one to see and seize opportunities for self‑advancement,
Hunter quickly realized there was no need to study
others, no need to know them such that his writing
could allow readers to "communicate with each
other." Hell‑bent in his pursuit of autonomy,
fiercely self‑propelled and self‑controlled,
he created his own "signature act" of
shock appeal: He made his employers force him to
jump in over his head into the pool of life's experiences
and write about himself: what he experienced slowly
but surely became "worth a groveling damn."
His signature act was to get himself fired—not
once but repeatedly—by venting his rage on
a hapless bystander. First, it was a Coke machine
at Time‑Life, so thoroughly kicked and wrecked
he was fired from a place notorious for never firing
enjoyed the bucolic existence in the countryside
at his next job, the Middletown, New York, Daily
Record. In the city he had been beaten
so badly by a gang that hospital medics put him
in a tiled room with a drain at the center and hosed
him off to locate the wounds. He took to carrying
a lead pipe after that. Now, he grew a beard and
lived in a small cabin in the woods. Many who knew
him thought this a Hemingway affectation. He told
one friend that, since he was going to be a great
writer, it didn't really matter if he started with
the life style, then worked his way into the material.
Often, he would wake up his roommates with his laughter—while
he remained asleep. He was conjuring fantasies,
wildly satirical versions of reality. His colleagues
found him wildly entertaining. His boss felt otherwise.
Hunter was fired after yet another attack on a vending
machine—candy, this time. "Other writers
have earned their right to be idiosyncratic,"
his boss said on Thompson's way out the door. "You
are being idiosyncratic without any backup. Go earn
the right to be flakey." Words of wisdom.
to "earn the right to be flakey," Hunter
next spent time in Puerto Rico writing for El Sportivo,
a short‑lived bowling magazine, before crewing
aboard a boat intended to take him, Sandy and another
friend back to the U.S. They were marooned in Bermuda,
living in caves, stealing cabbages out of gardens.
The Bermuda Royal Gazette Weekly did
a front-page, photo article on their plight in paradise
that included the revelatory quote: "Why settle
down so early in life? There is meaning somehow
in all this, but right now it's a little hard to
find." In his next stop, Hunter did settle
down for a long stretch. And he managed to find—and
publish—some meaning in these frantic wanderings.
the weather, social change comes from the West.
And in the first year of the 1960s—the decade
whose rapidly evolving spirit Thompson would capture
in Las Vegas—Hunter headed in that direction
in search of the next font of inspiration. He knew
just where to go. Even before leaving New York,
Hunter had been smitten with a best‑selling
book whose film rights were quickly sold. The book
was The Sergeant, and the author was
Dennis Murphy, the same age as Thompson. While Murphy
lived in Big Sur, California, the land of Jack London,
John Steinbeck and Henry Miller, he was also renowned
for his Greenwich Village drinking bouts with Jack
Kerouac; the two had the same editor, Malcolm Cowley,
at Viking Press. They would roll into a Village
bar—the Cedar or Googies or the San Remo—and
have a few drinks before Kerouac would pull out
of his coat pocket Murphy's latest reviews and begin
to read them—loudly—to everyone within
earshot. This was the stuff of local legend. When
Murphy left for California, Hunter tracked him down.
time spent at Big Sur was a meaningful interlude
for Thompson. He became part of a rag‑tag
collection of people living on land owned by Dennis
Murphy's family. Dennis's brother Michael and Dick
Price were breaking ground for new construction
on the place. They planned to change the name—and
the spirit—of Slate's Hot Springs to the Esalen
Institute. Hunter was hired as caretaker to look
over the grounds.
got to spend time first hand with a best‑selling
writer of fiction who was both creative and savvy
enough to write the book and sell the rights to
Hollywood, and crazy and violent enough to get into
a knife fight with a local artist, stabbed nine
times in the neck, one wound just missing his jugular
vein. But all the while, Thompson never revealed
to Murphy his own intention of writing fiction.
"Sandy was always saying to me that Hunter
was going to be a great writer," was the amazed
recollection of Dennis Murphy, who knew Hunter from
touch football matches on the lawn and good Irish
social drinking at night. He didn't know if Hunter
could spell; it was just not part of the relationship.
One day Dennis sneaked into Thompson's room and
what he found stunned him: a thoroughly annotated
copy of The Sergeant and the beginnings
of Rum Diary, a fictional account
of Thompson's days in Puerto Rico. When Murphy saw
the vivid scenery in Hunter's work, he knew Thompson
had the makings of a great writer.
of Murphy's admiration, the first piece of writing
Thompson ever published, Big Sur: The Tropic
of Henry Miller, appeared in what Thompson
considered an embarrassing place— Rogue,
"a titty magazine," his friends said,
categorized by the Library of Congress as "pornography."
Then, again, Big Sur had been broadcast to the world
in an article whose title, The New Cult of Sex
and Anarchy, guaranteed instant celebrity status.
