejected by the Air Force's aviation-cadet program. In 1956, he transferred to Eglin Air Force Base, near Pensacola, Florida. There he worked in the information-services department and became the sports editor of the base's newspaper, The Command Courier. In this capacity, he covered the Eglin Eagles, a base football team that included such future professional stars as Max McGee and Zeke Bratkowski. Thompson traveled with the team around the U.S., covering its games. In 1957, he also wrote a sports column anonymously for The Playground News, a local newspaper in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Thompson left the Air Force in 1958 as an Airman First Class, having been recommended for an early honorable discharge by his commanding officer. "In summary, this airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy", Col. William S. Evans, chief of information services wrote to the Eglin personnel office. "Sometimes his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen staff members." Thompson claimed in a mock press release he wrote about the end of his duty to have been issued a "totally unclassifiable" status.
After the Air Force, he worked as sports editor for a newspaper in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania before moving to New York City. There he attended Columbia University's School of General Studies part-time on the G.I. Bill, taking classes in short-story writing.
Thompson's friends and letters from this period note he was an avid reader of the Beat Generation during his early years as a writer and that he associated himself with the Beat culture while living in New York City. He would later befriend such Beat authors as Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.
During this time he worked briefly for Time, as a copy boy for $51 a week. While working, he used a typewriter to copy F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms in order to learn about the writing styles of the authors. In 1959, Time fired him for insubordination. Later that year, he worked as a reporter for The Middletown Daily Record in Middletown, New York. He was fired from this job after damaging an office candy machine and arguing with the owner of a local restaurant who happened to be an advertiser with the paper.
In 1960 Thompson moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to take a job with the sporting magazine El Sportivo, which soon folded after his arrival. Thompson had first applied for a job with the Puerto Rico English-language daily The San Juan Star, but its managing editor, future novelist William J. Kennedy, declined Thompson's request. Nonetheless, the two became friends and after the demise of El Sportivo, Thompson worked as a stringer for the New York Herald Tribune and a few stateside papers on Caribbean issues with Kennedy working as his editor. After returning to the States, Hunter lived in California, working as a security guard and caretaker at the Big Sur Hot springs for an eight-month period in 1961, just before it became the Esalen Institute. While there, he was able to publish his first magazine feature in the nationally distributed Rogue magazine on the artisan and bohemian culture of Big Sur. The unwanted publicity generated from the article got him fired from his job as a caretaker.
During this period, Thompson wrote two novels, Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary, and submitted many short stories to publishers with little success. The Rum Diary, which fictionalized Thompson's experiences in Puerto Rico, was eventually published in 1998, long after Thompson had become famous.
From May 1962 to May 1963, Thompson traveled to South America as a correspondent for a Dow Jones-owned weekly newspaper, the National Observer. In Brazil, he spent several months working also as a reporter on the Brazil Herald, the country's only English-language daily, published in Rio de Janeiro. His longtime girlfriend Sandra Dawn Conklin (aka Sandy Conklin Thompson, now Sondi Wright) later joined him in Rio.
Thompson and Conklin were married on May 19, 1963, shortly after they returned to the United States. They briefly relocated to Aspen, Colorado, and had one son, Juan Fitzgerald Thompson, born March 23, 1964. The couple conceived five more times together. Three of the pregnancies were miscarried, and the other two pregnancies produced infants who died shortly after birth. Hunter and Sandy divorced in 1980 but remained close friends until Thompson's death.
In 1964 the Thompson family then moved to Glen Ellen, California, where Thompson continued to write for the National Observer on an array of domestic subjects, including a story about his 1964 visit to Ketchum, Idaho, in order to investigate the reasons for Ernest Hemingway's suicide. While working on the story, Thompson symbolically stole a pair of elk antlers hanging above the front door of Hemingway's cabin. Thompson and the editors at the Observer eventually had a falling out after the paper refused to print Thompson's review of Tom Wolfe's 1965 essay collection The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, and he moved to San Francisco, immersing himself in the drug and hippie culture that was taking root in the area. About this time he began writing for the Berkeley underground paper The Spyder.
In 1965, Carey McWilliams, editor of The Nation, offered Thompson the opportunity to write a story based on his experience with the California-based Hells Angels motorcycle gang. After The Nation published the article (May 17, 1965), Thompson received several book offers and spent the next year living and riding with the Hell's Angels. The relationship broke down when the bikers suspected that Thompson was only friends with them so he could make money from his writing. The gang demanded a share of the profits and after an argument at a party Thompson ended up with a savage beating, or "stomping" as the Angels referred to it. Random House published the hard cover Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs in 1966. A reviewer for The New York Times praised it as an "angry, knowledgeable, fascinating and excitedly written book", that shows the Hells Angels "not so much as dropouts from society but as total misfits, or unfits — emotionally, intellectually and educationally unfit to achieve the rewards, such as they are, that the contemporary social order offers." The reviewer also praised Thompson as a "spirited, witty, observant and original writer; his prose crackles like motorcycle exhaust."
