[Paleopsych] Hunter S. Thompson Package
checker at panix.com
Sun Apr 10 17:45:18 UTC 2005
Hunter S. Thompson Package
[He died when I was on my annual Lenten break, so I'm posting these
articles only now.]
The New York Times > Books > Hunter S. Thompson, Outlaw Journalist, Is
Dead at 67
February 22, 2005
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
Hunter S. Thompson, the anger-driven, drug-fueled writer for Rolling
Stone magazine whose obscenity-laced prose broke down the wall between
reader and writer, writer and subject, shot and killed himself on
Sunday at his home in Woody Creek, Colo. He was 67.
His death was reported by the Pitkin County sheriff's office.
At his peak Mr. Thomson reached out in his writing to a generation
made cynical by the Vietnam War and the Watergate political scandal
and that was prepared to respond to Mr. Thompson's visceral honesty,
his creative blend of fact and fantasy, his rage at convention and
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," published by Random House in 1972,
cemented Mr. Thompson's place as a singular presence in American
journalism or, as he once called himself, "a connoisseur of edge
work." In that semi-fictional work, Mr. Thompson's alter ego, Raoul
Duke, and his lawyer, Dr. Gonzo, ride from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in
a convertible loaded up with drugs, in what the book's subtitle
describes as "a savage journey to the heart of the American Dream."
But it was his writing as a national political reporter for Rolling
Stone magazine that brought Mr. Thompson's rule-breaking style to a
broader audience, where his outrageous voice helped refocus the
nation's customarily straitlaced political dialogue.
It was while covering the primary race and the presidential campaign
between George McGovern and the incumbent Richard M. Nixon in 1972
that Mr. Thompson forced mainstream news organizations to take notice.
That year, some of his most acerbic lines were quoted in publications
like Newsweek and The New York Times. (A Times writer quoted Mr.
Thompson saying Hubert Humphrey was campaigning like "a rat in heat.")
For Mr. Thompson the goal was to tell the truth - at least his version
of the truth - and it did not much matter how he got there. "Fiction,"
Mr. Thompson said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2003,
"is based on reality unless you're a fairy-tale artist. You have to
get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the
material you're writing about before you alter it."
In more recent years Mr. Thompson seemed a man cornered by his own
self-image, marginalized for having stayed put while the generation he
once courted - the generation that brandished the slogan "drugs, sex
and rock 'n' roll" - turned its attention to issues like property
taxes and social security. Mr. Thompson found that the image he built
during his adult life, that of the heavy-drinking, drug-using, gun-
toting, sharp-tongued social critic with aviator glasses and a
cigarette between his lips, had become a cartoon character -
literally. Uncle Duke, a character in "Doonesbury," the Garry Trudeau
comic strip, was modeled after Mr. Thompson, and the real Mr. Thompson
wasn't too thrilled.
"You don't really think of making it in America as being a cartoon
character," Mr. Thompson said in an interview with The Associated
Press in the early 1980's. "It's hard to try and run around and be
normal when you're confronted constantly with movies and comic
Yet his early work presaged some of the fundamental changes that have
rocked journalism today. Mr. Thompson's approach in many ways mirrors
the style of modern-day bloggers, those self-styled social
commentators who blend news, opinion and personal experience on
Internet postings. Like bloggers, Mr. Thompson built his case for the
state of America around the framework of his personal views and
Hunter Stockton Thompson was born on July 18, 1937, in Louisville, Ky.
He was educated in public schools and joined the United States Air
Force after high school. There he was introduced to journalism,
covering sports for an Air Force newspaper in Florida. He was
honorably discharged in 1958 and then worked a series of jobs writing
for small-town newspapers. Even before he burst onto the national
scene, Mr. Thompson had built a reputation as an eccentric,
hard-driving reporter in upstate New York.
Mr. Thompson's biography has traditional contours. But in a Playboy
interview given years ago, the magazine filled in some of the profile
with Thompsonesque details. In the introduction to his interview, the
magazine said he lied to get the job at a base newspaper; was fired
when his superiors found out he was writing for another publication
under a pen name; and was fired from a newspaper job for destroying
his editor's car.
In that interview, Mr. Thompson said that he found his literary voice
- a highly personal controlled rant that became known, somewhat
inexplicably, as gonzo journalism - while writing a story about the
Kentucky Derby for Scanlan's magazine.
"I'd blown my mind, couldn't work," he told Playboy, explaining how he
could not get the story done for deadline. "So finally I just started
jerking pages out of my notebook and numbering them and sending them
to the printer. I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to
do for anybody." The article was a success, and Mr. Thompson said "if
I can write like this and get away with it, why should I keep trying
to write like The New York Times?"
Mr. Thompson had some early success as a foreign correspondent writing
from South America for The National Observer. But it was his first
book - "Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga" (Modern Library,
1967) - that quickly established his reputation for producing what
Eliot Fremont-Smith, in The Times, called an "angry, knowledgeable and
excitedly written book."
Mr. Thompson, who spent more than a year traveling with the Hell's
Angels, gave the nation a tongue lashing for creating mythic villains,
like the motorcycle gang, which he revealed to be more pathetic than
Mr. Thompson wrote about a dozen books, including "Fear and Loathing
on the Campaign Trail," the culmination of his work on the 1972
campaign. In his political coverage Mr. Thompson made no secret of his
hatred of Nixon, once calling him "that dark, venal and incurably
violent side of the American character."
He was generous with invective, once referring to Humphrey, the former
vice president, as a "hopelessly dishonest old hack."
In his later years, before his death, as attitudes toward drugs and
alcohol stiffened, Mr. Thompson seemed to have trouble adjusting to
the new reality around him, to neighbors who no longer tolerated
gunshots going off on his property. As early as the 1990's, he began
to display his disgust with what he said was "the feeling today you
can't fight City Hall. But sure you can - and win."
Mr. Thompson, who had suffered pain from back surgery and other
ailments in recent years, spent his final days in his compound in
Woody Creek, not far from Aspen. The sheriff's department said he was
found by his son, Juan, who survives him, as does his second wife,
Anita Beymuk. His first marriage, to Sandra Dawn, Juan's mother, ended
During his career, there were moments, usually in interviews or in his
own personal correspondence, when Mr. Thompson let the public in on
the point. It was, he seemed to suggest, not really about guns and
drugs, and tearing up the pavement and planting grass, but about
grabbing public attention to focus on the failures of leadership, the
hypocrisy in society.
In 1970 Mr. Thompson ran for sheriff in Pitkin County, Colo., on the
"freak power" platform, calling himself "a foulmouthed outlaw
journalist." It seemed a joke, another outlandish act, until the votes
were counted and he came close to winning. In a letter he wrote to
Senator Walter Mondale in 1971, Mr. Thompson said his campaign came
down "very simply to the notion of running a completely honest
political campaign - saying exactly what we thought and what we
planned to do."
He added, "The real issue was Power ... and Who was going to have it."
The New York Times > Books > An Appreciation: The Thompson Style: A Sense
of Self, and Outrage
February 22, 2005
By DAVID CARR
Hunter S. Thompson died on Sunday, alone with a gun in his kitchen in
Woody Creek, Colo. In doing so, he added heft to a legend that came to
obscure his gifts as one of journalism's most influential
Somewhere beneath the cartoon - he was Uncle Duke in the Doonesbury
strip, of course, but Bill Murray inked him well in the 1980 film
"Where the Buffalo Roam" - and a lifestyle dominated by a long and
sophisticated romance with drugs, Mr. Thompson managed to change the
course of American journalism.
Of all of the so-called practitioners of New Journalism, Mr. Thompson
was the one who was willing to insert himself and his capacious
reserve of outrage into the middle of every story. In his articles for
Rolling Stone and his seminal 1973 book, "Fear and Loathing on the
Campaign Trail '72" Mr. Thompson threw himself at the conventions of
political reporting. Not only was he not neutral, he was angry, an
avenging proxy for the American polity. Brick by brick, he tore away a
wall - since rebuilt - that made politics seem like a low-stakes
"He spent his life in search of an honest man, and he seldom found
any," said James Silberman, his longtime editor and publisher at
Random House and Summit Books.
As a writer though, Mr. Thompson met plenty of honest digressions, and
engaged them all to their fullest. He would begin with a premise -
Richard Nixon was doing Satan's handiwork, for instance - and then in
writing about it, tumble through the Tet Offensive, the drugs from the
previous night he was trying to fight through, Hubert Humphrey's
alleged spinelessness, Nixon's surprising knowledge of the N.F.L., and
the fecklessness of his editors, before landing the entire rococo mix
in one tidy package, like a gift.
His assignments always became quests. It was not enough for him to
journey south to Cozumel off the Yucatán Peninsula to write about rich
white men hunting sharks; he also had to retrieve 50 doses of MDA, a
drug he was fond of, that he had stashed in the shark pool of the
aquarium the last time he was on the island. Mr. Thompson managed to
live and write his own version of the Heisenberg principle: That the
observer not only changes events by his presence, but his presence
also frequently surpasses the event in terms of importance. Like many
contemporary American writers, Mr. Thompson lived the bell curve of a
writer's life. Long after the "Fear and Loathing" rubric had been
arrayed over everything from shark fishing, the Hell's Angels and Las
Vegas, he was hounded by the fact that his moment - a white hot one
where in which he found himself face to face with a shark or George
McGovern - had passed.
His friends would continue to drop by Woody Creek, his remote,
mountainous salon near Aspen for smart, engaging talk accompanied by
the explosives, narcotics and weaponry Mr. Thompson counted as
enduring hobbies. Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes" was one of them, and said
yesterday that Thompson's menace was overestimated, that it was
frequently overwhelmed by courtliness. George Plimpton was a frequent
visitor, as was Walter Isaacson. Even the town sheriff was welcome, as
long as he called ahead so Mr. Thompson could tidy the premises.
For a generation of American students, Mr. Thompson made journalism
seem like a dangerous, fantastic occupation, in the process
transforming an avocation that was mostly populated by doughy white
men in short-sleeve white button-downs and bad ties into something fit
for those who smoked Dunhills at the end of cigarette holders and wore
sunglasses regardless of the time of day. It is to his credit or blame
that many aspiring journalists showed up to cover their first, second,
and sometimes third local city council meetings in bowling shirts and
bad sunglasses (no names need be mentioned here), along with their
For all of the pharmacological foundations of his stories, Mr.
Thompson was a reporter, taking to the task of finding out what other
people knew with an avidity that earned the respect of even those who
found his personal hobbies reprehensible. Hunter S. Thompson knew
stuff and wrote about it in a way that could leave his colleagues
breathless and vowing to do better.
He had a gift for sentence writing, and he tended to write a lot of
them. But his loquaciousness was not restricted to articles and books.
In "Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw
Journalist," his memoir published in 2000 which was composed of
correspondence, it became clear how in his hands even the lowly
expense report, usually a relentlessly banal document, could be a
thing of beauty.
To Mr. Thompson, it was all true, every word of it. Maybe not
literally, you-can-look-it-up true, but true in a way that the bean
counters would never understand. Friends say that he appeared to be
relatively happy of late, and was fully engaged in the writing
projects he had before him. But a chronic series of physical
infirmities - he had to use a wheelchair at times - left him feeling
that he was finally being maneuvered by forces he could not medicate
or write into obscurity.
And his suicide had its own terrible logic. A man who was so intent on
generating a remarkable voice that he retyped Hemingway's novels just
to understand how it was done, gave a final bit of dramatic tribute in
turning a gun on himself.
The New York Times > Books > 'Generation of Swine'
Reviewed by HERBERT MITGANG
Published: August 11, 1988
GENERATION OF SWINE
Tales of Shame and Degradation in the 80's.
By Hunter S. Thompson.
Hunter S. Thompson, who gained a fan club with such hand-stitched
books as ''Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'' and ''Fear and Loathing:
On the Campaign Trail '72,'' is back with a collection of his pieces
that appeared in The San Francisco Examiner in the last few years.
They combine name-calling, bomb-throwing and sardonic humor. He's a
little more strident this time out, but if you happen to share his
public enemies, Mr. Thompson's your man.
Nearly everything he writes makes yellow journalism pale. With his
targets the high rollers, from Sunset Strip to the White House, the
former political writer for Rolling Stone elevates insult to an art
form. He's dead serious and we blink, wondering how he can get away
Gonzo, his own brand of journalism, has even found its way into the
new Random House dictionary, which uses such words as bizarre, crazy
and eccentric to define it. No one else gets credit for gonzo
journalism in the dictionary; but then not many journalists would want
it. Timothy Crouse - in his own perceptive book, ''The Boys on the
Bus,'' about the behavior of reporters during the 1972 Presidential
campaign -recalled when Mr. Thompson first earned his stripes as a
political storm trooper by reporting that he had told Richard M.
Nixon, ''Go get 'em, Dick, throw the bomb! Fifty years more of the
A reporter for a local television station in Los Angeles quoted in Mr.
Crouse's book says ''After the revolution, we'll all write like
Thompson.'' Not quite yet. His train of thought often seems stuck at
the Finland Station.
Nevertheless, he can be challenging. Mr. Thompson finds Watergate more
in the American grain of political corruption than the Iran-contra
affair. He writes: ''The criminals in Watergate knew they were guilty
and so did everybody else; and when the dust cleared the crooked
President was gone and so were the others.'' By contrast, he calls
those involved in Iran-contra affair ''cheap punks'' who have been
''strutting every day for the past two months of truly disgraceful
testimony.'' (That column was written July 20, 1987; all the columns
have dates at the end but have not been updated by the author.) He
finds that the Iran-contra investigation was ''a farce and a scam that
benefited nobody except Washington lawyers who charge $1,000 an hour
for courtroom time.''
Swinging for the fences, Mr. Thompson sometimes strikes out in his
judgments. Disagreement depends on a reader's own set of assumptions
and prejudices. Many of the names in these columns are obscure and
require a knowledge of Mr. Thompson's friends and previous books. But
he continues to speak up about political candidates for whom he holds
more loathing than fear.
Writing about Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts a little over a
year ago, Mr. Thompson was half prescient and half wrong. He described
Governor Dukakis as ''feisty'' and possessing impressive credentials
and ''the style of a mean counterpuncher.'' Mr. Thompson says of Mr.
Dukakis: ''He was not in the mood, that night, to be poked and goaded
by host/moderator William Buckley, who tried to make Dukakis the butt
of his neo-Nazi jokes and left Houston with a rash of fresh teeth
marks . . . Buckley has lost speed, in his dotage, but Dukakis is
faster and meaner than a bull mongoose . . . But his chances of
getting anything except a purple heart out of the 11 Southern States
that will vote on 'Super Tuesday' next March are not ripe. The good
ole boys will beat him like a gong, and after that he will be little
more than a stalking horse for New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who still
insists he's not running.''
And assessing Vice President Bush last March, Thompson first quotes a
political friend of his about the Republican candidate's intellectual
brilliance - ''He is smarter than Thomas Jefferson'' - and then
gonzofies him: ''He had no friends and nobody in Washington wanted to
be seen with him on the streets at night.'' Mr. Thompson doesn't think
the Vice President has a touch of the poet. He writes: ''It was
impossible that he could be roaming around Washington or New Orleans
at night, jabbering about Dylan Thomas and picking up dead cats .''
Mr. Thompson calls the present generation a ''Generation of Swine.''
With that phrase as his title and premise, he takes no prisoners. A
reader can go through the 300-plus pages of the book and look in vain
for qualifying journalistic words. Mr. Thompson doesn't write measured
prose. It's - well, gonzo.
The New York Times > Books > 'The Great Shark Hunt'
Reviewed by JOHN LEONARD
Published: August 10, 1979
THE GREAT SHARK HUNT
Strange Tales from a Strange Time.
By Hunter S. Thompson.
In 1973, Hunter S. Thompson--self-styled doctor of divinity,
chemotherapy and "gonzo" journalism--had a dream or nightmare or
vision or hallucination or the bends. Here is what he imagined:
"Our Barbie Doll President, with his Barbie Doll wife and his boxful
of Barbie Doll children is also America's answer to the monstrous Mr.
Hyde. He speaks for the Werewolf in us; the bully, the predatory
shyster who turns into something unspeakable, full of claws and
bleeding string- warts, on nights when the moon comes too close. . .
at the stroke of midnight in Washington, a drooling red-eyed beast
with the legs of a man and the head of a giant hyena crawls out of its
bedroom window in the south wing of the White House and leaps 50 feet
down to the lawn. . . paused briefly to strangle the Chow watchdog,
then races off into the darkness. . . towards the Watergate, snarling
with lust, loping through the alleys behind Pennsylvania Avenue, and
trying desperately to remember which one of those 400 identical
balconies is the one outside Martha Mitchell's apartment. . ."
Is this fair to Richard Milhous Nixon? The Columbia Journalism Review
certainly wouldn't think so. But Dr. Thompson is seldom, if ever,
fair. And he is always hallucinating. At Super Bowl VIII in Houston,
for instance, he attends a party at John B. Connally's house; Allen
Ginsberg is there, and 13 thoroughbred horses are slaughtered, "by
drug-crazed guests with magnesium butcher knives." At the Senate
Watergate hearings, he slips an "ostrich lasso" over the head of
Herbert W. Kalmbach and jerks him into the bleachers. In Aspen, Colo.,
where he is running for sheriff, he confronts his natural
constituency, the freaks, who insist on voting two weeks before the
election and who then gobble up their own candidates.
Craving Our Credulity
We are asked in this collection of Dr. Thompson's magazine articles
and snippets from his books to imagine the forced urinalysis of
Representative Harley O. Staggers of West Virginia; Jean- Claude Killy
ordering from room service a cattle prod and two female iguanas;
Senator Edmund S. Muskie strung out on Ibogaine, and Dr. Thompson
himself up in a crow's nest, splitting "a cap of black acid with John
Chancellor." When Mr. Nixon's lawyer J. Fred Buzhardt Jr. first hears
the June 23, 1972, "smoking gun" tape and has a heart attack, Dr.
Thompson assures us that we will never see him alive again because H.
R. Haldeman will sneak into the hospital "and stick a hatpin up his
nose while he's wasted on Demerol, jam it straight into his brain. .
Enough. Along with his hallucinations, Dr. Thompson relies on pills,
joints, beer, Wild Turkey Bourbon and buzz words. Many of these buzz
words are unprintable. His favorite printable verbs are "lashed" and
"addled." The modifiers are usually "terminal" and "atavistic." The
nouns include thug, drone, swine, gunsel, landraper, greedhead,
waterhead, leech, hyena, banshee, wolverine, dingbat, fascist and,
again and again, geek.
A geek, you'll remember, is the guy in the circus sideshow who bites
off the heads of live chickens. In a number of ways on various
occasions--at the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby and the America's Cup
yacht race--Dr. Thompson has behaved like a journalistic geek.
But a book reviewer, unlike a doctor of gonzo journalism, is supposed
to be fair. There are some chickens that need their heads bitten off.
And there are some sections of "The Great Shark Hunt," reprinted from
such unlikely periodicals as The Reporter, The National Observer and
The New York Times magazine, that are surprisingly straight, ungeeky
and often quite moving. We are reminded that Dr. Thompson, who
considers himself an outlaw, was from the beginning attracted to those
who were outside the protection of the law or who were oppressed by
He took his chances, of course, with the Hell's Angels, and he should
have left Las Vegas alone, but he also went where establishment
reporters were reluctant to go--to East Los Angeles to talk to the
Chicanos; to Olympia, Wash., to listen to the Amerindians; to
Louisville, Ky., to report on the blacks; to Brazil and Colombia and
Bolivia and Ecuador and Peru. The fear and loathing that he found in
these places was not a hallucination. The rage he acquired seems
He became, in the late 1960's, our point guard, our official crazy,
patrolling the edge. He reported back that the paranoids were right,
and they were. The cool inwardness of a Joan Didion, the hugging of
the self as if to keep from cracking up, is not for him. He inhabits
his nerve endings; they are on the outside, like the skin of a baby;
he seeks thumbprints. The failure of the counterculture--"which values
the Instant Reward. . . over anything involving a time lag between the
Effort and the End"--to develop a coherent politics infuriates him.
"It is," he says, "the flip side of the 'Good German' syndrome."
He is also, as if this needs to be said, hilarious. It is nice to
think of him naked on his porch in Colorado, drinking Wild Turkey and
shooting at rocks. Somewhere, beyond John Denver, he smells injustice.
Scales grow on his torso; wings sprout on his feet. Up, up and away. .
. it's Captain Paranoid! The Duke of Gonzo! Super Geek!
The New York Times > Books > 'Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72'
Reviewed by TOM SELIGSON
Published: July 15, 1973
FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL '72
By Hunter S. Thompson.
As the National Correspondent for Rolling Stone magazine, Hunter S.
Thompson--author of the celebrated sixties' drug-scene book "Fear and
Loathing in Las Vegas"--covered the entire 1972 Presidential campaign.
He has now enlarged his articles into a book that is the best account
yet published of what it feels like to be out there in the middle of
the American political process. "Fear and Loathing" runs month by
month from December, 1971, when Thompson began campaign coverage in
Washington, through the Democratic primaries, both conventions and on
past the election. His book is a mixture of personal narrative, diary
entries, tape-recorded interviews and telephone conversations with the
candidates and their managers, occasionally irrelevant fantasies
and--towards the end when he was running past his deadline--an
extended interview with himself.
Thompson writes on two levels. On one, he is the journalist observing
the candidates in action from any accessible perspective. His comments
in this regard are revealing both about the problems of campaign
coverage and the differences among the candidates. His first encounter
with McGovern was in the men's room at the Exeter Inn in New
Hampshire. "People have been asking me about it ever since--as if it
were some kind of weird journalistic coup, a rare and unnatural
accomplishment pulled off by what had to have been a super-inventive
or at least super-aggressive pervert. . . . The point is that anybody
could have walked up to that urinal next to McGovern at that moment,
and asked him anything they wanted--and he would have answered, the
same way he answered me." Such coverage was virtually impossible with
Nixon, who Thompson and the other campaign reporters hardly ever saw
except on closed-circuit television.
On another level, Thompson is defiantly subjective. Unlike his more
conventional colleagues, he feels free to denounce hypocritical
political maneuvering when he spots it. He saw Humphrey in Florida
struggling to co-opt Wallace's position on busing and then later in
Wisconsin trying to "nail down the Black Vote by denouncing Wallace as
a racist demagogue, and Nixon as a cynical opportunist for saying the
same thing about busing that Humphrey himself had been saying in
Florida." Thompson's reaction: "There is no way to grasp what a
shallow, contemptible and hopelessly dishonest old hack Hubert
Humphrey is until you've followed him around for a while on the
campaign trail. The double-standard realities of campaign journalism,
however, make it difficult for even the best of the
'straight/objective' reporters to write what they actually think and
feel about a candidate."
There are no such restrictions on Thompson. He withholds no judgment,
not even of McGovern, whom he supported. Impressed at the outset by
what he considered McGovern's feel for the "New Politics"--a power
base comprising the newly enfranchised young, blacks and other
minorities--Thompson became disillusioned with the candidate's
apparent change into an "old politician" as soon as he won the
nomination. He saw old politics in McGovern's choice of Eagleton as a
running mate--an offering to the "old guard" within the Democratic
party--and in his endorsement of Chicago's Edward Hanrahan and
Boston's Louise Day Hicks.
Thompson concludes that the McGovern campaign failed because of this
obvious shift in direction, and because of McGovern's own
indecisiveness, poor leadership within his organization and the
inherent political problem of McGovern's "good guy" personality.
Lacking a feel for "dirty politics," McGovern suffered the liability
of being "what Robert Kennedy once called, 'the most decent man in the
Senate.' Which is not quite the same thing as being the best candidate
for President of the United States. For that, McGovern would need at
least one dark kinky streak of Mick Jagger in his soul."
Unlike Theodore White's regular reports, which have become as much a
part of the electoral institution as the inauguration, "Fear and
Loathing" is obviously not an exercise in objective, analytic
contemporary history. But neither is it like Norman Mailer's accounts
of the conventions, which are, by contrast, less involved with the
factual immediacy of politics and more concerned with its symbolic
implications. Mailer is essentially always a novelist, even when he
ventures into personal journalism. Mailer's imagination takes us as
far as we want to go intellectually, but on a gut level we are kept at
a distance because Mailer's personality intrudes between us and the
experience. Genet, Burroughs and Arthur Miller have also attempted to
run the campaigns through their literary arteries; but none has
successfully captured the vulnerability, lust and desperation that are
released each time we elect "the best man."
Thompson's book, with its mixed, frenetic construction, irreverent
spirit and, above all, unrelenting sensitivity to the writer's own
feelings while on the political road, most effectively conveys the
adrenaline-soaked quest that is the American campaign. Crisscrossing
the country often two times a day, stopping in hotels, shopping marts
and factories in obscure Midwestern towns, Thompson might have been
running for office himself. By monitoring his own instincts and
observations in the process, he shows us what it must be like for the
Referring to himself as a "political junkie" who needed the best speed
on the market to keep going (the "Zoo plane" on which the journalists
covering McGovern traveled was evidently loaded with cocaine,
marijuana and hashish), Thompson uses drug imagery throughout the book
to describe the effects of campaigning. "There is a fantastic
adrenalin high that comes with total involvement in almost any kind of
fast-moving political campaign--especially when you're running against
big odds and starting to feel like a winner." Citing stories of
Humphrey's connections to mob money and of McGovern's placement of
spies in Humphrey's campaign, Thompson shows just how compulsive is
the trip to win the Presidency of America, and how overwhelming the
temptation for the candidates to go outside the law to win.
Must the men who aspire to lead us be put through such an ordeal,
living constantly on what Thompson refers to as "the edge"? Perhaps
whistlestop and jet-plane campaigning should be abandoned and the
candidates should compete solely through the electronic media. I don't
know, and neither does Thompson. What Thompson does know, however, is
that whatever the campaign procedures, the White House will continue
to loom in the imagination of power- addicted men as the
glassine-bagged white powder does in the imagination of the junkie.
Watergate was the attempted rip-off of a fellow addict. "Fear and
Loathing" lets us understand why the men we elect to the Presidency
may have needle tracks on their integrity.
The New York Times > Books > 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'
Reviewed by CRAWFORD WOODS
Published: July 23, 1972
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.
By Hunter S. Thompson.
"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the
drugs began to take hold." The hold deepens for two days, and the
language keeps pace for 200 pages, in what is by far the best book yet
written on the decade of dope gone by.
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" is a number of things, most of them
elusive on first reading and illusory thereafter. A solid second act
by the author of "Hell's Angels," it is an apposite gloss on the more
history-laden rock lyrics ("to live outside the law you must be
honest") and-- Don Quixote in a Chevy--a trendy English teacher's
dream, a text for the type who teaches Emily Dickinson and Paul Simon
from the same mimeograph sheet. It is, as well, a custom-crafted study
of paranoia, a spew from the 1960's and--in all its hysteria,
insolence, insult, and rot--a desperate and important book, a wired
nightmare, the funniest piece of American prose since "Naked Lunch."
Its author comes complete with more than fair credentials for the
venture. His previous book, "Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible
Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs," was a running history of that
evil club (whose members first accepted him and ended by stomping him)
and a hard-breathing assault on "media rape," which is what Thompson
calls the methodical misrepresentation of the Angels--and just about
everything else--by the traditional press. A hatred of journalists and
journalism burns deep in the new book as well, though it must be self-
hatred to a considerable degree: Thompson has worked as a sportswriter
in Florida, as South American correspondent for The National Observer,
and is now covering the Presidential race for Rolling Stone. (He
brings to this assignment, with considerable success, the hellish
methods of "Gonzo journalism" developed in "Fear and Loathing.")
After the elections, he will no doubt be found at his home in Woody
Creek, Colo., raising unpleasant dogs and cleaning his handguns--the
same recovery act he did after "Hell's Angels," at which time he also
ran for sheriff of Aspen under the flag of Freak Power, drawing
national attention and upsetting local novelist Leon Uris no end. Not
to mention the Democrats, who, Thompson later claimed, owed him the
governorship of American Samoa.
What a lot of madness! These are the tracks of a man who might be
dismissed as just another savage-sixties kook, were it not for the
fact that he has already written himself into the history of American
literature, in what I suspect will be a permanent way. Because,
regardless of individual reader-reactions, his new book is a
highballing heavyweight, whose ripples spread from Huckleberry Finn to
F. Scott's Rockville grave.
The bones of the story are no more than spareribs. Thompson ("Raoul
Duke" in the book), under contract to Sports Illustrated, travels with
his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, to Las Vegas. They have been summoned to
cover a dirt-track motorcycle race, the Mint 400, by a mysterious
phone call. "But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we
would have to drum it up on our own. Free Enterprise. The American
Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure
Down the desert. The trunk of their car looks like a "mobile police
narcotics lab"; a towel soaked in ether washes vapors over them from
the floorboards. But their reception in the city is none too friendly,
even when they represent themselves as the factory crew of the Vincent
Black Shadow, the world's most frightening motorcycle--perhaps because
they are stoned into a state of sustained paranoia that turns everyone
they deal with into some sort of reptilian foe.
A flurry of picaresque disasters alters their plans as the dope alters
their minds. Drug and dream, event and recollection become
inseparable. (Thompson now says that when he rereads his book he can't
remember what he made up and what really happened. Pure Gonzo
journalism. Pure Gonzo fiction.)
But the sporting life collapses in any case when a wire comes from
Rolling Stone, keeping the crew in Las Vegas to report on a national
district attorneys' conference on dangerous drugs. Coverage of the
conference is the book's centerpiece. It includes an imbecilic meeting
of narcotics agents, where the officers are solemnly assured that a
marijuana butt is called a roach "because it resembles a cockroach";
and a macabre, incredibly funny conversation with a Georgia cop, who
is warned of a smackhead migration to his state because they like warm
weather. Vegas, Duke decides, "is not a good town for psychedelic
drugs. Reality itself is too twisted."
The book is about that twisting. Like Mailer's, Thompson's American
dream is a fanfare of baroque fantasy. It should not, despite its
preemptive title, be mistaken for a synopsis of the American
experience (even though the narrator comes to think of himself as a
"monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger"). But its limits are no
narrower than the limits of lunacy, and its method is as adventurous
as any to be found in all the free-fire-zone writing of the past dozen
"Writing" is as exact a label as the book will carry. Neither novel
nor nonfiction, it arrives with fashion's special sanction. Its roots
are in the particular sense of the nineteen-sixties that a new voice
was demanded--by the way people's public and private lives were coming
together in a sensual panic stew, with murder its meat and potatoes,
grass and acid its spice. How to tell the story of a time when all
fiction was science fiction, all facts lies? The New Journalism was
But who taps fashion for wisdom gets poison in the sap, and "Fear and
Loathing" is the quick assassin of the form it follows. Not the least
of Thompson's accomplishments is to suggest that, by now, the New
Journalism is to the world what the New Criticism was to the word:
seductive, commanding--and, finally, inadequate. The form that reached
apotheosis in "Armies of the Night" reaches the end of its rope in
"Fear and Loathing," a chronicle of addiction and dismemberment so
vicious that it requires a lot of resilience to sense that the
author's purpose is more moralizing than sadistic. He is moving in a
country where only a few cranky survivors-- Jonathan Swift for
one--have gone before. And he moves with the cool integrity of an
artist indifferent to his reception.
For the things the book mocks--hippies, Leary, Lennon, journalism,
drugs themselves--are calculated to throw Thompson to the wolves of
his own subculture. And the language in which it mocks them is
designed to look celebratory to the stolid reader, and debased to
established critics. This book is such a mind storm that we may need a
little time to know that it is also, ting! literature.
Much the same thing happened with Henry Miller--with whom Thompson has
perhaps even more kinship than with Burroughs. Hero of all his books,
drowning in sex and drink, Miller makes holy what Thompson makes
fundamental: appetite. In both writers, the world is
celebrated/excoriated through the senses. But the taste of the one is
for rebellion, of the other for apocalypse writ small.
Apart from the artistry, it is a modestly eschatological vision that
lifts "Fear and Loathing" from the category of mere funky
reminiscence. It unfolds a parable of the nineteen-sixties palatable
to those of us who lived them in a mood--perhaps more melodramatic
than astute--of social strife, surreal politics and the chemical
feast. And it does so in language that retires neither into the watery
sociology of the news weeklies nor the zoo-Zen of the more verbally
hip. Far out. Thompson trusts the authority of his senses, and the
clarity of a brain poised between brilliance and burnout.
"We are all wired into a survival trip now," he notes, "No more of the
speed that fueled the Sixties. . . a generation of permanent cripples
who never understood the essential fallacy of the Acid Culture: the
desperate assumption that somebody. . . is tending the Light at the
end of the tunnel."
The book's highest art is to be the drug it is about, whether chemical
or political. To read it is to swim through the highs and lows of the
smokes and fluids that shatter the mind, to survive again the terror
of the politics of unreason. Since plot has been scrapped, the whole
thing must be done in the details, in cameo sketches and weird
encounters that flare and fade into the backdrop of the reader's
imagination. These details are technically accurate, which is a
contemporary form of literary precision, with all ambiguity intact.
The same accuracy is preserved in the use of drugs as metaphor. The
suggestion is that to drop acid in 1966 was to seek the flower at the
heart of the cosmos, but to shoot heroin in 1972 is to hide from the
pain of the President's face. ("It is worth noting, historically, that
downers came in with Nixon. . .") Dope--once mystic, private and
ecstatic--has become just another way to kiss goodbye.
The New York Times > Books > 'Fear and Loathing in America'
December 10, 2000
Reviewed by CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY
"It's been a weird night,'' Hunter S. Thompson wrote the CBS News
correspondent Hughes Rudd one morning in 1973 as dawn broke over Owl
Farm, his ''fortified compound'' in Woody Creek, Colo., ''and I've
been dealing with a head full of something rumored to be LSD-25 for
the past six hours, but on the evidence I suspect it was mainly that
PCP animal tranq, laced with enough speed to KEEP the arms & legs
moving. The brain is another question, I think, but I keep hoping
we'll have it under control before long.''