Following the success of Hells Angels, Thompson was able to publish articles in a number of well-known magazines during the late 1960s, including The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Pageant, and others. In the Times Magazine article, published in 1967, shortly before the "Summer of Love", and entitled "The Hashbury is the Capital of the Hippies", Thompson wrote in-depth about the Hippies of San Francisco, deriding a culture that began to lack the political convictions of the New Left and the artistic core of the Beats, instead becoming overrun with newcomers lacking any purpose other than obtaining drugs. It was an observation on the 60s' counterculture that Thompson would further examine in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and other articles.
According to Thompson's letters and his later writings, at this time he planned to write a book called The Joint Chiefs about "the death of the American Dream." He used a $6,000 advance from Random House to travel on the 1968 Presidential campaign trail and attend the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago for research purposes. From his hotel room in Chicago, Thompson watched the clashes between police and protesters, which he wrote had a great effect on his political views. The planned book was never finished, but the theme of the death of the American dream would be carried over into his later work, and the contract with Random House was eventually fulfilled with the 1972 book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Thompson also signed a deal with Ballantine Books in 1968 to write a satirical book called The Johnson File about Lyndon B. Johnson. A few weeks after the contract was signed, however, Johnson announced that he would not stand for re-election, and the deal was canceled.
By late 1967, Thompson and his family moved back to Colorado and rented a house in Woody Creek, a small mountain hamlet outside Aspen. In early 1969, Thompson finally received a $15,000 royalty check for the paperback sales of Hells Angels and used two-thirds of the money for a down payment on a modest home and property where he would live for the rest of his life. He named the house Owl Farm and often described it as his "fortified compound."
In 1970 Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, as part of a group of citizens running for local offices on the "Freak Power" ticket. The platform included promoting the decriminalization of drugs (for personal use only, not trafficking, as he disapproved of profiteering), tearing up the streets and turning them into grassy pedestrian malls, banning any building so tall as to obscure the view of the mountains, and renaming Aspen "Fat City" to deter investors. Thompson, having shaved his head, referred to his opponent as "my long-haired opponent", as the Republican candidate had a crew cut.
With polls showing him with a slight lead in a three-way race, Thompson appeared at Rolling Stone magazine headquarters in San Francisco with a six-pack of beer in hand and declared to editor Jann Wenner that he was about to be elected the next sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, and wished to write about the Freak Power movement. Thus, Thompson's first article in Rolling Stone was published as The Battle of Aspen with the byline "By: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Candidate for Sheriff)." Despite the publicity, Thompson ended up narrowly losing the election. While actually carrying the city of Aspen, he garnered only 44% of the county-wide vote in what became a two-way race as the Republican candidate for sheriff agreed to withdraw from the contest a few days before the election in order to consolidate the anti-Thompson votes, in return for the Democrats withdrawing their candidate for county commissioner. Thompson later remarked that the Rolling Stone article mobilized his opposition far more than his supporters.
Also in 1970, Thompson wrote an article entitled The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved for the short-lived new journalism magazine Scanlan's Monthly. Although it was not widely read at the time, the article is the first of Thompson's to use techniques of Gonzo journalism, a style he would later employ in almost every literary endeavor. The manic first-person subjectivity of the story was reportedly the result of sheer desperation; he was facing a looming deadline and started sending the magazine pages ripped out of his notebook. Ralph Steadman, who would later collaborate with Thompson on several projects, contributed expressionist pen-and-ink illustrations.
The first use of the word Gonzo to describe Thompson's work is credited to the journalist Bill Cardoso. Cardoso had first met Thompson on a bus full of journalists covering the 1968 New Hampshire primary. In 1970, Cardoso (who, by this time had become the editor of The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine) wrote to Thompson praising the "Kentucky Derby" piece in Scanlan's Monthly as a breakthrough: "This is it, this is pure Gonzo. If this is a start, keep rolling." Thompson took to the word right away, and according to illustrator Ralph Steadman said, "Okay, that's what I do. Gonzo."
Thompson's first published use of the word Gonzo appears in a passage in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream: "Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism."
The book for which Thompson gained most of his fame had its genesis during the research for Strange Rumblings in Aztlan, an exposé for Rolling Stone on the 1970 killing of the Mexican-American television journalist Rubén Salazar. Salazar had been shot in the head at close range with a tear gas canister fired by officers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War. One of Thompson's sources for the story was Oscar Zeta Acosta, a prominent Mexican-American activist and attorney. Finding it difficult to talk in the racially tense atmosphere of Los Angeles, Thompson and Acosta decided to travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, and take advantage of an assignment by Sports Illustrated to write a 250-word photograph caption on the Mint 400 motorcycle race held there.
What was to be a short caption quickly grew into something else entirely. Thompson first submitted to Sports Illustrated a manuscript of 2,500 words, which was, as he later wrote, "aggressively rejected." Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner was said to have liked "the first 20 or so jangled pages enough to take it seriously on its own terms and tentatively scheduled it for publication — which gave me the push I needed to keep working on it", Thompson later wrote.
The result of the trip to Las Vegas became the 1972 book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which first appeared in the November 1971 issues of Rolling Stone as a two-part series. It is written as a first-person account by a journalist named Raoul Duke on a trip to Las Vegas with Dr. Gonzo, his "300-pound Samoan attorney", to cover a narcotics officers' convention and the "fabulous Mint 400". During the trip, Duke and his companion (always referred to as "my attorney") become sidetracked by a search for the American Dream, with "...two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers [...] and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls."
Coming to terms with the failure of the 1960s countercultural movement is a major theme of the novel, and the book was greeted with considerable critical acclaim, including being heralded by the New York Times as "by far the best book yet written on the decade of dope". "The Vegas Book", as Thompson referred to it, was a mainstream success and introduced his Gonzo journalism techniques to the masses.
Within the next year, Thompson wrote extensively for Rolling Stone while covering the election campaigns of President Richard Nixon and his unsuccessful opponent, Senator George McGovern. The articles were soon combined and published as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. As the title suggests, Thompson spent nearly all of his time traveling the "campaign trail", focusing largely on the Democratic Party's primaries (Nixon, as an incumbent, performed little campaign work) in which McGovern competed with rival candidates Edmund Muskie and Hubert Humphrey. Thompson was an early supporter of McGovern, and it could be argued that his unflattering coverage of the rival campaigns in the increasingly widely read Rolling Stone played a role in the senator's nomination.
Thompson went on to become a fierce critic of Nixon, both during and after his presidency. After Nixon's death in 1994, Thompson famously described him in Rolling Stone as a man who "could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time" and said "his casket [should] have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. [He] was an evil man—evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it." The one passion they shared was a love of football, which is discussed in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72.
Thompson was to provide Rolling Stone similar coverage for the 1976 Presidential Campaign that would appear in a book published by the magazine. Reportedly, as Thompson was waiting for a $75,000 advance cheque to arrive, he learned that Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner had pulled the plug on the endeavor without telling Thompson.
Wenner then asked Thompson to travel to Vietnam to report on what appeared to be the closing of the Vietnam War. Thompson accepted, and left for Saigon immediately. He arrived with the country in chaos, just as the United States was preparing to evacuate and other journalists were scrambling to find transportation out of the region. While there, Thompson learned that Wenner had pulled the plug on this excursion as well, and Thompson found himself in Vietnam without health insurance or additional financial support. Thompson's story about the fall of Saigon would not be published in Rolling Stone until ten years later.
These two incidents severely strained the relationship between the author and the magazine, and Thompson contributed far less to the publication in later years.
The year 1980 marked both his divorce from Sandra Conklin and the release of Where the Buffalo Roam, a loose film adaptation of situations from Thompson's early 1970s work, with Bill Murray starring as the author. Murray would go on to become one of Thompson's only trusted friends. After the lukewarm reception of the film, Thompson temporarily relocated to Hawaii to work on a book, The Curse of Lono, a Gonzo-style account of a marathon held in that state. Extensively illustrated by Ralph Steadman, the piece first appeared in Running magazine in 1981 as "The Charge of the Weird Brigade" and was excerpted in Playboy in 1983.
On July 21, 1981, in Aspen, Colorado, Thompson was pulled over for running a stop sign at 2 a.m., and began to "rave" at a state trooper. He also refused to submit to intoxication tests. Consequently he was arrested, but the drunk-driving charges against him were later dropped.
In 1983, he covered the U.S. invasion of Grenada but would not discuss these experiences until the publication of Kingdom of Fear 20 years later. Later that year he authored a piece for Rolling Stone called "A Dog Took My Place", an exposé of the scandalous Roxanne Pulitzer divorce and what he termed the "Palm Beach lifestyle." The article contained dubious insinuations of bestiality (among other things) but was considered to be a return to proper form by many.