A great many of the letters in this, the second volume of a projected
trilogy of the letters of the monstre sacré of American journalism,
appear to have been written under various chemical influences in the
wee small hours: ''Cazart! It's 5:57 a.m. now & the Aspen FM station
is howling 'White Rabbit' -- a good omen, eh?''; ''It's 6:37 now'';
''Christ, it's 5:40 a.m.'' Sometimes the sun is halfway to the
meridian before he reaches for the off button on his I.B.M. Selectric:
''It's 10:33 in the morning & this is the longest letter I've ever
written. It began as a quick note to wrap up loose ends.'' This makes
for some pretty electric reading, and for some not-so-electric
reading. During the period covered in this collection, Thompson was a
vital, deliriously erratic force in journalism, covering the turbulent
1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the 1968 election of
Richard M. Nixon, the 1972 campaign, Watergate, the falls of Nixon and
Saigon. There are letters here to Tom Wolfe; Senator Eugene McCarthy;
the Chicano lawyer Oscar Acosta (the inspiration for the ''300-pound
Samoan attorney'' character in ''Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'');
Charles Kuralt; Thompson's Random House editor, Jim Silberman; Warren
Hinckle (then the editor of Ramparts magazine); the soon-to-be-elected
Congressman Allard K. Lowenstein; Paul Krassner; Jann Wenner; the
illustrator Ralph Steadman; Joe Eszterhas (then a reporter for The
Cleveland Plain Dealer); Senator George McGovern; Gary Hart (then
McGovern's campaign manager); Anthony Burgess; Patrick J. Buchanan
(then a Nixon speechwriter); Robert Kennedy's former campaign press
secretary Frank Mankiewicz; Garry Wills; Jimmy Carter (then a
presidential candidate); Thompson's then-lawyer Sandy Berger, who is
now the national security adviser; the movie director Bob Rafelson;
the political prankster Dick Tuck; and the Merry Prankster Ken Kesey.
That's a pretty good sampling of the folks who brought you the 60's
and 70's. This being an omnium-gatherum of the Thompsonian ''gonzo''
archive, there are also memorandums, drafts of book-jacket copy and
movie treatment outlines.
It's not surprising that so many of these letters are about what one
of Thompson's early boosters, Tom Wolfe, once declared the great
subject of American writers: money -- in this case the general lack of
it and the desperate need for more. Thompson is always one step ahead
of the Internal Revenue Service, the Diner's Club or a hornet-mad
collection agency. Yet again, one is sadly reminded that writing an
American classic -- in this case, ''Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas''
-- is no guarantee of financial security.
That book, which began as a series of articles in Rolling Stone, sold
only about 18,000 copies in hardcover when it was published in 1972.
''I find myself,'' Thompson wrote to his mother, ''getting 'famous,'
but no richer than I was before people started recognizing & harassing
me almost everywhere I go.'' On the brighter side, a quarter-century
later finds Thompson still alive, despite a lifestyle that, if these
letters are accurate, would surely have long ago brought down a milder
One of the things that made Thompson an ''outlaw'' hero to this
reviewer's generation was the demonic zest of his invective and
contumely. The DNA of Thompson's adjectival lexicon is made up of the
following, often in sequence: ''vicious,'' ''rancid,'' ''savage,''
''fiendish,'' ''filthy,'' ''rotten,'' ''demented,'' ''treacherous,''
''heinous,'' ''scurvy,'' ''devious,'' ''grisly,'' ''hamwit,''
''filthy,'' ''foetid,'' ''cheapjack'' and ''hellish.'' Favorite
gerunds and other verb forms of abuse include ''festering,''
''stinking,'' ''crazed,'' ''deranged,'' ''soul-ripping,''
''drooling,'' ''rabbit-punching'' and ''knee-crawling,'' to say
nothing of even more piquant expressions.
''You worthless . . . bastard,'' begins a mock-malevolent letter to
his good friend Tom Wolfe, in response to a letter Wolfe wrote him
while on a lecture tour in Italy, ''I just got your letter of Feb 25
from Le Grande Hotel in Roma, you swine! Here you are running around .
. . Italy in that filthy white suit at a thousand bucks a day . . .
while I'm out here in the middle of these . . . frozen mountains in a
death-battle with the taxman & nursing cheap wine while my dogs go
hungry & my cars explode and a legion of nazi lawyers makes my life a
. . . Wobbly nightmare. . . . You decadent pig . . . you thieving pile
of albino warts. . . . The hammer of justice looms, and your filthy
white suit will become a flaming shroud!''
Reading Hunter Thompson is like using gasoline for after-shave --
bracing. ''His voice is sui generis,'' writes David Halberstam in the
foreword. ''It is not to be imitated, and I can't think of anything
worse than for any young journalist to try to imitate Hunter.''
True enough. Thompson's maniac style -- and pharmacology -- made him a
folk hero on college campuses about the time these letters were
written. Garry Trudeau made him into the character Duke in
''Doonesbury.'' (Trudeau is referred to here in a letter to Thompson's
lawyer as ''that dope-addled nazi cartoonist.'')
Reading these letters does make one consider how relatively pallid our
own times are, compared with the stomping mad epoch in which he wrote
them. Assassinations, Vietnam, Nixon. Today's big issues are
prescription drugs for the elderly and
whither-the-Middle-East-peace-process. An amphetamine-crazed, Wild
Turkey-swilling Hunter Thompson on the press bus in the year 2000
would probably be put off at the first stop, as the British writer
Will Self was a few years ago when he was discovered taking heroin
aboard Prime Minister John Major's press plane. It's doubtful that
Thompson's antics -- like setting fire to the door of the Jimmy Carter
aide Hamilton Jordan's New York hotel room in 1976 -- would be looked
on as scampish by today's PC commissars. This isn't to suggest his
antics didn't eventually wear thin -- as anyone who ever sat through
one of his college-lecture-circuit performances would admit -- but it
sure was fun to watch at the time.
The question that lingers is, how much of it was true? How much of it
was journalism, as opposed to something between ''new journalism'' and
out-and-out fiction? The historian Douglas Brinkley, who edited these
letters and has written a fine introduction, concludes, ''It would be
a mistake to claim that 'Fear and Loathing in America' answers the
question of whether Thompson writes fiction or nonfiction.''
Really? We find Thompson writing frantic letters to his lawyer Sandy
Berger, threatening the Washington writer Sally Quinn and Esquire
magazine with legal action, because the magazine has published an
excerpt from her book in which she quotes him saying that ''at least
45 percent of what I write is true.'' Naturally, he's a bit concerned
about what effect this might have on his employers. A few pages later,
in a letter to Quinn, he writes that he usually tells people that
''Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'' was ''60 percent-80 percent'' true,
''for reasons that should be perfectly obvious.'' Earlier on, in a
letter to Bill Cardoso of The Boston Globe, who had coined the term
''gonzo journalism,'' he calls one of his own articles for Scanlan's
Monthly ''a classic of irresponsible journalism.'' The clincher comes
in a letter to his Random House editor, in which he admits that the
book ''was a very conscious attempt to simulate drug freakout. . . . I
didn't really make up anything -- but I did, at times, bring
situations & feelings I remember from other scenes to the reality at
hand.'' He later wrote to the same editor, ''I have never had much
respect or affection for journalism.''
One feels Brinkley's pain, but the reasonable reader concludes that
Thompson's reportage has an impressionistic side -- for which his
fans, including this one, are profoundly grateful. These untidy
letters are welcome, showing us as they do a great American original
in his lair. Just one word of advice: if one of his peacocks or
Dobermans comes at you, be very, very afraid.
The New York Times > Books > 'The Rum Diary'
November 29, 1998
Reviewed by DAVID KELLY
Drugs must have done wonders for Hunter S. Thompson, if we can go by
his first novel, ''The Rum Diary.'' There are no narcotics in this
early work, and there is also none of the maniacal wit and deranged
exuberance that roared through the ''Fear and Loathing'' books. The
publisher says the novel, which is set mainly in Puerto Rico in the
late 1950's, was begun in 1959, when the future Dr. Duke was only 22
years old, but doesn't say when Thompson put the finishing touches on
this piece of juvenilia (perhaps last month?).
His narrator, Paul Kemp, leaves New York and the White Horse Tavern
behind for a job with The San Juan Daily News, an English-language
publication modeled on one that Thompson himself worked for. The
fictional paper is known for its colorful journalists, who ''ran the
whole gamut from genuine talents and honest men to degenerates and
hopeless losers who could barely write a postcard.'' The editor is an
ex-Communist from Florida named Lotterman, who says things like
''You're damn tootin' '' and at other times sounds as if he were
auditioning for ''The McLaughlin Group'':
'' 'We have a responsibility! A free press is vital! If a pack of
deadbeats get hold of this newspaper it's the beginning of the end.
First they'll get this one, then they'll get a few more, and one day
they'll get The Times -- can you imagine it?'
''I said I couldn't.
'' 'They'll get us all!' ''
For someone who gets to drink rum all day and have sex on the beach
(the real thing, not the cocktail) all night, Kemp is pretty morose.
At 30, he finds himself caught between ''a restless idealism on one
hand and a sense of impending doom on the other.'' Part of his problem
is San Juan itself, which yanqui carpetbaggers have now discovered and
which Thompson evokes with some flair:
''There was a strange and unreal air about the whole world I'd come
into. It was amusing and vaguely depressing at the same time. Here I
was, living in a luxury hotel, racing around a half-Latin city in a
toy car that looked like a cockroach and sounded like a jet fighter,
sneaking down alleys and . . . scavenging for food in shark-infested
waters, hounded by mobs yelling in a foreign tongue -- and the whole
thing was taking place in quaint old Spanish Puerto Rico, where
everybody spent American dollars and drove American cars and sat
around roulette wheels pretending they were in Casablanca. One part of
the city looked like Tampa and the other part looked like a medieval
For a while, not a lot happens in the novel. But trouble looms. First,
Kemp and two colleagues, Yeamon and Sala, are beaten up by the cops.
Then real disaster strikes on St. Thomas, where a carnival has lured
Kemp, Yeamon and Yeamon's sexy blond girlfriend, Chenault, whom our
hero has lusted after since Chapter 1. On the island, the signs are
ominous: people are looting a liquor store and chanting ''Busha
boomba, balla wa! Busha boomba, balla wa!'' Before long, Chenault is
dancing suggestively for the locals; nothing good can come of that.
She disappears, or is disappeared. Will the hard-bitten reporters
leave her behind? Will she find her way back to Puerto Rico? Will she
and Kemp finally play house? You're damn tootin'.
''A week in Vegas,'' Hunter Thompson once wrote, ''is like stumbling
into a Time Warp, a regression to the late 50's.'' The same goes for
''The Rum Diary.'' If you're looking for the birthplace of gonzo, you
won't find it here.
The New York Times > Books > 'The Proud Highway'
July 25, 1997
Reviewed by RICHARD BERNSTEIN
One thing that this collection of letters makes clear at the outset
is that Hunter S. Thompson, he of the ''Fear and Loathing'' books, for
whom the phrase ''gonzo journalist'' was invented, has always burned
to carve his initials onto the collective awareness. What other kind
of person would, beginning in his teen years, make carbon copies of
every letter he wrote -- to his mother, his Army friends and
commanding officers, his girlfriends, his various agents and editors
-- specifically in the hope that they would be published?
Mr. Thompson, by dint of hard work and enormous talent, has gotten his
wish. Edited by Douglas Brinkley and adorned with a sparkling essay by
the novelist William J. Kennedy, ''The Proud Highway'' takes Mr.
Thompson's caustic, furious, funny, look-at-me correspondence through
1967, when the author, having arrived on the scene with his book
''Hell's Angels,'' was 30. It is noteworthy that although just one in
seven of the relevant cache of letters was included, this book,
labeled ''The Fear and Loathing Letters, Volume I,'' weighs in at just
under 700 pages -- and there are still 30 more years to go. Even some
of the photographs of Mr. Thompson were taken by the author himself,
self-portraits of the writer at work and at play. Manifestly, this is
a man who, while anti-snobbish to a fault, abusively contemptuous of
self-promotion and pretension, had a powerful need to make a record of
himself and to make that record public.
Fortunately, the maverick vibrancy and originality of the record's
creator fully redeems what might otherwise have been an act of
egomaniacal temerity. The Hunter S. Thompson that emerges in this
collection of his letters, complemented by fragments of his other
writings, is very much the unrestrained, strenuously nonconformist,
Lone Ranger journalist who achieved cult status long ago.
One thinks of Mr. Thompson a bit as one thinks of the hero of George
Macdonald Fraser's fictional Flashman books, Flashman rampaging like
Don Quixote through the major events of the 19th century, making them
his own. Mr. Hunter rampaged through the 60's and 70's of this
century, not reporting on them in any conventional sense but using
them as raw material for the text that was his own life.
Taken together, as Mr. Brinkley correctly points out in his editor's
note, the Thompson correspondence is ''an informal and offbeat history
of two decades in American life,'' the two decades in question having
produced the counterculture that Mr. Thompson both chronicled and
helped produce. The overriding sensibility, inherited from H. L.
Mencken, consists of an eloquent, hyperbolic impatience with the
supposed mediocrity of American life, its Rotarian culture, its
complacency and its pieties.
''Young people of America, awake from your slumber of indolence and
harken the call of the future!'' the 18-year-old Mr. Thompson wrote in
the first piece reproduced in this book, taken from the yearbook of
the Louisville Male High School in Kentucky. ''I'm beginning to think
you're a phony, Graham,'' Mr. Hunter writes eight years later in 1963,
the Graham in question being Philip L. Graham, president of the
Washington Post Company. Mr. Hunter, a freelancer writing articles
from South America, was moved to a rage by an article in Newsweek,
owned by The Washington Post, that was critical of The National
Observer, which was publishing his work.
This, evidently, was a guy who took no guff, whose Ayn Rand-influenced
determination to do things his way required not only that he make no
compromises but that he be seen as making none. Graham invited Mr.
Hunter to ''write me a somewhat less breathless letter, in which you
tell me about yourself,'' and Mr. Thompson did so. He compliments his
correspondent on the ''cavalier tone that in some circles would pass
for a very high kind of elan'' but warns him against interpreting his
letter as ''a devious means of applying for a job on the assembly line
at Newsweek, or covering speeches for The Washington Post. I sign what
I write, and I mean to keep on signing it.''
By 1967, Mr. Thompson, who has risen in the world, is blasting others
for nincompoopery and knavishness. ''I have every honest and serious
intention of wreaking a thoroughly personal and honest vengeance on
Scott Meredith himself, in the form of cracking his teeth with a
knotty stick and rupturing every other bone and organ I can make
contact with in the short time I expect will be allotted to me,'' he
writes in a letter to his editor at Random House, speaking of the
literary agent whom he has just, in any case, dismissed. ''I am
probably worse than you think, as a person, but what the hell?'' he
wrote to Meredith. ''When I get hungry for personal judgment on
myself, I'll call for a priest.''
Mr. Thompson is not always making symbolic threats. This volume shows
him as a loyal and clever friend devoted to sporting, high-spirited
repartee. It shows him also as a stingingly good stylist as well as a
hard-drinking, gun-toting adventurer who never loses his sense of
humor even when he is being bitten by South American beetles or
stomped on by members of an American motorcycle gang. The letters and
other fragments in this collection are invested with the same rugged,
outspoken individualism as his more public writings, which make them
just as difficult to put down.
What makes them ever more irresistible is that they lend substance to
the legend of his life as an ultimate countercultural romance. If
books like ''Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'' conveyed the image of a
handsome young man riding his motorcycle at 100 miles an hour on the
defiant highway of the untrammeled life, this collection of his
private statements will show that the image was true.
''The most important thing a writer can have,'' he wrote to a friend
when he was 21, is ''the ability to live with constant loneliness and
a strong sense of revulsion for the banalities of everyday
socializing.'' Evidently, he meant what he said.
The New York Times > Books > 'Songs of the Doomed'
November 25, 1990
Reviewed by RON ROSENBAUM
SAIGON, May 1975. The city is about to fall to the National
Liberation Front. The last American reporters left in the besieged
capital are calculating when to fly out before the honorable desire to
stay to the bloody end becomes merely suicidal. Meanwhile, Hunter S.
Thompson has just flown in to the encircled city with $30,000 in cash
taped to his body (don't ask). Only to learn he has been fired by
Rolling Stone (some bitter dispute with its publisher, Jann Wenner,
over a book advance) and both his medical insurance and his Telex card
link to the outside world have been canceled by the magazine.
No problem. He's got a plan. He's going to convince the enemy that
he's their one true friend in American journalism, that he should be
the one to cover the final assault on the capital -- from behind enemy
lines. And so up in his room in Saigon's Hotel Continental Plaza he
bangs out a "Confidential Memo to Colonel Giang Vo Don Giang," one of
a number of memos, cables, fragments of memoirs and novels, and
eviction notices collected in "Songs of the Doomed," along with some
of Mr. Thompson's best work of the past three decades.
In his memo to the Vietcong colonel Mr. Thompson tries heroically to
communicate just what kind of writer he is, why he's different from
other journalists. It's not an easy job.
"I trust you understand that, as a professional para-journalist, I am
in the same position today that you were as a para-military
professional about three years ago," he tells the colonel, and he
offers to send him one of his classic works, "Fear and Loathing: On
the Campaign Trail '72." He tells the colonel that he knows Jane
Fonda. And he informs him, "I am one of the best writers currently
using the English language as both a musical instrument and a
While self-effacement has never been one of Mr. Thompson's strengths,
I think he was absolutely right about how good a writer he was then.