Shortly thereafter, Thompson accepted an advance to write about "couples pornography" for Playboy. As part of his research, in the spring of 1985 he spent evenings at the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater striptease club in San Francisco and his experience there eventually evolved into a full-length nonfiction novel tentatively titled The Night Manager. Neither the novel nor the article has been published.
At the behest of old friend and editor Warren Hinckle, Thompson became a media critic for the San Francisco Examiner from the mid-1980s until the end of that decade. Thompson's editor at the Examiner, David McCumber (who would write a Mitchell brothers biography not long after Jim Mitchell fatally shot his brother Art in 1991), was reportedly deeply disappointed in the quality of Thompson's Examiner columns.
In 1990 former porn director Gail Palmer visited Thompson's home in Woody Creek. She later accused him of sexual assault, claiming that he twisted her breast when she refused to join him in the hot tub. She also described cocaine use to authorities. A six person 11 hour search of Thompson's home turned up various kinds of drugs and a few sticks of dynamite. All charges were dismissed after a pre-trial hearing. Thompson would later describe this experience at length in Kingdom of Fear.
By the early 1990s Thompson was said to be working on a novel called Polo Is My Life, which was briefly excerpted in Rolling Stone in 1994, and which Thompson himself described in 1996 as "...a sex book — you know, sex, drugs and rock and roll. It's about the manager of a sex theater who's forced to leave and flee to the mountains. He falls in love and gets in even more trouble than he was in the sex theater in San Francisco". The novel was slated to be released by Random House in 1999, and was even assigned, but was not published.
Thompson continued to contribute irregularly to Rolling Stone. "Fear and Loathing in Elko", published in 1992, was a well-received fictional rallying cry against Clarence Thomas, while "Mr. Bill's Neighborhood" was a largely non-fictional account of an interview with Bill Clinton in an Arkansas diner. Rather than embarking on the campaign trail as he had done in previous presidential elections, Thompson monitored the proceedings from cable television; Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie, his account of the 1992 Presidential Election campaign, is composed of reactionary faxes sent to Rolling Stone. A decade later, he contributed "Fear and Loathing, Campaign 2004"—an account of a road jaunt with John Kerry during his presidential campaign that would be Thompson's final magazine feature.
Thompson was named a Kentucky Colonel by the Governor of Kentucky in a December 1996 tribute ceremony where he also received keys to the city of Louisville.
Despite publishing a novel and numerous newspaper and magazine articles, the majority of Thompson's literary output after the late 1970s took the form of a 4-volume series of books called The Gonzo Papers. Beginning with The Great Shark Hunt in 1979 and ending with Better Than Sex in 1994, the series is largely a collection of rare newspaper and magazine pieces from the pre-gonzo period, along with almost all of his Rolling Stone short pieces, excerpts from the Fear and Loathing... books, and so on.
By the late 1970s Thompson received complaints from critics, fans and friends that he was regurgitating his past glories without much new on his part; these concerns are alluded to in the introduction of The Great Shark Hunt, where Thompson suggested that his "old self" committed suicide.
Perhaps in response to this, as well as the strained relationship with Rolling Stone, and the failure of his marriage, Thompson became more reclusive after 1980. He would often retreat to his compound in Woody Creek and reject assignments or refuse to complete them. Despite the dearth of new material, Wenner kept Thompson on the Rolling Stone masthead as chief of the "National Affairs Desk", a position he would hold until his death.
Thompson's work was popularized again with the 1998 release of the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which opened to considerable fanfare. The novel was reprinted to coincide with the film, and Thompson's work was introduced to a new generation of readers.
Soon thereafter, Thompson's "long lost" novel The Rum Diary was published, as were the first two volumes of his collected letters, which were greeted with critical acclaim.
Thompson's next, and penultimate, collection, Kingdom of Fear, was a combination of new material, selected newspaper clippings, and some older works. Released in 2003, it was perceived by critics to be an angry, vitriolic commentary on the passing of the American Century and the state of affairs after the September 2001 attacks.
Hunter married Anita Bejmuk, his long-time assistant, on April 23, 2003.
Thompson ended his journalism career in the same way it had begun: writing about sports. Thompson penned a weekly column called "Hey, Rube" for ESPN.com's "Page 2". The column ran from 2000 to shortly before his death in 2005. Simon & Schuster bundled many of the columns from the first few years and released it in mid-2004 as Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness - Modern History from the Sports Desk.Thompson died at his self-described "fortified compound" known as "Owl Farm" in Woody Creek, Colorado, at 5:42 p.m. on February 20, 2005, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Thompson's son (Juan), daughter-in-law (Jennifer Winkel Thompson) and grandson (Will Thompson) were visiting for the weekend at the time of his suicide. Will and Jennifer were in the adjacent room when they heard the gunshot. Mistaking the shot for the sound of a book falling, they continued with their activities for a few minutes before checking on him. The police report concerning his death stated that in a typewriter in front of Thompson, they found "a piece of paper carrying the date 'Feb 22 '05' and the single word 'counselor'."