Fans across the political spectrum from Norman Mailer to Tom Wolfe and
William F. Buckley Jr. have said as much in the past.
Is it still true now? Those of us who lack access to the biweekly
column he wrote for The San Francisco Examiner until earlier this year
(Mr. Thompson's chief outlet since his split with Rolling Stone) have
had to await periodic appearances of these volumes of "The Gonzo
Papers." The last one, Volume Two, cheerfully titled "Generation of
Swine," chiefly concerned itself with Mr. Thompson's jeremiads against
This new volume, it should be noted, arrives under something of a
cloud, if internal evidence is to be believed.
A peculiar editor's note before the final section informs us, "Our
contract allowed us to go to press with whatever sections of the book
we already had our hands on -- despite the author's objections and
bizarre motions filed by his attorneys in courts all over the
Reading between the lines one gathers that Mr. Thompson is planning on
coming out with an entirely separate book on his recent legal ordeal
and vindication -- this summer a judge in Aspen, Colo., threw out
charges of sexual harassment and drug and weapons possession against
Mr. Thompson, which grew out of a dispute that involved a former
pornographic film maker and a Jacuzzi. Mr. Thompson is now suing
authorities for "malicious prosecution" and general revenge.
Evidently, Mr. Thompson did not want to skim the cream off the
forthcoming book (working title: "99 Days: The Trial of Hunter S.
Thompson"), but the editors wanted something from him about the
celebrated case in this volume. So they have apparently chosen the
dubious tactic of appending various clippings, reports and public
domain documents on the case to the book, seemingly against the
Of course, this whole business of Mr. Thompson making "bizarre"
threats against his own book -- indeed the editor's note itself --
could be a device concocted by the author.
He is often at his best when he deploys the apparently extraneous
detritus of the journalism process as his most expressive vehicle. One
of the high points of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," arguably his
best book, is a section introduced by an editor's note declaring that,
"in the interests of journalistic purity," the editor is presenting a
"verbatim transcript" of a cassette found among Mr. Thompson's effects
after he disappeared to escape Vegas debt collectors.
Of course that is the heart of the book -- that ostensibly artless but
suspiciously artful transcript of a conversation with a waitress in a
coffee shop on Paradise Road about the precise location of the
Indeed, one of the high points of "Songs of the Doomed" is another
alleged document, Mr. Thompson's "Secret Cable to Willie Hearst."
Subject: his expenses. According to Mr. Thompson, Mr. Hearst's
Examiner hasn't been paying them.
"I now list my Examiner expense bills on my 1040 form as
'uncollectible debts,' " Mr. Thompson writes. "And we now have a
column that will never be written from anywhere more than 2.1 miles
from the Post Office in Woody Creek," Mr. Thompson's Colorado home.
Mr. Thompson characteristically extracts a profound truth about
journalism here from what might seem on the surface to be the standard
expense-account memo whine. "The Old Man [ William Randolph Hearst Sr.
] was a monster," he writes, "but nobody ever accused him of skimming
nickels and dimes off his best writers' expense accounts -- and it
wasn't his cheapjack accountants who made him a legend in American
journalism and the highest roller of his time."
The classic Thompson pieces in "Songs of the Doomed," the kind of
stories that have made him a high-rolling legend in journalism, are
the ones in which he is out there on the highway running up expenses
in search of emblematic weirdness, "Whooping It Up With The War
Junkies" in Saigon" or pursuing "Bad Craziness in Palm Beach."
But even more interesting than such successes in the book are the
self-acknowledged failures: fragments of novels begun in the late 50's
and early 60's, before Mr. Thompson burst onto the scene with "Hell's
Angels" and his two "Fear and Loathing" books. While not a formal
autobiography, the early novels, "Prince Jellyfish" and "The Rum
Diary," do give us glimpses of the man behind the maniacal mask, the
struggling writer before he attained sacred-monster status.
In the novel fragments we see the young former serviceman, an
idealistic good ol' boy from Kentucky who reads Fitzgerald, comes to
New York full of wonder hoping to make his mark in journalism by
telling The Truth, finds himself rejected and scorned by cynical
big-city editors, gets beaten up and disillusioned, and ends up in a
kind of self-created hell as a reporter for a bowling magazine in San
Juan (don't ask). There he almost self-destructs, stewing in his own
bitterness before he catches on with The National Observer, the
short-lived Dow Jones weekly, and his work starts getting noticed.
One thing you take away from these fragments is a sense of Hunter
Thompson as far more complex and, well, sensitive than the cynical
Uncle Duke caricature of him in "Doonesbury." All that rage in his
work, all that fear and loathing, is the product, it seems, not of the
sneering cynic but of a bitterly disillusioned idealist.
Reading "Songs of the Doomed" reminds us how good he was at his best,
and how good he still can be when he's given the freedom -- and
expenses -- to hit the road, rather than stewing in his own bitterness
in Woody Creek.
Memo to Willie Hearst: Give this man back his expense account.
Ron Rosenbaum is a contributing editor of Vanity Fair and the author
of the forthcoming "Travels With Dr. Death: And Other Unusual
THE MONSTER OF WOODY CREEK
Now that he knows he's not going to jail, Hunter S. Thompson can
concentrate on his favorite activity: writing.
With drug and other charges against him dismissed, and with "Songs of
the Doomed" (originally subtitled "33 Years of No Sleep") published,
he has resumed work on a novel and may resume his column in The San
Francisco Examiner. He is also planning a book about his recent legal
"I can do a column and a novel at the same time," Mr. Thompson said in
a telephone interview from his home in Woody Creek, Colo., "but I
can't do a column and go on trial and edit my 30-year-old writing at
the same time."
Mr. Thompson's forthcoming novel, "Polo Is My Life," is touted on the
jacket of "Songs of the Doomed" as his "long-awaited sex book" -- a
delayed response, he said, to a comment made by William F. Buckley Jr.
in a review of his book "The Great Shark Hunt." "He said something
like 'Thompson never mentions sex; apparently he doesn't believe in
it.' I said, 'O.K., if you want a sex book, I'll give you one.' And
when the Monster of Gonzo says he's going to write a sex book, I guess
it's not going to be anything normal."
The inventor of the term "gonzo journalism" ("Nobody really knows what
it means, but it sounds like an epithet") said that, for him,
journalism "can be an effective political tool." "When I started
writing the column, there were three people I wanted to get: Evan
Mecham, who was then Governor of Arizona; Ed Meese, who was then
Attorney General; and George Bush. I did get two out of three, but the
big one got away."
-- PETER KEEPNEWS
The New York Times > Books > 'Hell's Angels'
January 29, 1967
Reviewed by LEO E. LITWAK
In 1965 the Attorney General of the State of California distributed a
report on the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club to law enforcement
agencies throughout the state, urging that all measures be taken to
contain the menace of this elite outlaw organization.
According to the Lynch report, the 450 members of the club had a
record of 874 felony arrests, 300 felony convictions, more than 1,000
misdemeanor convictions. The report held that there would have been an
even more extensive record, but for the Angels' practice of
The criminal actions listed by the Lynch report ranged from the
terrorization of rural communities to the theft of motorcycle parts.
Included were detailed charges of attempted murder, assault and
battery, malicious destruction of property, narcotics violations and
sexual aberrations. Investigating officers further reported that "both
club members and female associates seem badly in need of a bath."
It was a picture of alarming menace. Depraved hoodlums--unmanageable,
incorrigible, vindictive and organized--roamed the California highways
in stripped down Harley-Davidson motorcycles. They were dressed like
pirates, with full beards, a ring in one ear, shoulder-length hair, an
embroidered winged skull on the backs of their sleeveless denim
jackets, Iron Crosses on their chests, swastikas on their helmets.
These weren't the teen-agers of the usual urban gang, but adults,
ranging in age from the early 20's to the mid-40's. They could strike
anywhere in the state, and they didn't fear the police. The
underground in which they were lords seemed dark, rancid,
Hunter Thompson entered this terra incognita to become its
cartographer. For almost a year, he accompanied the Hell's Angels on
their rallies. He drank at their bars, exchanged home visits, recorded
their brutalities, viewed their sexual caprices, became converted to
their motorcycle mystique, and was so intrigued, as he puts it, that
"I was no longer sure whether I was doing research on the Hell's
Angels or being slowly absorbed by them." At the conclusion of his
year's tenure the ambiguity of his position was ended when a group of
Angels knocked him to the ground and stomped him.
Without denying that the Angels are violent, unpredictable and
dangerous, Thompson regards the Lynch report as vastly exaggerating
their menace and misrepresenting their life in crime. "There was a
certain pleasure," he writes, "in sharing the Angels' amusement at the
stir they created."
According to Thompson, the membership is in the neighborhood of 100,
not 450 as the report claimed. The failure to get convictions had less
to do with the intimidation of witnesses than with the baselessness of
the complaints. Police harassment was responsible for the large number
of misdemeanor convictions. Thompson, noting the relatively
insignificant part the Angels play in California crime statistics, is
amused at the disproportionate publicity they have secured. He argues
that publicity saved the club from extinction. Prior to the Lynch
report, club fortunes were on the wane. The Lynch report called the
Angels to the attention of national media and with the "publicity
breakthrough" they again flourished. Thompson, in a tone of exuberant
irony reminiscent of Mencken, comments, "In a nation of frightened
dullards there is a shortage of outlaws."
The underworld Thompson reveals to us is a more familiar terrain than
the shadowy nightmare world of the Lynch report. He doesn't find an
effective criminal conspiracy, nor does he see an organization ground
in Nazi ideology. He draws a picture of desperate men, without status
and-- despite their motorcycles--without mobility. He traces their
origins to the Okies and Arkies and hillbillies who migrated to
California during the Depression. He finds the literary prototype of
their ancestor in the protagonist of Nelson Algren's "A Walk on the
Wild Side," Dove Linkhorn. Most Angels are uneducated. Only one Angel
in 10 has steady work; "Motorcycle outlaws are not much in demand on
the labor market." The world demands skills they have no chance of
acquiring; "They are out of the ball game and they know it." They have
no future; "In a world increasingly geared to specialists,
technicians, and fantastically complicated machinery, the Hell's
Angels are obvious losers, and it bugs them."
They survive in various ways. According to Thompson, a few have steady
work, some pander, some steal, some live off their ladies. Some are
married and faithful to their wives. Others have a predilection for
gang love. What they share is a guiding concern to be "righteous
Angels" and a love for motorcycles. An Angel is quoted as saying, "We
don't lie to each other. Of course that don't go for outsiders because
we have to fight fire with fire."
Thompson describes the attitude of a Hell's Angel to outsiders as
follows: "To him they are all the same--the running dogs of whatever
fiendish conspiracy has plagued him all these years. He knows that
somewhere behind the moat, the Main Cop has scrawled his name on a
blackboard in the Big Briefing Room with a notation beside it: 'Get
this boy, give him no peace, he's incorrigible, like an egg-sucking
Mounted on his bike, he assumes a dignity he often lacks on foot. The
high-speed trip described by Thompson is akin to the psychedelic trip
made on LSD. The Angel has small chance of assuming the role of hero
save in a fantasy trip. "Most Angels. . . are well enough grounded in
the eternal verities to know that very few of the toads in this world
are Charming Princes in disguise. The others are simply toads, and no
matter how many magic maidens they kiss or rape, they are going to
stay that way."
Vindictive at being toads, they invert the ethic of Prince Charming.
The initiation ceremony of an Angel centers on the defiling of his new
uniform and emblem. "A bucket of dung and urine will be collected
during the meeting, then poured on the newcomer's head in a solemn
baptismal." They never wash their soiled colors. They mock the courtly
love of Prince Charming with gang love. Instead of the gentlemanly
duel they subscribe to the principle of All on One. They don't seek
justice in dispensing punishment. Rather, the response is always one
of total retaliation. "If a man gets wise, mash his face. If a woman
snubs you, rape her. This is the thinking, if not the reality, behind
the whole Angel's act."
The Angel rejects precautions, whether riding a motorcycle or entering
a brawl. "They inhabit a world in which violence is as common as
spilled beer." The Angel has been injured so often that he is
indifferent to pain. "This casual acceptance of bloodletting is a key
to the terror they inspire in the squares. . . . It is a simple matter
of having been hit or stomped often enough to forget the ugly panic
that nice people associate with a serious fight." The "reality behind
the Angel's whole act" is that most of the damage is inflicted on
themselves. An average of four die violently each year.
The easy acceptance of violence lends to Thompson's account a cartoon
quality. We observe Angels brutalizing themselves and others and
somehow we expect them to recover as quickly as the cartoon cat and
mouse. It's not that Thompson doesn't give us a vivid picture of
brawls and orgies. His language is brilliant, his eye is remarkable,
and his point of view is reminiscent of Huck Finn's. He'll look at
anything; he won't compromise his integrity. Somehow his exuberance
and innocence are unaffected by what he sees.
Dirty Ed is laid flat by a two-foot lead pipe, but he gets up and
drives away on his motorcycle. Terry the Tramp is stomped by the
Diablos, a rival gang, but he still manages to make the Labor Day run.
We see a mass assault on a compliant lady during a party; the dancing
continues. A 7- foot Negro invades the Angel clubroom. He is
overwhelmed, cast down, kicked in the face and belly, dumped in the
parking lot. He gets up and walks to the ambulance. During Thompson's
last interview with a group of Angels, he is suddenly struck from
behind, then from all sides. He is knocked down and stomped. He is
almost done in by a "vicious swine trying to get at me with the stone
held in a two-handed Godzilla grip." He gets to a hospital unaided.
Because the Hell's Angels have lacked a focus for their hostility,
their violence has been undirected. However, those who observe the
trappings--the swastikas and Iron Crosses--have wondered if there
might not be in them the raw material out of which Brown Shirts are
made. This suspicion seemed confirmed when, in the fall of 1965, a
group of Hell's Angels attacked an anti-war rally at the
Oakland-Berkeley boundary, an assault which put them into direct
conflict with the radical left in neighboring Berkeley.
"The attack was an awful shock to those who had seen the Hell's Angels
as pioneers of the human spirit, but to anyone who knew them it was
entirely logical. The Angels' collective viewpoint has always been
fascistic. They insist and seem to believe that their swastika fetish
is no more than an anti-social joke, a guaranteed gimmick to bug the
squares, the taxpayers--all those they spitefully refer to as
'citizens.' . . . If they wanted to be artful about bugging the
squares they would drop the swastika and decorate their bikes with the
hammer and sickle. That would really raise hell on the freeways. . .
hundreds of Communist thugs roaming the countryside on big
motorcycles, looking for trouble."
However, the threat to disrupt all future anti-war demonstrations
didn't materialize. A visit from poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist Ken
Kesey served to pacify the Angels and there has been no recent sign of
Hunter Thompson has presented us with a close view of a world most of
us would never dare encounter, yet one with which we should be
familiar. He has brought on stage men who have lost all options and
are not reconciled to the loss. They have great resources for violence
which doesn't as yet have any effective focus. Thompson suggests that
these few Angels are but the vanguard of a growing army of
disappropriated, disaffiliated and desperate men. There's always the
risk that somehow they may force the wrong options into being.
The New York Times > Books > First Chapter: 'The Rum Diary'
By HUNTER S. THOMPSON
Published: November 28, 1998
My apartment in New York was on Perry Street, a five minute walk from
the White Horse. I often drank there, but I was never accepted because
I wore a tie. The real people wanted no part of me.
I did some drinking there on the night I left for San Juan. Phil
Rollins, who'd worked with me, was paying for the ale, and I was
swilling it down, trying to get drunk enough to sleep on the plane.
Art Millick, the most vicious cab driver in New York, was there. So
was Duke Peterson, who had just come back from the Virgin Islands. I
recall Peterson giving me a list of people to look up when I got to
St. Thomas, but I lost the list and never met any of them.
It was a rotten night in the middle of January, but I wore a light
cord coat. Everyone else had on heavy jackets and flannel suits. The
last thing I remember is standing on the dirty bricks of Hudson
Street, shaking hands with Rollins and cursing the freezing wind that
blew in off the river. Then I got in Millick's cab and slept all the
way to the airport.
I was late and there was a line at the reservations desk. I fell in
behind fifteen or so Puerto Ricans and one small blonde girl a few
places ahead of me. I pegged her for a tourist, a wild young secretary
going down to the Caribbean for a two week romp. She had a fine little
body and an impatient way of standing that indicated a mass of
stored-up energy. I watched her intently, smiling, feeling the ale in
my veins, waiting for her to turn around for a swift contact with the
She got her ticket and walked away toward the plane. There were still
three Puerto Ricans in front of me. Two of them did their business and
passed on, but the third was stymied by the clerk's refusal to let him
carry a huge cardboard box on the plane as hand baggage. I gritted my
teeth as they argued.
Finally I broke in. "Hey!" I shouted. "What the hell is this? I have
to get on that plane!"
The clerk looked up, disregarding the shouts of the little man in
front of me. "What's your name?"
I told him, got my ticket, and bolted for the gate. When I got to the
plane I had to shove past five or six people waiting to board. I
showed my ticket to the grumbling stewardess and stepped inside to
scan the seats on both sides of the aisle.
Not a blonde head anywhere. I hurried up to the front, thinking that
she might be so small that her head wouldn't show over the back seat.