They reported to the press that they do not believe his suicide was out of desperation, but was a well-thought out act resulting from Thompson's many painful and chronic medical conditions. Thompson's wife, Anita, who was at a gym at the time of her husband's death, was on the phone with him when he ended his life.
What family and police describe as a suicide note was written by Thompson four days before his death, and left for his wife. It was later published by Rolling Stone. Titled "Football Season Is Over", it read:
Artist and friend Ralph Steadman wrote:
On August 20, 2005, in a private ceremony, Thompson's ashes were fired from a cannon atop a 153-foot (47 m) tower of his own design (in the shape of a double-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button) to the tune of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" and Bob Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man. Red, white, blue, and green fireworks were launched along with his ashes. As the city of Aspen would not allow the cannon to remain for more than a month, the cannon has been dismantled and put into storage until a suitable permanent location can be found. According to his widow Anita, Thompson's funeral was financed by actor Johnny Depp, a close friend of Thompson. Depp told the Associated Press, "All I'm doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out."
Other famous attendees at the funeral included U.S. Senator John Kerry and former U.S. Senator George McGovern; 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley and Charlie Rose; actors Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Benicio del Toro, Sean Penn, and Josh Hartnett; singers Lyle Lovett, John Oates and numerous other friends. An estimated 280 people attended the funeral.
The plans for this monument were initially drawn by Thompson and Ralph Steadman and were shown as part of an Omnibus program on the BBC entitled Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision (1978). It is included as a special feature on the second disc of the 2003 Criterion Collection DVD release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (labeled on the DVD as "Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood"). The video footage of Steadman and Thompson drawing the plans and outdoor footage showing where he wanted the cannon constructed were planned prior to the unveiling of his cannon at the funeral.
Thompson is often credited as the creator of Gonzo journalism, a style of writing that blurs distinctions between fiction and nonfiction. His work and style are considered to be a major part of the New Journalism literary movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which attempted to break free from the purely objective style of mainstream reportage of the time. Thompson almost always wrote in the first person, while extensively using his own experiences and emotions to color "the story" he was trying to follow. His writing aimed to be humorous, colorful and bizarre, and he often exaggerated events to be more entertaining.
The term Gonzo has since been applied in kind to numerous other forms of highly subjective artistic expression.
Despite his having personally described his work as "Gonzo", it fell to later observers to articulate what the phrase actually meant. While Thompson's approach clearly involved injecting himself as a participant in the events of the narrative, it also involved adding invented, metaphoric elements, thus creating, for the uninitiated reader, a seemingly confusing amalgam of facts and fiction notable for the deliberately blurred lines between one and the other. Thompson, in a 1974 Interview in Playboy addressed the issue himself, saying "Unlike Tom Wolfe or Gay Talese, I almost never try to reconstruct a story. They’re both much better reporters than I am, but then, I don’t think of myself as a reporter." Tom Wolfe would later describe Thompson's style as "...part journalism and part personal memoir admixed with powers of wild invention and wilder rhetoric." Or as one description of the differences between Thompson and Wolfe's styles would elaborate, "While Tom Wolfe mastered the technique of being a fly on the wall, Thompson mastered the art of being a fly in the ointment."
The majority of Thompson's most popular and acclaimed work appeared within the pages of Rolling Stone magazine. Along with Joe Eszterhas and David Felton, Thompson was instrumental in expanding the focus of the magazine past music criticism; indeed, Thompson was the only staff writer of the epoch never to contribute a music feature to the magazine. Nevertheless, his articles were always peppered with a wide array of pop music references ranging from Howlin' Wolf to Lou Reed. Armed with early fax machines wherever he went, he became notorious for haphazardly sending sometimes illegible material to the magazine's San Francisco offices as an issue was about to go to press.
Robert Love, Thompson's editor of 23 years at Rolling Stone, wrote that "the dividing line between fact and fancy rarely blurred, and we didn’t always use italics or some other typographical device to indicate the lurch into the fabulous. But if there were living, identifiable humans in a scene, we took certain steps....Hunter was close friends with many prominent Democrats, veterans of the ten or more presidential campaigns he covered, so when in doubt, we’d call the press secretary. 'People will believe almost any twisted kind of story about politicians or Washington,' he once said, and he was right."