But she wasn't on the plane and by this time there were only two
double seats left. I fell into one on the aisle and put my typewriter
on the one next to the window. They were starting the engines when I
looked out and saw her coming across the runway, waving at the
stewardess who was about to close the door.
"Wait a minute!" I shouted. "Another passenger!" I watched until she
reached the bottom of the steps. Then I turned around to smile as she
came on. I was reaching for my typewriter, thinking to put it on the
floor, when an old man shoved in front of me and sat down in the seat
I was saving.
"This seat's taken," I said quickly, grabbing him by the arm.
He jerked away and snarled something in Spanish, turning his head
toward the window.
I grabbed him again. "Get up," I said angrily.
He started to yell just as the girl went by and stopped a few feet up
the aisle, looking around for a seat. "Here's one," I said, giving the
old man a savage jerk. Before she could turn around the stewardess was
on me, pulling at my arm.
"He sat on my typewriter," I explained, helplessly watching the girl
find a seat far up at the front of the plane.
The stewardess patted the old man's shoulder and eased him back to the
seat. "What kind of a bully are you?" she asked me. "I should put you
I grumbled and slumped back in the seat. The old man stared straight
ahead until we got off the ground. "You rotten old bastard," I mumbled
He didn't even blink, and finally I shut my eyes and tried to sleep.
Now and then I would glance up at the blonde head at the front of the
plane. Then they turned out the lights and I couldn't see anything.
It was dawn when I woke up. The old man was still asleep and I leaned
across him to look out the window. Several thousand feet below us the
ocean was dark blue and calm as a lake. Up ahead I saw an island,
bright green in the early morning sun. There were beaches along the
edge of it, and brown swamps further inland. The plane started down
and the stewardess announced that we should all buckle our safety
Moments later we swept in over acres of palm trees and taxied to a
halt in front of the big terminal. I decided to stay in my seat until
the girl came past, then get up and walk with her across the runway.
Since we were the only white people on the plane, it would seem quite
The others were standing now, laughing and jabbering as they waited
for the stewardess to open the door. Suddenly the old man jumped up
and tried to scramble over me like a dog. Without thinking, I slammed
him back against the window, causing a thump that silenced the crowd.
The man appeared to be sick and tried to scramble past me again,
shouting hysterically in Spanish.
"You crazy old bastard!" I yelled, shoving him back with one hand and
reaching for my typewriter with the other. The door was open now and
they were filing out. The girl came past me and I tried to smile at
her, keeping the old man pinned against the window until I could back
into the aisle. He was raising so much hell, shouting and waving his
arms, that I was tempted to belt him in the throat to calm him down.
Then the stewardess arrived, followed by the co-pilot, who demanded to
know what I thought I was doing.
"He's been beating that old man ever since we left New York," said the
stewardess. "He must be a sadist."
They kept me there for ten minutes and at first I thought they meant
to have me arrested. I tried to explain, but I was so tired and
confused that I couldn't think what I was saying. When they finally
let me go I slunk off the plane like a criminal, squinting and
sweating in the sun as I crossed the runway to the baggage room.
It was crowded with Puerto Ricans and the girl was nowhere in sight.
There was not much hope of finding her now and I was not optimistic
about what might happen if I did. Few girls look with favor on a man
of my stripe, a brutalizer of old people. I remembered the expression
on her face when she saw me with the old man pinned against the
window. It was almost too much to overcome. I decided to get some
breakfast and pick up my baggage later on.
The airport in San Juan is a fine, modern thing, full of bright colors
and suntanned people and Latin rhythms blaring from speakers hung on
naked girders above the lobby. I walked up a long ramp, carrying my
topcoat and my typewriter in one hand, and a small leather bag in the
other. The signs led me up another ramp and finally to the coffee
shop. As I went in I saw myself in a mirror, looking dirty and
disreputable, a pale vagrant with red eyes.
On top of my slovenly appearance, I stank of ale. It hung in my
stomach like a lump of rancid milk. I tried not to breathe on anyone
as I sat down at the counter and ordered sliced pineapple.
Outside, the runway glistened in the early sun. Beyond it a thick palm
jungle stood between me and the ocean. Several miles out at sea a
sailboat moved slowly across the horizon. I stared for several moments
and fell into a trance. It looked peaceful out there, peaceful and
hot. I wanted to go into the palms and sleep, take a few chunks of
pineapple and wander into the jungle to pass out.
Instead, I ordered more coffee and looked again at the cable that had
come with my plane ticket. It said I had reservations at the Condado
It was not yet seven o'clock, but the coffee shop was crowded. Groups
of men sat at tables beside the long window, sipping a milky brew and
talking energetically. A few wore suits, but most of them had on what
appeared to be the uniform of the day--thick-rimmed sunglasses, shiny
dark pants and white shirts with short sleeves and ties.
I caught snatches of conversation here and there: "... no such thing
as cheap beach-front anymore ... yeah, but this ain't Montego,
gentlemen ... don't worry, he has plenty, and all we need is ... sewed
up, but we gotta move quick before Castro and that crowd jumps in with
After ten minutes of half-hearted listening I suspected I was in a den
of hustlers. Most of them seemed to be waiting for the seven-thirty
flight from Miami, which--from what I gathered of the
conversations--would be bulging at the seams with architects,
strip-men, consultants and Sicilians fleeing Cuba.
Their voices set my teeth on edge. I have no valid complaint against
hustlers, no rational bitch, but the act of selling is repulsive to
me. I harbor a secret urge to whack a salesman in the face, crack his
teeth and put red bumps around his eyes.
Once I was conscious of the talk I couldn't hear anything else. It
shattered my feeling of laziness and finally annoyed me so much that I
sucked down the rest of my coffee and hurried out of the place.
The baggage room was empty. I found my two duffel bags and had a
porter carry them out to the cab. All the way through the lobby he
favored me with a steady grin and kept saying: "Si, Puerto Rico esta
bueno ... ah, si, muy bueno ... mucho ha-ha, si ..."
In the cab I leaned back and lit a small cigar I'd bought in the
coffee shop. I was feeling better now, warm and sleepy and absolutely
free. With the palms zipping past and the big sun burning down on the
road ahead, I had a flash of something I hadn't fell since my first
months in Europe--a mixture of ignorance and a loose, "what the hell"
kind of confidence that comes on a man when the wind picks up and he
begins to move in a hard straight line toward an unknown horizon.
We were speeding along a four-lane highway. Stretching off on both
sides was a vast complex of yellow housing developments, laced with
tall cyclone fences. Moments later we passed what looked like a new
subdivision, full of identical pink and blue houses. There was a
billboard at the entrance, announcing to all travelers that they were
passing the El Jippo Urbanizacion. A few yards from the billboard was
a tiny shack made of palm fronds and tin scraps, and beside it was a
hand-painted sign saying "Coco Frio." Inside, a boy of about thirteen
leaned on his counter and stared out at the passing cars.
Arriving half-drunk in a foreign place is hard on the nerves. You have
a feeling that something is wrong, that you can't get a grip. I had
this feeling, and when I got to the hotel I went straight to bed.
It was four-thirty when I woke up, hungry and dirty and not at all
sure where I was. I walked out on my balcony and stared down at the
beach. Below me, a crowd of women, children and potbellied men were
splashing around in the surf. To my right was another hotel, and then
another, each with its own crowded beach.
I took a shower, then went downstairs to the open-air lobby. The
restaurant was closed, so I tried the bar. It showed every sign of
having been flown down intact from a Catskill mountain resort. I sat
there for two hours, drinking, eating peanuts and staring out at the
ocean. There were roughly a dozen people in the place. The men looked
like sick Mexicans, with thin little mustaches and silk suits that
glistened like plastic. Most of the women were Americans, a
brittle-looking lot, none of them young, all wearing sleeveless
cocktail dresses that fit like rubber sacks.
I felt like something that had washed up on the beach. My wrinkled
cord coat was five years old and frayed at the neck, my pants had no
creases and, although it had never occurred to me to wear a tie, I was
obviously out of place without one. Rather than seem like a pretender,
I gave up on rum and ordered a beer. The bartender eyed me sullenly
and I knew the reason why--I was wearing nothing that glistened. No
doubt it was the mark of a bad apple. In order to make a go of it
here, I would have to get some dazzling clothes.
At six-thirty I left the bar and walked outside. It was getting dark
and the big Avenida looked cool and graceful. On the other side were
homes that once looked out on the beach. Now they looked out on hotels
and most of them had retreated behind tall hedges and walls that cut
them off from the street. Here and there I could see a patio or a
screen porch where people sat beneath fans and drank rum. Somewhere up
the street I heard bells, the sleepy tinkling of Brahms' Lullaby.
I walked a block or so, trying to get the feel of the place, and the
bells kept coming closer. Soon an ice-cream truck appeared, moving
slowly down the middle of the street. On its roof was a giant
popsicle, flashing on and off with red neon explosions that lit up the
whole area. From somewhere in its bowels came the clanging of Mr.
Brahms' tune. As it passed me, the driver grinned happily and blew his
I immediately hailed a cab, telling the man to take me to the middle
of town. Old San Juan is an island, connected to the mainland by
several causeways. We crossed on the one that comes in from Condado.
Dozens of Puerto Ricans stood along the rails, fishing in the shallow
lagoon, and off to my right was a huge white shape beneath a neon sign
that said Caribe Hilton. This, I knew, was the cornerstone of The
Boom. Conrad had come in like Jesus and all the fish had followed.
Before Hilton there was nothing; now the sky was the limit. We passed
a deserted stadium and soon we were on a boulevard that ran along a
cliff. On one side was the dark Atlantic, and, on the other, across
the narrow city, were thousands of colored lights on cruise ships tied
up at the waterfront. We turned off the boulevard and stopped at a
place the driver said was Plaza Colon. The fare was a dollar-thirty
and I gave him two bills.
He looked at the money and shook his head.
"What's wrong?" I said.
He shrugged. "No change, senor."
I felt in my pocket--nothing but a nickel. I knew he was lying, but I
didn't feel like taking the trouble to get a dollar changed. "You
goddamn thief," I said, tossing the bills in his lap. He shrugged
again and drove off.
The Plaza Colon was a hub for several narrow streets. The buildings
were jammed together, two and three stories high, with balconies that
hung out over the street. The air was hot, and a smell of sweat and
garbage rode on the faint breeze. A chatter of music and voices came
from open windows. The sidewalks were so narrow that it was an effort
to stay out of the gutter, and fruit vendors blocked the streets with
wooden carts, selling peeled oranges for a nickel each.
I walked for thirty minutes, looking into windows of stores that sold
"Ivy Liga" clothes, peering into foul bars full of whores and sailors,
dodging people on the sidewalks, thinking I would collapse at any
moment if I didn't find a restaurant.
Finally I gave up. There seemed to be no restaurants in the Old City.
The only thing I saw was called the New York Diner, and it was closed.
In desperation, I hailed a cab and told him to take me to the Daily
He stared at me.
"The newspaper!" I shouted, slamming the door as I got in.
"Ah, si," he murmured. "El Diario, si."
"No, goddamnit," I said. The Daily News--the American newspaper--El
He had never heard of it, so we drove back to Plaza Colon, where I
leaned out the window and asked a cop. He didn't know either, but
finally a man came over from the bus stop and told us where it was.
We drove down a cobblestone hill toward the waterfront. There was no
sign of a newspaper, and I suspected he was bringing me down here to
get rid of me. We turned a corner and he suddenly hit his brakes. Just
ahead of us was some kind of a gang-fight, a shouting mob, trying to
enter an old greenish building that looked like a warehouse.
"Go on," I said to the driver. "We can get by."
He mumbled and shook his head.
I banged my list on the back of the seat. "Get going! No move--no
He mumbled again, but shifted into first and angled toward the far
side of the street, putting as much distance as possible between us
and the fight. He stopped as we came abreast of the building and I saw
that it was a gang of about twenty Puerto Ricans, attacking a tall
American in a tan suit. He was standing on the steps, swinging a big
wooden sign like a baseball bat.
"You rotten little punks!" he yelled. There was a flurry of movement
and I heard the sound of thumping and shouting. One of the attackers
fell down in the street with blood on his face. The large fellow
backed toward the door, waving the sign in front of him. Two men tried
to grab it and he whacked one of them in the chest, knocking him down
the steps. The others stood away, yelling and shaking their fists. He
snarled back at them: "Here it is, punks--come get it!"
Nobody moved. He waited a moment, then lifted the sign over his
shoulder and threw it into their midst. It hit one man in the stomach,
driving him back on the others. I heard a burst of laughter, then he
disappeared into the building.
"Okay," I said, turning back to the driver. "That's it--let's go."
He shook his head and pointed at the building, then at me. "Si, esta
News." He nodded, then pointed again at the building. "Si," he said
It dawned on me that we were sitting in front of the Daily News--my
new home. I took one look at the dirty mob between me and the door,
and decided to go back to the hotel. Just then I heard another
commotion. A Volkswagen pulled up behind us and three cops got out,
waving long billyclubs and yelling in Spanish. Some of the mob ran,
but others stayed to argue. I watched for a moment, then gave the
driver a dollar and ran into the building.
A sign said the News editorial office was on the second floor. I took
an elevator, half expecting to find myself lifted into the midst of
more violence. But the door opened on a dark hall, and a little to my
left I heard the noise of the city room.
The moment I got inside I felt better. There was a friendly messiness
about the place, a steady clatter of typewriters and wire machines,
even the smell was familiar. The room was so big that it looked empty,
although I could see at least ten people. The only one not working was
a small, black-haired man at a desk beside the door. He was tilted
back in a chair, staring at the ceiling.
The New York Times > Books > On the Trail Again
By ESTHER B. FEIN
Published: December 2, 1992
It may sound hard to believe, but Hunter S. Thompson, the cynical,
drug-infused, strange, gonzo guru and expert on self-medication,
actually sounded giddy, like a pee-wee football player whose team had
won its first game.
"You can beat City Hall," he said in a telephone interview from his
home in Woody Creek, Colo., where he is still obviously high
(emotionally) over Bill Clinton's defeat of George Bush in the
"It was fun, real fun," he said of the campaign and the victory, about
which he is writing in his next book, "Better Than Sex: Fear and
Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1992," due in the spring from Random
House. "When I covered the campaign trail in '72, that was fun. I did
it again in '76 with Jimmy Carter, but that was not fun. I tried to
stay out of it this time, avoid it. Stay away. Made a conscious
decision not to get involved. But it crept into my life like kudzu
vine. Just took over." Original 'Fear' Still Popular
Mr. Thompson (who prefers the honorific Dr., although no one is sure
what he is doctor of) gave a wild and generational spin to the
traditional campaign book with his classic "Fear and Loathing on the
Campaign Trail '72" (Warner Books, 1974), his psychedelic and
psychotropic record of George S. McGovern's failed run against Richard
M. Nixon for the Presidency.
That book continues to be very popular, and since 1985, when Random
House Inc. began keeping computerized records, it has sold more than
700,000 copies in its Ballantine paperback edition, said David
Rosenthal, Mr. Thompson's editor at the Random House adult trade
division. The book has sold more than 1.5 million copies overall in
paperback and hard cover.
Random House has scheduled a 100,000-copy first printing for the new
book (for which the company paid in the mid-six figures, people
involved in the negotiations said).
His new book will not be so much a chronicle as the original, Mr.
Thompson said. He admits having become intensely involved with the
Clinton staff. "I was down there for election night, day week, taking
care of business," he said, his voice a raspy trail. "I'm a junkie --
for campaigns. Even as I tried to stay away to write my novel -- it's
about sex; I'm halfway through it -- I knew it would happen." There's
He describes the book as a collection of documents, memos,
communications, and notes between himself and members of the Clinton
staff. And he is completely open about the book's partisan nature.
He said he was planning to move to Paraguay if Mr. Bush had been
re-elected. "It's a weird little place," said Mr. Thompson, who is 54
years old. "It's about as far away from anything as you can imagine.
Old Nazis go there. It's 50, maybe 100 years behind everything."
Four more years of a Bush Administration, he said, "would have pretty
much closed down this generation, my generation, in politics."
He said he felt "vaguely responsible" for Mr. Clinton's victory. "I
made a very strong statement urging people to aggressively vote for
him, and then I got deeply involved with him and his staff people,"
Mr. Thompson said. "It would have been humiliating to lose against
that creature again." 3 on Thompson
Mr. Thompson has apparently become an official totem of his
generation: three biographies of him are planned for early next year.
And in case there was any doubt what kind of impression Mr. Thompson
has left on the American psyche, one need only observe the subtitles
of the three impending books.
"Fear and Loathing: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Hunter S.
Thompson," by Paul Perry, is to be published by Thunder's Mouth Press
in January. A month later, E. P. Dutton is to release "Hunter: The
Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S. Thompson," by E. Jean Carroll.
For April, Hyperion has planned "When the Going Gets Weird: The
Twisted Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson," by Peter Whitmer.
When Mr. Thompson learned that three biographies about him were in the
works, he responded, "Man, even Faulkner didn't have that many books
written about him before he died." Ready for Expansion
Poets and Writers Inc., the only national nonprofit literary
organization that both acts as a clearinghouse for information and
offers financial support for fiction writers and poets, has a lot to
celebrate at its annual fund-raising dinner-dance, tomorrow night at
the University Club in Manhattan.
The group, founded in 1970, recently announced that it received a $1
million grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund to expand its
readings and workshops program to nine Midwestern states beginning
The program, which has been active in New York State for 22 years and
in California since 1989, supports poets, fiction writers and literary
performance artists by matching the usually modest fees they receive
for readings and workshops sponsored by a variety of organizations.
The grant will allow Poets and Writers to finance similar programs in
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, North Dakota,
South Dakota and Wisconsin, in addition to maintaining its activities
in New York and California.
Among the writers helped by Poets and Writers in the early days of
their careers are Erica Jong, Terry McMillan and Tama Janowitz.
Poets and Writers sponsors other programs to help fledgling fiction
writers and poets. They include the publications program, which
publishes "A Directory of American Poets and Fiction Writers,"
"Literary Agents: A Writer's Guide" and a bimonthly magazine, Poets &
Writers; the information center, which answers queries by telephone
and letter from authors about literary and financial subjects, and the
writers' exchange, which brings four promising poets and fiction
writers to New York each year to introduce them to publishers,
editors, agents and new audiences.
Washington Post: Hunter S. Thompson Dies at 67
'Fear and Loathing' Writer Apparently Committed Suicide
By Martin Weil and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 21, 2005; Page A04
Hunter S. Thompson, whose life and writing, vivid and quirky
reflections of each other, made him one of the principal symbols of
the American counterculture, shot and killed himself yesterday at his
home near Aspen.
Thompson, 67, was celebrated as a practitioner of an outraged form of
personal journalism, offering off-beat ideas and observations in a
style that was wildly and vividly his own and that brought him
cult-like status and widespread recognition.
His books on politics and society were regarded as groundbreaking
among journalists and other students of current affairs in their
irreverence and often angry insights.
Among those for which he was famed are "Fear and Loathing in Las
Vegas" and "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail." He rode for
almost a year with the Hell's Angels motorcycle outfit for research on
another book. In all he wrote at least a dozen.
Jonathan Yardley, writing last year in The Washington Post, called him
"a genuinely unique figure in American journalism," citing his comic
writing and social criticism.
Thompson, often seen wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap and with a
cigarette dangling from his lips, showed up frequently as Uncle Duke
in "Doonesbury," the Garry Trudeau comic strip.
Part of what created his image of outlaw independence and defiance of
norms and conventions was his claim to intimate familiarity with a
variety of drugs and mind altering chemicals.
"I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone . .
. but they've always worked for me," he once wrote.
Pitkin County, Colo., Sheriff Bob Braudis said in a brief telephone
interview that Thompson was alone in his kitchen of his Woody Creek
home when he shot himself with a handgun. His wife was at a gym,
The sheriff said Thompson had seemed "still on top of his game."
But Braudis's wife, Louisa Davidson, said "he was not going to age
gracefully, he was going to go out with a bang. He was tormented."
Thompson was known for a style that he described as "gonzo
journalism," a form of "new journalism." It was based on the idea that
fidelity to fact did not always blaze the way to truth.
Instead, "gonzo journalism" and its practitioners suggested that a
deeper truth could be found in the ambiguous zones between fact and
"Objective journalism is one of the main reasons that American
politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long," Thompson told
interviewers in a characteristic pronouncement on both institutions.
"You can't be objective about Nixon," he said. "How can you be
objective about Clinton?"
Among the writers and works he cited as major influences were most of
the classic American authors, including Mark Twain and Ernest
Hemingway, many or most read early in life. He also named the Biblical
book of Revelation.
He was born in Louisville, and after a wild youth entered the Air
Force, according to one account, as part of a parole agreement.
His writing career is traced to the 1950s, when he contributed to a
base newspaper while in the Air Force.
He later wrote unpublished fiction, reported for the mainstream media
from Latin America, and made his name with his Hell's Angels article
in Harper's magazine.
His star rose while he worked for Rolling Stone magazine, where the
"Fear and Loathing" books first appeared.
His beat, he once said was "the death of the American dream."
Interviewers later suggested to him that he in a way embodied that
dream. They said he exploded in profanity, but conceded that perhaps
A radical journalist reflects on the legacy of Hunter Thompson
A radical journalist reflects on the legacy of Hunter Thompson
- By JOHN ROGERS, Associated Press Writer
Monday, February 21, 2005
(02-21) 00:01 PST Los Angeles (AP) --
Paul Krassner recalls warmly his talking to Hunter S. Thompson about
the gonzo journalist's plans to run for sheriff of Pitkin County,
Colo., on the Freak Power ticket in 1970.
The co-founder of the Youth International (YIPPIE) party wasn't so
much interested in seeing Thompson elected as he was in having him
send back dispatches from the campaign trail for Krassner's seminal
new-left magazine, The Realist.
"He was really broke and I gave him a $200 advance," Krassner
recalled. "He never did write about the election for The Realist, but
then Rolling Stone magazine asked him to do an article and he
Thirty-five years later, Krassner is certain Thompson made the right
decision. He lost that election, but went on to become one of the most
famous writers of his time.
"I think that was the big turning point for him, that article in
Rolling Stone," Krassner told The Associated Press from his Southern
California home on Sunday night. "And he was very honorable, too. He
even returned the $200."
Thompson, who shot himself to death Sunday at his Colorado home,
wasn't always that responsible, according to Krassner.
The author of such books as "Hells Angels" and "Fear and Loathing in
Las Vegas" is credited with pioneering New Journalism -- or, as he
dubbed it, "gonzo journalism" -- in which the writer makes himself an
essential part of the story. In Thompson's case, the writer often
portrayed himself as wildly intoxicated on drugs or alcohol (or both)
as he reported on such historic figures as Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon
and Bill Clinton.
"It was hard to say sometimes whether he was being provocative for its
own sake or if he was just being drunk and stoned and irresponsible,"
Krassner quipped. "But every editor that I know, myself included, was
willing to accept a certain prima donna journalism in the demands he
would make to cover a particular story -- demanding that we send him
to Hawaii with three beautiful maidens he could dictate his stories
to, for example. They were willing to risk all of his irresponsible
behavior in order to share his talent with their readers."
Thompson was 67.
"He may have died relatively young, but he made up for it in quality,
if not quantity, of years," Krassner said.
Los Angeles Times: 'Gonzo' Journalist Thompson Kills Self
Counterculture writer who chronicled the Nixon years dies of a gunshot wound at
By David Kelly
Times Staff Writer
February 21, 2005
DENVER -- Hunter S. Thompson, the counterculture literary figure who
rode with the Hells Angels, famously chronicled the Nixon-McGovern
presidential race and coined the term "gonzo journalism," committed
suicide Sunday night at his secluded home outside Aspen, Colo., his
son said. Thompson was 67.
"Hunter Thompson took his life with a gunshot to the head at his
fortified compound in Woody Creek," Juan Thompson said in a statement.
"Hunter prized his privacy and we ask his friends and admirers to
respect that privacy as well as that of his family."
Pitkin County sheriff's officials confirmed Sunday that Thompson died
of a gunshot wound, saying they received a call from his home about 6
Friends and neighbors said late Sunday that they were shocked by
Thompson's suicide, but knew he had his demons.
"We don't know anything about the circumstances surrounding his death,
but he was a volatile person," said Troy Hooper, associate editor of
the Aspen Daily News and a longtime friend of the writer. "I was at
his house last week and there was nothing in his behavior that was
different. He was no more distraught than usual; he was often either
up or down."
Hooper said Thompson had been in pain from back surgery and an
artificial hip. And he had broken his leg on a recent trip to Hawaii.
"He said he was executing a hairpin turn at the minibar when he broke
it," said Hooper, who said he was acting as the family's spokesman.
"Hunter was one of the literary giants of the 20th century. We are all
Thompson, whose works included "Hell's Angels," "Fear and Loathing in
Las Vegas" and "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72," which
chronicled the race between Richard Nixon and George McGovern, was a
well-known firearms aficionado who took frequent target practice in
his backyard. In 2000, he slightly wounded an assistant while trying
to shoot a bear on his property.
Woody Creek, a small town about eight miles northwest of Aspen, is
home to a number of celebrities including the TV actor Don Johnson and
John Oates of the singing duo Hall and Oates. Thompson spent much of
his time socializing at the Woody Creek Tavern.
"We're letting it rest for tonight," said a woman who answered the
phone Sunday at the tavern, where Thompson ate lunch most days.
Buddy Ortega, 62, a real estate broker and ski instructor, met
Thompson in the 1960s at a party. The pair socialized over the years,
and Ortega supported Thompson's quixotic run for sheriff -- though he
figured it was a longshot when he saw campaign posters with pictures
of hallucinogenic peyote buds.
In recent years, Ortega said, the hard-living journalist had become
more reclusive, hanging out at the home he called his "compound" and
taking advantage of open space to fire his automatic weapons.
But Ortega hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary recently. He said
he last saw Thompson two days ago at Woody Creek's post office, and
everything seemed fine.
"We all have demons," Ortega said. "Who knows, man? You sit down, have
a few cocktails or maybe nothing -- maybe you have a cup of green tea
-- and maybe nothing seems right. He was a little more complex than
most of us, so maybe some of those demons surfaced and he didn't like
what he saw."
Hunter Stockton Thompson was born July 18, 1937, in Louisville, Ky.
His father, Jack, was an insurance agent.
In 1963, he married Sandra Dawn, the mother of his son Juan.
He served two years in the Air Force in Florida, where he was a
newspaper sports editor. He was the Caribbean correspondent for the
New York Herald Tribune in 1959, and worked as a South American
correspondent for the New York-based National Observer from 1961 to
But he earned his outsized reputation for his work in Rolling Stone
Thompson was the flip side of American novelist Tom Wolfe. Both
established themselves as brand names in the literary journalism
movement that sought to capture the strife and youthful boldness of
the 1960s. Thompson was the wild man who embraced the chaos, while
Wolfe was often portrayed as the buttoned-down neutral observer.
Thompson called what he did "gonzo journalism," differentiating it
from mainstream reporting by aggressively injecting himself into the
story and giving up any pretense of objectivity.
Thompson's style of journalism -- well-armed, well-drugged and wildly
iconoclastic -- made him a counterculture figure of rare longevity.
"I hate to advocate weird chemicals, alcohol, violence or insanity to
anyone ... but they've always worked for me," Thompson said.
His irascible and volatile persona seemed to outsize the books and
essays he wrote. Twice his life was brought to the screen -- once by
Bill Murray in 1980's "Where the Buffalo Roam," and again in the 1998
Terry Gilliam film "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," in which Johnny
Depp took his turn as Thompson. Both actors remained friends with
Thompson also triumphed on the comics page -- ensuring that the most
maverick journalist of his generation could get a spot in the
mainstream newspapers that would never dare print his profanity-laced
essays. The character of "Uncle" Duke in the "Doonesbury" strip has
for decades been a thinly disguised and always mercenary caricature of
William McKeen, a University of Florida professor who wrote the 1991
critical biography "Hunter S. Thompson," kept in touch with the
"He had clearly been amid a great renaissance in recent years where
the public had rediscovered his value and their interest in him,"
McKeen said Sunday night. "The news is stunning."
Times staff writers Samantha Bonar, Geoff Boucher, Megan Garvey,
Ashley Powers and Richard Fausset contributed to this report.
"Gonzo" writing had solid foundation
Article Published: Monday, February 21, 2005
By Tom Walker
Denver Post Staff writer
Never the shrinking violet, Hunter S. Thompson had a long and storied
career in writing. He began with a sportswriting gig while in the Air
Force in the 1950s, worked for Rolling Stone and other magazines and
published several books and many articles.
He is credited with creating his own brand of writing, called gonzo,
which many say is an extension of the so-called New Journalism
practiced by the likes of Lester Bangs, Tom Wolfe and George Plimpton.
There are many definitions of just what gonzo journalism is, but most
agree that objectivity is frowned upon and that the gonzo writer
usually is under the influence of vast amounts of drugs and alcohol.
But Thompson's early work, particularly in a compilation of his works
called "The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales From a Strange Time"
published in 1979, showed a writer in command of his craft without the
excesses of his later gonzo work.
Thompson's first published book was "Hell's Angels: A Strange and
Terrible Saga," which he wrote after spending a year undercover with
the bikers. Written in something of a creative nonfiction style, the
book detailed the gang's violent and drug-laden road trips through
Northern California towns.
By the time he released "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage
Journey to the Heart of the American Dream" in 1971, the die was cast.
Thompson had become the irreverent, insightful observer of life in
In 1972, Rolling Stone sent Thompson on the campaign trail with
President Nixon and his opponent, Sen. George McGovern. The result was
"Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72." Thompson, who was a
self-professed political junkie, told his readers of the lies and
truths he learned on the campaigns, all in his gonzo style.
From the late 1970s into the early 1990s, Thompson wrote a series of
articles, essays and fiction that he called the "Gonzo Papers." They
are collected in four volumes: "The Great Shark Hunt" (1979);
"Generation of Swine: Tales of Decadence and Degradation in the
Eighties" (1988); "Songs of the Doomed: More Notes on the Death of the
American Dream" (1990); and "Better Than Sex: Trapped Like a Rat in
Mr. Bill's Neighborhood" (1994).
Thompson released an autobiography, "Kingdom of Fear," in 2003.
Tom Wolfe on Hunter S. Thompson
As Gonzo in Life as in His Work
Hunter S. Thompson died as he lived.
BY TOM WOLFE
Tuesday, February 22, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST
Hunter S. Thompson was one of those rare writers who come as
advertised. The Addams-family eyebrows in Stephen King's book jacket
photos combined with the heeby-jeeby horrors of his stories always
made me think of Dracula. When I finally met Mr. King, he was in Miami
playing, along with Amy Tan, in a jook-house band called the
Remainders. He was Sunshine itself, a laugh and a half, the very
picture of innocent fun, a Count Dracula who in real life was Peter
Pan. Carl Hiaasen, the genius who has written such zany antic novels
as "Striptease," "Sick Puppy," and "Skinny Dip" is in person as
intelligent, thoughtful, sober, courteous, even courtly, a Southern
gentleman as you could ask for (and I ask for them all the time and
never find them). But the gonzo--Hunter's coinage--madness of Hunter
Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1971) and his Rolling
Stone classics such as "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved"
(1970) was what you got in the flesh too. You didn't have lunch or
dinner with Hunter Thompson. You attended an event at mealtime.
I had never met Hunter when the book that established him as a
literary figure, "The Hell's Angels, a Strange and Terrible Saga," was
published in 1967. It was brilliant investigative journalism of the
hazardous sort, written in a style and a voice no one had ever seen or
heard before. The book revealed that he had been present at a party
for the Hell's Angels given by Ken Kesey and his hippie--at the time
the term was not "hippie' but "acid-head"--commune, the Merry
Pranksters. The party would be a key scene in a book I was writing,
(The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test). I cold-called Hunter in California,
and he generously gave me not only his recollections but also the
audiotapes he had recorded at that first famous alliance of the
hippies and "outlaw" motorcycle gangs, a strange and terrible saga in
itself, culminating in the Rolling Stones band hiring the Angels as
security guards for a concert in Altamont, Calif., and the "security
guards" beating a spectator to death with pool cues.
By way of a thank you for his help, I invited Hunter to lunch the next
time he was in New York. It was one bright spring day in 1969. He
proved to be one of those tall, rawboned, rangy young men with
alarmingly bright eyes, who more than any other sort of human, in my
experience, are prone to manic explosions. Hunter didn't so much have
a conversation with you as speak in explosive salvos of words on a
We were walking along West 46th Street toward a restaurant, The
Brazilian Coffee House, when we passed Goldberg Marine Supply. Hunter
stopped, ducked into the store and emerged holding a tiny brown paper
bag. A sixth sense, probably activated by the alarming eyes and the
six-inch rise and fall of his Adam's apple, told me not to ask what
was inside. In the restaurant he kept it on top of the table as we
ate. Finally, the fool in me became so curious, he had to go and ask,
"What's in the bag, Hunter?"
"I've got something in there that would clear out this restaurant in
20 seconds," said Hunter. He began opening the bag. His eyes had
rheostated up to 300 watts. "No, never mind," I said. "I believe you!
Show me later!" From the bag he produced what looked like a small
travel-size can of shaving foam, uncapped the top and pressed down on
it. There ensued the most violently brain-piercing sound I had ever
heard. It didn't clear out The Brazilian Coffee House. It froze it.
The place became so quiet, you could hear an old-fashioned timer clock
ticking in the kitchen. Chunks of churasco gaucho remained impaled on
forks in mid-air. A bartender mixing a sidecar became a statue holding
a shaker with both hands just below his chin. Hunter was slipping the
little can back into the paper bag. It was a marine distress signaling
device, audible for 20 miles over water.
The next time I saw Hunter was in June of 1976 at the Aspen Design
Conference in Aspen, Colo. By now Hunter had bought a large farm near
Aspen where he seemed to raise mainly vicious dogs and deadly weapons,
such as the .357 magnum. He publicized them constantly as a warning to
those, Hell's Angels presumably, who had been sending him death
threats. I invited him to dinner at a swell restaurant in Aspen and a
performance at the Big Tent, where the conference was held. My
soon-to-be wife, Sheila, and I gave the waitress our dinner orders.