Discerning the line between the fact and the fiction of Thompson's work presented a practical problem for editors and fact-checkers of his work. Love called fact-checking Thompson's work "one of the sketchiest occupations ever created in the publishing world", and "for the first-timer ... a trip through a journalistic fun house, where you didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. You knew you had better learn enough about the subject at hand to know when the riff began and reality ended. Hunter was a stickler for numbers, for details like gross weight and model numbers, for lyrics and caliber, and there was no faking it."
Thompson often used a blend of fiction and fact when portraying himself in his writing as well, sometimes using the name Raoul Duke as an author surrogate whom he generally described as a callous, erratic, self-destructive journalist who constantly drank alcohol and took hallucinogenic drugs. Fantasizing about causing bodily harm to others was also a characteristic in his work used to comedic effect and an example of his brand of humor.
In the late sixties, Thompson obtained his famous title of "Doctor" from the Universal Life Church. He later preferred to be called Dr. Thompson, and his "alter-ego" Raoul Duke called himself a "doctor of journalism". Thompson was as fond of personae as W.C. Fields: besides "Raoul Duke", Thompson also toyed with the idea of taking the names "Jefferson Rank", "Gene Skinner", and "Sebastian Owl" for various purposes literary and non-literary, naming his "compound" in Woody Creek, Colorado, "Owl Farm" after the last of these.
A number of critics have commented that as he grew older the line that distinguished Thompson from his literary self became increasingly blurred. Thompson himself admitted during a 1978 BBC interview that he sometimes felt pressured to live up to the fictional self that he had created, adding "I'm never sure which one people expect me to be. Very often, they conflict — most often, as a matter of fact. ...I'm leading a normal life and right along side me there is this myth, and it is growing and mushrooming and getting more and more warped. When I get invited to, say, speak at universities, I'm not sure if they are inviting Duke or Thompson. I'm not sure who to be."
Thompson's writing style and eccentric persona gave him a cult following in both literary and drug circles, and his cult status expanded into broader areas after being twice portrayed in major motion pictures. Hence, both his writing style and persona have been widely imitated, and his likeness has even become a popular costume choice for Halloween.
In the documentary Breakfast With Hunter, Hunter S. Thompson is seen in several scenes wearing different Che Guevara t-shirts. Additionally, actor and friend Benicio del Toro has stated that Thompson kept a "big" picture of Che in his kitchen.
Thompson wrote passionately on behalf of African American rights and the African American Civil Rights Movement. He strongly criticised the dominance in American society of, what he called, "white power structures". He was a proponent of the right to bear arms and privacy rights. A member of the National Rifle Association, Thompson was also co-creator of "The Fourth Amendment Foundation", an organization to assist victims in defending themselves against unwarranted search and seizure.
Part of his work with The Fourth Amendment Foundation centered around support of Lisl Auman, a Colorado woman who was sentenced for life in 1997 under felony murder charges for the death of police officer Bruce VanderJagt, despite contradictory statements and dubious evidence. Thompson organized rallies, provided legal support, and co-wrote an article in the June 2004 issue of Vanity Fair, outlining the case. The Colorado Supreme Court eventually overturned Auman's sentence in March 2005, shortly after Thompson's death, and Auman is now free. Auman's supporters claim Thompson's support and publicity resulted in the successful appeal.
Thompson was a firearms and explosives enthusiast (in his writing and in real life) and owned a vast collection of handguns, rifles, shotguns, and various automatic and semi-automatic weapons, along with numerous forms of gaseous crowd control and many other homemade devices.
Thompson was also an ardent supporter of drug legalization and became known for his less-than-shy accounts of his own drug usage. He was an early supporter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and served on the group's advisory board for over 30 years until his death. He told an interviewer in 1997 that drugs should be legalized "Across the board. It might be a little rough on some people for a while, but I think it's the only way to deal with drugs. Look at Prohibition: all it did was make a lot of criminals rich."
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Thompson voiced skepticism regarding the official story on who was responsible for the attacks. He suggested to several interviewers that it may have been conducted by the U.S. Government or with the government's assistance. In 2002, Thompson told a radio show host "You sort of wonder when something like that happens, well, who stands to benefit? Who had the opportunity and the motive? You just kind of look at these basic things [...] I saw that the US government was going to benefit, and the White House people, the Republican administration to take the mind of the public off the crashing economy. [...] And I have spent enough time on the inside of, well in the White House and you know, campaigns and I've known enough people who do these things, think this way, to know that the public version of the news or whatever event, is never really what happened."
In 2004 Thompson, regarding politics, wrote: "Nixon was a professional politician, and I despised everything he stood for — but if he were running for president this year against the evil Bush–Cheney gang, I would happily vote for him."