Hunter ordered two banana daiquiris and two banana splits. Once he had
finished them off, he summoned the waitress, looped his forefinger in
the air and said, "Do it again." Without a moment's hesitation he
downed his third and fourth banana daiquiris and his third and fourth
banana splits, and departed with a glass of Wild Turkey bourbon in his
When we reached the tent, the flap-keepers refused to let him enter
with the whiskey. A loud argument broke out. I whispered to Hunter.
"Just give me the glass and I'll hold under my jacket and give it back
to you inside." That didn't interest him in the slightest. What I
failed to realize was that it was not about getting into the tent or
drinking whiskey. It was the grand finale of an event, a happening
aimed at turning the conventional order of things upside down. By and
by we were all ejected from the premises, and Hunter couldn't have
been happier. The curtain came down for the evening.
[wolfe2-22-05.jpg] In Hunter's scheme of things, there were
curtains .. . and there were curtains. In the summer of 1988 I
happened to be at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland one afternoon
when an agitated but otherwise dignified, silver-haired old Scotsman
came up to me and said, "I understand you're a friend of the American
writer Hunter Thompson."
I said yes.
"By God--your Mr. Thompson is supposed to deliver a lecture at the
Festival this evening--and I've just received a telephone call from
him saying he's in Kennedy Airport and has run into an old friend.
What's wrong with this man? He's run into an old friend? There's no
possible way he can get here by this evening!"
"Sir," I said, "when you book Hunter Thompson for a lecture, you have
to realize it's not actually going to be a lecture. It's an event--and
I'm afraid you've just had yours."
Hunter's life, like his work, was one long barbaric yawp, to use
Whitman's term, of the drug-fueled freedom from and mockery of all
conventional proprieties that began in the 1960s. In that enterprise
Hunter was something entirely new, something unique in our literary
history. When I included an excerpt from "The Hell's Angels" in a 1973
anthology called "The New Journalism," he said he wasn't part of
anybody's group. He wrote "gonzo." He was sui generis. And that he
Yet he was also part of a century-old tradition in American letters,
the tradition of Mark Twain, Artemus Ward and Petroleum V. Nasby,
comic writers who mined the human comedy of a new chapter in the
history of the West, namely, the American story, and wrote in a form
that was part journalism and part personal memoir admixed with powers
of wild invention, and wilder rhetoric inspired by the bizarre
exuberance of a young civilization. No one categorization covers this
new form unless it is Hunter Thompson's own word, gonzo. If so, in the
19th century Mark Twain was king of all the gonzo-writers. In the 20th
century it was Hunter Thompson, whom I would nominate as the century's
greatest comic writer in the English language.
Mr. Wolfe's latest book is "I Am Charlotte Simmons" (Farrar, Straus
Hunter Thompson dead: Seminal gonzo journalist kills himself
Aspen Times News for Aspen Colorado - News
By Eben Harrell and Chad Abraham
February 21, 2005
Hunter S. Thompson, legendary author, political commentator and
"gonzo" journalist, died Sunday night after shooting himself in the
head with a handgun at his home in Woody Creek. He was 67.
Thompson's son, Juan, found his father's body in the kitchen around 6
p.m. By 6:30 p.m., Thompson's home at 1278 Woody Creek Road was sealed
off by a sheriff's van.
Shortly thereafter, a grief counselor called in by the sheriff's
department arrived at the residence, asking to see Thompson's
6-year-old grandson, William. Later, an unidentified man leaving the
property said, "There are a lot of hurt family members up [at the
Heavy snow fell on the property all evening as four or five sheriff's
department vehicles quietly guarded the driveway. The silence was
broken by a woman's shriek from within the house: "Why are there so
many people here? I just can't deal with this. No. No. No."
The scene last night at Owl Farm, Thompson's compound. Aspen Times
Click to Enlarge
Hunter Stockton Thompson was an icon of the 1960s counter-culture and
was best known for his savage, first-person style of journalism in
books such as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Hell's Angels."
His style came to influence an entire generation of writers and
Thompson had been a resident of Pitkin County since the late 1960s. In
a 1970 Rolling Stone article titled "Freak Power in the Rockies" (also
later published in the Thompson collection "The Great Shark Hunt"), he
documented the rise of a new political generation of hippy activists
in Aspen. In 1970, Thompson himself ran unsuccessfully for Pitkin
Thompson's political legacy in Aspen and the surrounding area is
far-reaching, even though his involvement dropped off in recent years.
His bid for the sheriff's post was a direct attack on the traditional,
conservative style of policing in place at the time, and set the stage
for the more tolerant, community-minded law enforcement that took root
in the 1970s under Sheriff Dick Kienast.
Thompson's activism also extended into the nuts and bolts of county
government, and he helped pioneer the anti-development streak in local
politics that survives to this day. He backed strict land-use controls
and the candidates who were willing to impose them. Many of the
land-use regulations still in place in Aspen and Pitkin County can be
traced back to Thompson's work as a growth-control activist.
"The guy used to call me at 3 a.m. and talk about land use," said
Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland.
He had many friends in his neighborhood of Woody Creek and was for
years a regular at the Woody Creek Tavern, the local restaurant and
watering hole. At 9 p.m. last night, however, the tavern was packed
with tourists and late eaters unaware of the death.
Thompson's compound in Woody Creek was almost as legendary as the
author. He prized peacocks and weapons; in 2000, he accidentally shot
and slightly wounded his assistant, Deborah Fuller, trying to chase a
bear off his property.
News of his death hit Aspen's community hard. Many of Thompson's
friends in the sheriff's department, including Sheriff Bob Braudis,
were at a Sunday afternoon memorial service for Ross Griffin, a jailer
who died unexpectedly this winter, when they heard the news.
"I was totally floored," Braudis said.
"I was at the memorial and Bob was there. He called me aside and said
that he just heard Hunter shot himself," friend and Aspen-based artist
Thomas Benton said.
In tears, Benton, who designed campaign posters for Thompson's 1970
campaign, said that Thompson "was an old friend for a long time."
Thompson had been in poor health in the last few years, suffering from
several injuries and ailments, including a broken femur and recurring
back problems. His physical therapist, BJ Williams, said Thompson had
recovered well, however.
"Hunter had a lot of things thrown at him physically. He had a
fractured leg and back surgery but he took it all in stride and fought
back. He never gave up. I am just shocked by this," Williams said.
Fellow leftist journalist Paul Krassner, who once edited Thompson,
told The Associated Press that the gonzo journalist was always
unpredictable as a writer and a person.
"It was hard to say sometimes whether he was being provocative for its
own sake or if he was just being drunk and stoned and irresponsible,"
Krassner said. "We were willing to risk all of his irresponsible
behavior in order to share his talent with readers."
Eben Harrell's e-mail address is eharrell at aspentimes.com Chad
Abraham's e-mail address is chad at aspentimes.com
Allyn Harvey and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
HUNTER S. THOMPSON: 1937-2005 / Original gonzo journalist kills self at age 67 / 'Fear and Loathing' author, ex-columnist for S.F. Examiner dies of gunshot wound
San Francisco Chronicle
HUNTER S. THOMPSON: 1937-2005
Original gonzo journalist kills self at age 67
'Fear and Loathing' author, ex-columnist for S.F. Examiner dies of
- Tanya Schevitz, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2005
Hunter S. Thompson, the counterculture writer credited with creating a
new form of journalism in books like "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,"
was found dead Sunday from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in
his Aspen- area home, authorities said.
Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, a friend of Thompson, and
Thompson's son, Juan, who reportedly found his father's body,
confirmed the death of the 67-year-old writer to the Aspen Daily News.
"Hunter prized his privacy and we ask that his friends and admirers
respect that privacy as well as that of his family," Juan Thompson
said in a statement to the newspaper, according to the Associated
Thompson's wife, Anita, was not home at the time of his death.
San Francisco writer Ben Fong-Torres, a former colleague of Thompson's
at Rolling Stone magazine, said he was surprised and saddened to hear
about Thompson's apparent suicide.
"He was one of the great pioneers of new journalism and his own
invention: gonzo journalism, in which he immersed himself in the
story," Fong-Torres said. "He presented it in a way that nobody else,
as hard as they tried, could imitate. He was singular and will not be
matched anytime soon."
Fong-Torres said Thompson leaves a legacy in the field of journalism.
"It doesn't matter that he was a guy who was capable of doing anything
and known to live on-and-beyond the edge," he said in a phone
interview Sunday night. "It's a tremendous loss, no matter where he
was, at what stage he was, how ill he had gotten -- he was still
capable of humorous insights."
Chronicle Executive Vice President and Editor Phil Bronstein spent a
few nights last summer with Thompson and his wife in Colorado. He said
that Thompson was recovering from spinal surgery and a broken leg from
a fall but that there were no signs that the eccentric Thompson was
They watched the Republican Convention and hours of footage for a
documentary that was being made about Thompson. He showed off a new
neon shooting target he had, and he held court at the local Woody
Creek Tavern, Bronstein said.
"He was exercised about what was going on in the world as he always
was," Bronstein said. "He seemed, as always, bizarre and interesting
and fascinating and was a remarkably charming and friendly host."
Thompson, who wrote for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner in the
mid-to-late 1980s, lived the legend he created with his writing.
David McCumber, a former editor at the Examiner and now managing
editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, edited Thompson's columns at
the Examiner in the mid-1980s.
"Everything was legitimate about the man's reputation," he said. "The
surprise was as I got to know him ... everything was real ... and that
could be scary sometimes."
He said that one day he was on a three-way call with Thompson and Gary
Hart's campaign manager when the campaign manager learned that the
Miami Herald had the story about Hart's relationship with Donna Rice.
Thompson was at his home in Woody Creek outside Aspen and remembered
that his neighbor singer/songwriter Don Henley knew Rice. He went to
Henley's house, rifled his drawers, and found a picture for the
Examiner, making it the first news organization to have a picture of
"We always had a very active time. It was never dull," McCumber said.
"One of the joys of editing Hunter was you never knew if you were
going to get hallucinatory prose or trenchant analysis," he said.
Jeanette Etheredge, another close friend of Thompson and owner of the
North Beach fixture, Tosca, said he knew where every ice machine was
at every motel in San Francisco.
One night when they were out driving around, he stopped abruptly in
front of the Seal Rock Inn and jumped out.
"When he came back, he had a bucket of ice for his bottle," she said.
Chronicle Executive News Editor Jay Johnson, who also edited
Thompson's columns when he wrote for the Examiner, said Thompson could
not dictate over the phone, so he filed his stories page by page over
the fax, sending multiple revisions as the two spent many hours
throughout the night and into the morning "wrestling the column to the
"Nobody was as much his editor as his sounding board. He needed to
talk it out and get reaction to it. It was not the average creative
process," Johnson said.
One morning as deadline neared and they were still working it out,
Thompson, who was known to have an affinity for controlled substances,
told Johnson, "Our real drug of choice is adrenaline."
Johnson said Thompson was easiest to work with when he was covering a
presidential campaign. But he was often just "riffing," Johnson said.
He fondly recalled one night when Thompson told him how he had tried
to cheer up a friend who was scheduled to go in for back surgery. He
took a bunch of explosives out to the backyard and stuffed them into
his Jeep. As the hood flew into the air and the Jeep exploded into
pieces, the two friends realized what they had projected into the sky
would soon come back down.
"They are like dancing around with this shrapnel coming down," Johnson
Johnson told him to write it down and that became Thompson's next
Johnson said it seemed that part of the reason Thompson enjoyed
writing his column for the Examiner was that he had a burning desire
to be plugged in. In the days before the Internet, Thompson turned to
Johnson to give him the latest news.
"By calling in, he could ask what was on the wires. He would ask me to
read him stuff. That way he could be involved in the business,"
When he was in San Francisco, Thompson was a regular at Tosca, even
running the bar once when owner Etheredge was out getting a root
He broke his ankle once doing a pirouette off the bar, she said, and
then refused medical help, instead taping his broken ankle with
She said he was always a gentleman. One time after hanging out at his
hotel all night and into the morning, she told him that she had to go
home. It was about 5 a.m. and he insisted on escorting her in a taxi.
But when they were walking through the hotel lobby to get into a cab,
she noticed he was wearing just underwear. And when they reached her
house, she had to give him money to get back to the hotel.
Sunday night, she was shocked by the death of someone who was so
"I spoke to him a few weeks ago and he sounded good," she said. "The
one person I would never think would do something like that goes and
Thompson was born in Louisville, Ky., on July 18, 1937, His father,
Jack, was an insurance agent. Thompson got his start in newspaper
writing while he was serving in the Air Force in the late 1950s.
An acute observer of the decadence and depravity in American life,
Thompson wrote such books as "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail"
in 1973 and the collections "Generation of Swine" and "Songs of the
Doomed." His first- ever novel, "The Rum Diary," written in 1959, was
first published in 1998.
"The Rum Diary" came out of Thompson's experiences in Puerto Rico.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Kennedy, who had been friends
with Thompson since he rejected the then-young writer for a job at the
San Juan Star in Puerto Rico, described Thompson as a trailblazer.
"Hunter found a way to be new in the world. His attitude, his
language, his subject matter, his take on history, his plunge into
booze and drugs -- all these were singular," Kennedy said. "Maybe
other people behaved this way, but nobody ever wrote about it with
such spectacular originality. He was all by himself."
Thompson's other books include "Hell's Angels" and "The Proud
Highway." His most recent effort was "Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush
Doctrine, and The Downward Spiral of Dumbness."
"Hunter was a gifted writer, political observer and sportsman with a
huge appetite for life in every dimension," said William R. Hearst
III, a director of the Hearst Corp. "Like Mark Twain before him he
occasionally wrote for this newspaper and neither of them tolerated
fools gleefully. We will miss his words and collect his letters."
Chronicle news services and staff writers Suzanne Herel and Bob Miller
contributed to this report.E-mail Tanya Schevitz at
tschevitz at sfchronicle.com.
5. mailto:tschevitz at sfchronicle.com
10. mailto:tschevitz at sfchronicle.com
An Appreciation of Hunter S. Thompson
"Hunter, I know you're there. Pick up."
Walter Isaacson, head of the Aspen Institute, had put in a call to
Hunter S. Thompson, the iconic gonzo journalist who died Sunday at the
age of 67.
Michael Lewis and I were sitting in Walter's office in Aspen last
summer when Walter suggested that we visit Thompson, who lived down
the valley in Woody Creek. For many of us in the reporting business,
Thompson was larger than life and weirder than life. He had invented a
style of journalism that required him to take on a mythological
persona, that of a drug-gobbling anti-Establishment provocateur,
always on the road at some Vegas prizefight or Super Bowl or political
convention, whacked to the gills as he tries to get the story.
Walter knew that Thompson had a makeshift office in his kitchen,
really just a countertop with a typewriter, the cigarettes and liquor
in easy reach, along with Thompson's books, his magazine articles, all
the detritus of a long, crazy, brain-hammering career. Thompson
apparently rarely budged, screening his calls, typing, fidgeting,
smoking, and tending to one of the all-time most successful cults of
Sure enough, Thompson picked up the phone, and invited us to come out
to his place later in the evening do to some shooting (he had quite
the arsenal of firearms).
We reached Woody Creek at about 9 p.m. and soon were in Thompson's
kitchen. I sat on the floor beneath the sink, gazing up at the great
man. The next two hours were not so much a conversation as a tribute.
Thompson looked fragile: He had a noticeable limp on the few occasions
that he left his station. When his wife, Anita, showed up with a fancy
bottle of spirits [I am thinking it was tequila and would normally
just say so, but these details matter when it comes to HST lore], he
took a swig, then pumped his fist and stamped one foot, like a coach
whose team has just scored a touchdown. Later he lit up a bowl of
something, and took a deep lungful. This transpired without commentary
from him or anyone else in the room. He didn't make any overt attempt
to pass the pipe around, but he did palm the pipe at his waist, and
wiggled it in my direction, a kind of "here, doggy" gesture, as though
he were going to feed me a biscuit.
Somehow we never got around to firing any guns, and instead performed
dramatic readings of Thompson's classic material. He was an
appreciative audience. I asked if he had an original copy of the issue
of Rolling Stone with his classic gonzo narrative "Fear and Loathing
in Las Vegas," and he did, on a shelf by his right knee, protected in
plastic. I nearly wept at the sight of this journalistic treasure --
you know, with that opening riff of we were somewhere around Barstow
on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold -- and in
a spasm of reverence I momentarily fumbled it directly into the stack
of dishes in the sink. No harm, no foul.
For all of Thompson's theatrics and self-abuse, he could write like a
demon. His prose accelerated across the page like a sportscar with the
top down. He kept himself squarely in the picture, to great comic
effect. We understood that he needed drugs the way other people needed
oxygen, that he had an odd fondness for guns and violence, and that he
loathed Richard Nixon and most authoritarian institutions. Otherwise,
he wasn't very complicated. He didn't gum up his narrative with
soul-searching. He really served as a big eyeball, if perhaps a rather
James Fenton once complained that many journalists can't tell a story
correctly because to do so would imply that they had personally
witnessed the events at hand. Thompson never had that problem. His
best work centered around his almost Mr. Magoo-like stumbling and
lurching into places that a chemically addled person didn't belong.
In his kitchen I read aloud his account of Richard Nixon's departure
from the White House in August 1974:
"....I eased through the crowd of photographers and walked out,
looking back at the White House, where Nixon was giving his final
address to a shocked crowd of White House staffers. I examined the
aircraft very closely, and I was just about to climb into it when I
heard a loud rumbling behind me; I turned around just in time to see
Richard and Pat coming toward me, trailing their daughters and
followed closely by Gerald Ford and Betty. Their faces were grim and
they were walking very slowly; Nixon had a glazed smile on his face,
not looking at anybody around him, and walked like a wooden Indian
full of Thorazine. His face was a greasy death mask. I stepped back
out of the way and nodded hello but he didn't seem to recognize me..."
That's vintage Thompson, not only on the scene but on the verge of
getting into Nixon's helicopter!
Any suspicion that Thompson just knocked this stuff out in a first
draft should be dispelled by the last few graphs of the article, where
he shows his craft:
"I was so close that the noise hurt my ears. The rotor blades were
invisible now, but the wind was getting heavier; I could feel it
pressing my eyeballs back into their sockets. For an instant I thought
I could see Richard Nixon's face pressed up to the window. Was he
smiling? Was it Nixon? I couldn't be sure. And now it made no
"I was still very close to the helicopter, watching the tires. As the
beast began rising, the tires became suddenly fat; there was no more
weight on them....The helicopter went straight up and hovered for a
moment, then swooped down toward the Washington Monument and then
angled up into the fog. Richard Nixon was gone."
Thompson nodded and laughed and smiled as we read these things. He
knew it was good. He had been at the peak of his powers. And these
nice folks had come to his house to pay homage and remind him of his
Michael Lewis picked up on an interesting detail in his home: There
were all these sayings, slogans, scrawled fragments of ideas, and so
on, tacked or taped to various surfaces in the house, and they seemed
to be reminding Thompson of his identity. It was like: This is your
character. These are your thoughts. These are the wacky and nutty and
bizarre things you have said. This is who you must always be. Remember
When you invent a great character for yourself you may be trapped by
it the rest of your days. To be an icon is a brutal job. The early
reports say Thompson ended his own life with a gun. That's not a gonzo
conclusion to his story, that's just a tragedy. It's hard to believe:
Hunter S. Thompson is gone.
February 21, 2005
More on Hunter S. Thompson
Everyone should read the masterful appreciation of Thompson by the
incomparable Henry Allen, who has a better bead than anyone on the
crazy decades of the Sixties and Seventies (as you probably know he
wrote a book on "the decades." Henry also knocked out a terrific
appreciation recently of Susan Sontag . I read a number of the
tributes to Thompson yesterday (after filing my own) but eagerly
anticipated the Henry Allen offering, because he plays at a different
level from everyone else. Maybe in my journalism class we should spend
the rest of the semester just reading Henry's stuff. He captures the
manic energy and hilarious paranoia of Thompson, and there's this
unexpected flourish near the end of the piece:
readers worshiped him as a man of profound experience, to the point
of playing what you might call "the Hunter Thompson game." The
point of the game is to create mortal fear out of nothing more
than, say, the sun flashing in a window.
First man: You see that glint?
Second man: Like binoculars?
First man: Try 12-power Unertl glass on a Remington .308.
Second man: Your first wife's boyfriend?
First man: But he's a cop.
Second man: Exactly. Our heads? In four seconds? Vapor, baby.
This is the sort of conversation that boys have in treehouses, to
scare themselves for the fun of it. Thompson's writing had the
venerable American quality of boys' literature, in the manner of
Hemingway, Jack London and Mark Twain.
Boys' literature: Exactly.
A lot of emails have come in about Thompson, and I'll rack 'em up here
quickly. In most cases I don't know anything about the emailers, and I
wonder if in the future people would tell me where they live. (These
are mostly excerpts, fyi.):
Michael Joy writes:
I am worried that too many journalists are writing off Thompson's
death as suicide. To begin with it is well known that drugs,
alcohol and firearms are in dangerous proximity in Thompson's
house. Until the forensics are complete there is more
circumstantial evidence that the death was accidental. Thompson was
known to have discharged firearms in the house while under the
influence. I would be more inclined to think ricochet than self
inflicted. It as also a question that a man who wrote down so many
thoughts and observations of his environment would not have left a
note documenting his intentions to end his life. To call this a
suicide before the evidence is in represents irresponsible
I believe that law enforcement at the scene concluded that it was a
suicide and made that announcement. It would be irresponsible
journalism to refuse to report the police statement.
Galen White of Louisville, Kentucky, writes:
I knew Hunter when he was in the ninth grade, and I was a senior at
Louisville Male High School. I belonged to the Athenaeum Literary
Association. We met Saturday nights. Hunter, not old enough to join
at that time, hung around our meeting place, just checking things
out. As part of our meetings, we offered book reports. At the age
of about 13 in 1951 Hunter had already read most of the books I was
just finding. He was the best read high schooler I have ever known.
I rediscovered him in the early 60's when he wrote for Max Ascoli's
"Reporter" magazine. He produced a very serious article about
Louisville.... Hunter once said he loved Kentucky, but that he had
to leave to find what he wanted to do. We will miss him.
Jo Coster of South Carolina writes:
I discovered HST about the same time you did, in the early 70s when
he was covering politics and society for Rolling Stone. In the
passionless age of Eric Sevareid, he was such a different voice--a
journalist who CARED, who used words like throwing knives, who
could talk football with Nixon and then turn around and ask "Jesus!
How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?" He
was the tutelary spirit of blogging journalism. Mahalo to his ghost
and prayers to his family. We will miss the Sheriff.
John Hargrave of the Ozarks, writes:
I began reading him back in his straight journalist days when he
was covering Central America for a Dow Jones weekly called -- if
memory serves -- The National Observer. This would have been in the
mid-Sixties. The work was astoundingly good and so much better than
the stuff sitting next to it that it must have been embarrassing
for the reporters so placed.
Kristin St. John writes:
I stumbled across Thompson when I first graduated from J-school and
moved down here -- unemployed and, after working at a professional
newspaper throughout college, pretty much jaded. His brand of
journalism, coupled with his fearless lifestyle, inspired me face
the facts -- life is insane -- and we need to jump on for the rough
ride. I honestly don't think that Thompson really knew the effect
he had on those of us under the radar. Yeah, he probably got tons
of fan mail -- but, that's what it was...fan mail. It doesn't
represent the "disciples" who are being introduced to his writing
and who are embracing the school of thought that all establishment
needs to be questioned and taken to task -- and aspect as important
today that it was back in the 1960s.
I'll try to post more emails down the road. I'll also try to figure
out how to make the font sizes look better. And before I forget,
here's the link to Sunday's Rough Draft column.
Weekly Standard: The End of the Counter-Culture
The End of the Counter-Culture
Hunter S. Thompson, 1939 - 2005.
by Stephen Schwartz
02/22/2005 12:00:00 AM
THE SUICIDE of Hunter S. Thompson, aged 65, according to the New York
Times, or 67, according to the Washington Post, at his home in Aspen,
may definitively mark the conclusion of the chaotic "baby-boomer"
rebellion that began in the 1950s and crested in the 1960s, and which
was dignified with the title of "the counter-culture."
"Counter" it was, as an expression of defiance toward everything
normal and reliable in society. "Culture" it was not, any more than
Thompson's incoherent scribblings constituted, as they were so often
indulgently described, a form of journalism.
When a major representative of any dramatic period in history dies, it
is tempting to proclaim the end of an epoch, but the lonely death of
Thompson--he shot himself in his kitchen--seems more emblematic than
any other associated with the '60s. The incident might even have been
accidental, brought on by one of Thompson's self-storied flings into
the ingestion of garbage drugs. Who knows?
But Louisa Davidson, wife of the sheriff of Pitkin County, the
jurisdiction wherein the death occurred, probably had it right: "he
was not going to age gracefully. He was going to go out with a bang.
He was tormented."
Whatever the actual circumstances, it is difficult to imagine a
still-living personage, or even one who preceded him into eternal
silence and collective forgetfulness, more representative of his time.
William S. Burroughs, the prosewriter once hailed for allegedly
reinventing the American novel, died at 83 in 1997. Allen Ginsberg,
the versifier who had supposedly changed American poetry forever,
expired the same year at 70. Ken Kesey, another overrated writer,
joined them in 2001. The comedian Lenny Bruce and the author Jack
Kerouac left the scene long, long before, in the '60s themselves. Who
is left? No one but minor figures.
Thompson had much in common with Burroughs and Ginsberg. First, their
products were mainly noise. Their books were reissued but now sit
inertly on bookstore shelves, incapable of inspiring younger readers,
or even nostalgic baby boomers, to purchase them. Thompson claimed
credit for the invention of "gonzo journalism," epitomized by his
great success, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, published in 1972. He
will inevitably be hailed by newswriters as the creator of a genre.
But if his work is taught to the young, it is as an exemplar of the
madness of the '60s, not as literature or journalism. Aside from his
own later works, including such trivia, bearing his signature, as The
Great Shark Hunt, Generation of Swine, and Songs of the Doomed, of
what did "gonzo" journalism consist? Thompson left no authorial
It has long been argued that lasting literature is an impossibility
without imitation and emulation, and that although young authors often
produce works ridiculously imitative of their idols, real writers grow
out of such mimesis to gain recognition for their own, individual
abilities. But who can imagine a youthful talent beginning with an
exercise in the gonzo style? Thompson produced no others like him, for
the same reason Burroughs and Ginsberg generated no schools of
novel-writing or verse. One may go further and say they had nothing to
teach the young, except to emit a cacophony.
Indeed, it would be one thing to say that Thompson and the others like
him, such as Burroughs and Ginsberg, are dated. Even embarrassingly
old-fashioned artistic works, bereft of immediacy for those who are
not part of the environment from which they emerged, have the capacity
for revival. But Thompson produced a clamor without content.
Doubtlessly, the most pathetic aspect of the '60s phenomenon was the
absolute conviction of Thompson and those who encouraged him that
"living in the moment" really did count more than anything else in the
world, that history never existed and that the future was their
His enablers included lefty journalist Warren Hinckle III, who first
published Thompson's experiments in incoherent "reportage" in a
forgotten magazine called Scanlan's, and pop huckster Jann S. Wenner,
the grand ayatollah of Rolling Stone, a tabloid which began as a pop
music paper, then tried to make itself over as a serious journal, and
is now read by . . . who? For some commentators, the greatest
compliment paid to Thompson was the incorporation of a dishonest,
heartless figure modeled on him, and named Uncle Duke (after Raoul
Duke, the narrator of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) into Doonesbury.
But that strip is generally known for its tone of dishonesty and
heartlessness, and, like the writings of Thompson, seems extremely
dated, increasingly unread, and finally irrelevant in its
Thompson, as I can say from personal witness, was not flattered by the
Doonesbury valentine. "I don't steal from his stuff, do I?" Thompson
grunted in a bar one afternoon in San Francisco. For him, imitation,
or caricature, was the least sincere form of flattery, and in his
bilious reaction there might have resided a microscopic element of
self-awareness. He may well have understood that the drugs, gunfire,
motorcycle mishaps, public rantings, and widespread adulation in which
he was immersed were evanescent, and that his books were too thin to
keep his memory alive for very long.
One must imagine that in his own middle '60s Hunter Thompson looked
into the mirror and saw that nobody needed a gonzo interpretation of
the world after September 11, that nobody was amused by his capacity
to survive fatal doses of sinister concoctions, and that,
increasingly, nobody knew or cared who he was.
He was flattered to be described as chronicler of "the death of the
American dream." In reality, he described a nightmare from which
America awoke years ago.
Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.
The New York Times > National > With an Icon's Death, Aspen Checks Its
February 23, 2005
With an Icon's Death, Aspen Checks Its Inner Gonzo
By KIRK JOHNSON
ASPEN, Colo., Feb. 22 - Over the decades that Hunter S. Thompson
lived and wrote here in the high Rocky Mountains of central Colorado,
Aspen became an aerie for the rich and the beautiful - the very sort
of place, right under his nose, that he was famous for fulminating
against in his books. "Freak power in the Rockies," as Mr. Thompson
once dubbed the spirit of his adopted home, gave way to Louis Vuitton.
Mr. Thompson, meanwhile, remained exuberantly unreconstructed - his
rages and inebriated excesses apparently undiminished, his fondness
for firing shotguns at night still strong and true well into his 60's.
That gradually made him into the sort of person that the new, polished
Aspen no longer wanted to quite encourage or celebrate.
Yet somehow the two sides - the man and the town - found
accommodation, people here say. Like former comrades in war who have
gone their separate ways, they each still saw in the other something
worth trying to redeem, or perhaps to politely overlook.
Some said that Mr. Thompson's suicide on Sunday night marked the
stilling of a voice that kept some of Aspen's old counterculture
alive. Others said the roots that he helped establish here ran too
deep and would live on without him. A few said he was a spent force in
Aspen society long before his death, tolerated by those with the real
power to shape the community but otherwise treated as a nostalgia act
whose time would soon enough be gone.
"He was like the wild soul of the town, and the fact that he was still
here, albeit with all the changes, meant a lot to a lot of people,"
said Mark Billingsley, a clerk at Explore Booksellers, a Main Street
store that displayed Mr. Thompson's books by the front door on
Tuesday. What Mr. Thompson's presence conveyed, Mr. Billingsley said,
was affirmation and endorsement that Aspen - appearances, costs and
demographics aside - was still Aspen after all.
"He still felt it was worthwhile to be here," Mr. Billingsley said.
Some people, despite the aura of loss and misty-eyed remembrance that
has settled over Aspen since Mr. Thompson's death, said they never
quite got it, never figured out the source of the legend, never fully
understood why so many people so revered a man who mostly seemed to be
simply out of control.
"I heard him speak once, and he was totally incomprehensible, to be
honest," said Larry B. Thoreson, the sales tax administrator for the
Mr. Thompson, who lived a few miles from here in a town called Woody
Creek, ran for sheriff of Pitkin County in 1970 on a platform
promising to change Aspen's name to Fat City and to decriminalize
drugs. He almost won.
In the 1980's he raged about the pallid surrender of the
counterculture spirit in his book "Generation of Swine," in which he
condemned the baby boomers of the 1960's - the same boomers who in
many cases now inhabit the $20 million mansions on Red Mountain
overlooking Aspen. And he celebrated anarchy whenever he could,
residents say, with games like Shotgun Golf, which combined
traditional putting and chipping with the Thompsonesque filigree of
shooting at the ball if it seemed appropriate.
Aspen, meanwhile, changed around him. Money was pouring in, and the
people who wielded it were changing too. As recently as the 1980's,
people say, the rich made an effort to blend in, wear jeans at the
bar, become part of the community. Now, they hire townspeople to run
their homes or to maintain them, and they keep mostly to themselves.
Last year, the average real-estate transaction in the town surpassed
$3.4 million, according to town figures.
"Anything organized probably didn't sit well with Hunter - virtually
anything with money and organization would be attacked, or parodied,"
said Aspen's city manager, Steve Barwick. "He was one of the symbols
of the no-growth argument."
But Mr. Thompson's presence also straddled a great arc of the town's
fortunes that was directly tied to the waves of cultural migration
filling the town with new voices and visions. Aspen did not become
wealthy and successful despite people like Mr. Thompson, many
residents said, but directly because of the rejuvenation and ferment
that the counterculture created.
"Aspen is a lot more settled now, and he offered a flavor of the town
that has maybe disappeared a little bit," said Ron Morehead, the
manager of Aspen Sports, who came here in the 1970's. The truth, Mr.
Morehead and others said, is that the power of money in transforming
the community could not be stopped by anybody, even Mr. Thompson.
"I hate to say it, but I think to them he was just a minor annoyance,"
Mr. Morehead said, referring to the developers and second-home buyers,
who routinely knock down $2 million to $3 million homes to build
larger, more opulent ones in their place.
Sterling Greenwood, the publisher of The Aspen Free Press - a
single-page broadsheet that proudly proclaims itself to be "Aspen's
Worst Newspaper" - said the fights over growth and values that have
characterized Aspen's internal dialogue for decades will go on. Mr.
Greenwood and his wife, Karen Day, said they came here partly because
of the aura that Mr. Thompson helped create.
"He was the father of our generation here because we are all like him
in some way or another," Ms. Day said. "You just have to talk about
what it was like in the 70's and 80's when we all first got here - it
was totally influenced by him."
Mr. Greenwood jumped in: "I think it still is."
In recent years, he said, residents had risen up and forced issues
that still hark, at least a little, back to the glory days of Mr.
Thompson's wild-eyed vision. The town does not use snow-melting
chemicals on its streets in winter, he said, because residents opposed
it. A town proposal several years ago to straighten a hairpin curve
and allow bigger trucks into town similarly went down to overwhelming
"Call it old Aspen or whatever you want, the people came out," he
Mr. Greenwood said that as a journalist, he carried a torch as well
for the personalized journalism that Mr. Thompson helped popularize.
In the 1980's, a town committee citing the "Best of Aspen" gave him
the "Hunter S. Thompson Junior Achievement Award." It still hangs on
"Sometimes I'll be writing and I'll think of a word, and I'll say,
'No, that's Hunter's word,' and I won't use it," Mr. Greenwood said.
"Twisted," for example, Mr. Greenwood said, is a classic Hunter word -
combining elements of fatigue, inebriation and a hint of the bizarre -
that should be retired like a slugger's old number.
More information about the paleopsych