Thompson wrote many letters and they were his primary means of personal conversation. Thompson made carbon copies of all his letters, usually typed, a habit that began in his teenage years. His letters were sent to friends, public officials and reporters.
Some of his letters have begun to be published in a series of books called The Fear and Loathing Letters. The first volume, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman 1955 - 1967, is over 650 pages, while the second volume Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist passed 700. Douglas Brinkley, who edits the letter series, said that for every letter included, fifteen were cut. Brinkley estimated Thompson's own archive to contain over 20,000 letters. According to Amazon.com, the last of the three planned volumes of Thompson's letters was allegedly to be published on January 1, 2007 as The Mutineer: Rants, Ravings, and Missives from the Mountaintop 1977-2005. Anita Thompson has said on her blog that the collection will be released sometime in February. Amazon.com currently lists the publication date on its site as February 1, 2011.
Many biographies have been written about Thompson, although he did not write an autobiography. But his letters contained "asides" to "his biographers" that he assumed could be "reading in" on his collected letters. Some of these letters were already bundled into Thompson's Kingdom of Fear, though it is not considered an autobiography.
Accompanying the eccentric and colorful writing of Hunter Thompson, illustrations by British artist Ralph Steadman offer visual representations of the Gonzo style. Steadman and Thompson developed a close friendship, and often traveled together. Though his illustrations occur in most of Thompson's books, they are conspicuously featured in full page color in Thompson's The Curse of Lono, set in Hawaii.
Thompson was an avid amateur photographer throughout his life and his photos have been exhibited since his death at art galleries in the United States and United Kingdom. In late 2006, AMMO Books published a limited-edition 224 page collection of Thompson photos called GONZO, with an introduction by Johnny Depp. Thompson's snapshots were a combination of the subjects he was covering, stylized self-portraits, and artistic still life photos. The London Observer called the photos "astonishingly good" and that "Thompson's pictures remind us, brilliantly in every sense, of very real people, real colours".
The film Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) depicts Thompson's attempts at writing stories for both the Super Bowl and the 1972 U.S. presidential election. It stars Bill Murray as Thompson and Peter Boyle as Thompson's attorney Oscar Acosta, referred to in the movie as Carl Lazlo, Esq.
The 1998 film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was directed by Monty Python veteran Terry Gilliam, and starred Johnny Depp (who moved into Hunter's basement to 'study' Thompson's persona before assuming his role in the film) as "Hunter Thompson/Raoul Duke" and Benicio del Toro as Oscar Acosta, referred to in the movie as "Dr. Gonzo". The film has achieved something of a cult following.
A film is currently in production based on Thompson's novel The Rum Diary. It is scheduled for a 2010 release, starring Johnny Depp as the main character, Paul Kemp. The novel's premise was inspired by Thompson's own experiences in Puerto Rico. Bruce Robinson is directing.
"Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood" (1978) is an extended television profile by the BBC. It can be found on disc 2 of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" The Criterion Collection edition.
The Mitchell brothers, owners of the O'Farrell Theatre in San Francisco, made a documentary about Thompson in 1988 called Hunter S. Thompson: The Crazy Never Die.
Wayne Ewing created three documentaries about Thompson. The film Breakfast With Hunter (2003) was directed and edited by Ewing. It documents Thompson's work on the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, his arrest for drunk driving, and his subsequent fight with the court system. When I Die (2005) is a video chronicle of making Thompson's final farewell wishes a reality, and documents the send-off itself. Free Lisl: Fear and Loathing in Denver (2006) chronicles Thompson efforts in helping to free Lisl Auman who was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the shooting of a police officer, a crime she didn't commit. All three films are only available online.
In Come on Down: Searching for the American Dream (2004) Thompson gives director Adamm Liley insight into the nature of the American Dream over drinks at the Woody Creek Tavern.
Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride: Hunter S. Thompson On Film (2006) was directed by Tom Thurman, written by Tom Marksbury, and produced by the Starz Entertainment Group. The original documentary features interviews with Thompson's inner circle of family and friends, but the thrust of the film focuses on the manner in which his life often overlapped with numerous Hollywood celebrities who became his close friends, such as Johnny Depp, Benicio del Toro, Bill Murray, Sean Penn, John Cusack, Thompson's wife Anita, son Juan, former Senators George McGovern and Gary Hart, writers Tom Wolfe and William F. Buckley, actors Gary Busey and Harry Dean Stanton, and the illustrator Ralph Steadman among others.
"Blasted!!! The Gonzo Patriots of Hunter S. Thompson" (2006), produced, directed, photographed and edited by Blue Kraning, is a documentary about the scores of fans who volunteered their privately owned artillery to fire the ashes of the late author, Hunter S Thompson. Blasted!!! premiered at the 2006 Starz Denver International Film Festival, part of a tribute series to Hunter S. Thompson held at the Denver Press Club.
In 2008, Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) wrote and directed a documentary on Thompson, entitled Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. The film premiered on January 20, 2008 at the Sundance Film Festival. Gibney uses intimate, never-before-seen home videos, interviews with friends, enemies and lovers, and clips from films adapted from Thompson's material to document his turbulent life.
GONZO: A Brutal Chrysalis is a one-man show about Hunter S.Thompson written by Paul Addis. Set in the writing den of Thompson's Woody Creek home, the show presents the life of Hunter during the years between 1968 and 1971. Addis played the role of Hunter during the show's original run until his arrest for the Burning Man early torching on August 28, 2007.
Manufacturer: Ballantine Books
Amazon Price: $17.00
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Editorial Review: Gonzo journalist and literary roustabout Hunter S. Thompson flies with the angels—Hell’s Angels, that is—in this short work of nonfiction.
“California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur. . . The Menace is loose again.”
Thus begins Hunter S. Thompson’s vivid account of his experiences with California’s most notorious motorcycle gang, the Hell’s Angels. In the mid-1960s, Thompson spent almost two years living with the controversial Angels, cycling up and down the coast, reveling in the anarchic spirit of their clan, and, as befits their name, raising hell. His book successfully captures a singular moment in American history, when the biker lifestyle was first defined, and when such countercultural movements were electrifying and horrifying America. Thompson, the creator of Gonzo journalism, writes with his usual bravado, energy, and brutal honesty, and with a nuanced and incisive eye; as The New Yorker pointed out, “For all its uninhibited and sardonic humor, Thompson’s book is a thoughtful piece of work.” As illuminating now as when originally published in 1967, Hell’s Angels is a gripping portrait, and the best account we have of the truth behind an American legend.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Review: This cult classic of gonzo journalism is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page. It is also the tale of a long weekend road trip that has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken.
Now a major motion picture from Universal, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro.
Manufacturer: Simon & Schuster
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Editorial Review: Made into a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp, The Rum Diary—a national bestseller and New York Times Notable Book—is Hunter S. Thompson’s brilliant love story of jealousy, treachery, and violent lust in the Caribbean.
Begun in 1959 by a twenty-two-year-old Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary is a brilliantly tangled love story of jealousy, treachery, and violent alcoholic lust in the Caribbean boomtown that was San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the late 1950s. The narrator, freelance journalist Paul Kemp, irresistibly drawn to a sexy, mysterious woman, is soon thrust into a world where corruption and get-rich-quick schemes rule and anything (including murder) is permissible. Exuberant and mad, youthful and energetic, this dazzling comedic romp provides a fictional excursion as riveting and outrageous as Thompson’s Fear and Loathing books.
Manufacturer: Simon & Schuster
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Editorial Review: The first volume in Hunter S. Thompson’s bestselling Gonzo Papers offers brilliant commentary and outrageous humor, in his signature style.
Originally published in 1979, the first volume of the bestselling “Gonzo Papers” is now back in print. The Great Shark Hunt is Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s largest and, arguably, most important work, covering Nixon to napalm, Las Vegas to Watergate, Carter to cocaine. These essays offer brilliant commentary and outrageous humor, in signature Thompson style.
Ranging in date from the National Observer days to the era of Rolling Stone, The Great Shark Hunt offers myriad, highly charged entries, including the first Hunter S. Thompson piece to be dubbed “gonzo”—“The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” which appeared in Scanlan's Monthly in 1970. From this essay a new journalistic movement sprang which would change the shape of American letters. Thompson's razor-sharp insight and crystal clarity capture the crazy, hypocritical, degenerate, and redeeming aspects of the explosive and colorful ‘60s and ‘70s.
Manufacturer: Simon & Schuster
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Editorial Review: From the legendary journalist and creator of “Gonzo” journalism Hunter S. Thompson comes the bestselling critical look at Nixon and McGovern’s 1972 presidential election.
Forty years after its original publication, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 remains a cornerstone of American political journalism and one of the bestselling campaign books of all time. Hunter S. Thompson’s searing account of the battle for the 1972 presidency—from the Democratic primaries to the eventual showdown between George McGovern and Richard Nixon—is infused with the characteristic wit, intensity, and emotional engagement that made Thompson “the flamboyant apostle and avatar of gonzo journalism” (The New York Times). Hilarious, terrifying, insightful, and compulsively readable, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is an epic political adventure that captures the feel of the American democratic process better than any other book ever written.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 29 August 2010 09:30|