The topic of Hunter's article was, of course, the
ace "pornographer" of all, Henry Miller,
who actually left the area permanently before Thompson
ever got there, but who had entrusted a neighbor
to collect his mail. While Thompson was composing
his article for Rogue, the U.S. Post
Office Department allowed Grove Press to publish
Miller's Tropic of Cancer; in the
first week it sold 68,000 copies. Thompson stopped
Miller's assistant returning from the mailbox one
day, loaded with correspondence. He asked if Miller
had much trouble with uninvited guests, conveying
that when he got famous, he didn't want to put up
with such disturbances.
Murphy brothers' grandmother, who owned the entire
commune, did not like the article in Rogue.
Aged 86, nose like a parrot, one‑eyed like
a pirate, in a black Cadillac chauffeured by a mahogany‑skinned
Filipino, she rolled into Slate's, and called for
the caretaker. Thompson approached.
man," she said, a copy of Rogue
in one hand. "You have twenty‑four hours
to get out of here."
his expulsion from Big Sur, Thompson was cast out
of a community of castaways, done in by his first
published work. But this was 1962, and just up the
road in San Francisco, the philosophical and social
ferment was quickly becoming a heady brew. Thompson
left Big Sur, but he became the first person to
go from there to San Francisco via Rio de Janeiro.
Bogota. Cali. Diarrhea. Equador. Finances. Out of
chaos emerged an alphabetical order to Hunter's
progression the hard way through South America,
where he was now walking the tight‑rope with
no net, submitting free‑lance articles, repeatedly
bellowing for money, feeling undervalued and unappreciated
by editors. "Most everything I say," Thompson
fired off to National Observer Editor
Cliff Ridley, a boss he'd never met, from a cheap
hotel next to a noisy church in Guayaquil, "revolves
in one way or another around money. There seems
to be a universal impression that I am on some sort
of Divine Dole, and the theory that I require money
in order to make money has not yet gained wide acceptance.
I trust you have sufficient background in Personal
Economics to grasp the full meaning of this... stop
ringing these bells... a lunatic in the belfry and
worms in the stomach... I definitely mean to base
here (Rio)... It is about time I lived like a human
being for a change."
in Rio, he hooked up with another reporter and took
to his old sports: rat‑shooting at the Rio
dump. His best companion rode in the front pocket
of his baggy pants; a suicidal, alcoholic monkey
won in a drinking contest in Bolivia. After a particularly
bad bout with the DT's, the animal leaped to its
death from Hunter's ninth‑story apartment,
an omen that made Hunter himself feel out of sorts.
"I found myself at the point," Hunter
said, "where I was twenty‑five years
old and wearing a white suit and rolling dice at
the Domino Club — the foreign correspondents'
club—and here I thought, 'Jesus Christ, what
am I going to do now?' Then I would roll the dice
more and more. And I wrote less and less, and worried
about it until I'd have a nervous breakdown. It
[the nervous breakdown] kinda makes you change whatever
you are doing."
needed "change." He stormed back to the
U.S. "in a sort of frenzy of patriotism, Kennedy,
Peace Corps," and joined forces with perhaps
the oddest coalition of partners in cultural crime
ever assembled. Almost single‑handedly, Hunter
brought together three of the more disparate groups
of the sixties: the "baby‑raping"
Hell's Angels; the reigning king (and his court)
of San Francisco Bay area counterculture, One
Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest author Ken
Kesey, and the Merry Pranksters; and the more straight‑laced
intelligentsia from Berkeley and Stanford. He began
with the motorcycle group, for whom he had an affinity,
saying, "I had a lot in common with the Angels.
But I had a gimmick. I could write."
first as the Margaret Mead of scum, he detailed
their vile and violent tribal life style from the
inside out as a member without portfolio: he refused
to drive a Harley Davidson, as all offered were
stolen. He ended up as the Impresario of the Weird,
teaching at Berkeley, then making a near‑suicidal
attempt to stop the Angels from "stomping"
marchers in a nationally publicized Viet Nam Day
Angels' "Maximum Leader" Sonny Barger,
Terry the Tramp, Kesey and Thompson trying to sit
in the lotus position, the group smoked dope and
talked philosophy while Ginsberg chanted a mantra
and tinkled his finger cymbals. A carnivore among
vegetarians, other than the generational sense of
outrage Thompson never fit into the sixties mind‑set.
He saw "hippies" as unmotivated and their
guru, Timothy Leary, as "a huckster, really,
for his own interests. I distrusted his credentials
as an outlaw." Still, it was Thompson who brought
together this crew in an attempt to avoid massive
is a good hearted fucker," Thompson said, but
when he told Barger he loved him and that they were
all in it together, "Barger never believed
a single word! That was what I tried to tell Ginsberg.
They are mean fuckers!"
mean? In the end, he summarized his experience,
quoting Joseph Conrad's Kurtz from The Heart
of Darkness: "The horror... the
horror." The book, Hell's Angels,
is fully—and aptly—titled The Strange
and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.
A departure from two‑page articles, it was
Thompson's first book, a lurid documentation of
what his childhood friends had called his forte
in "shock value," chock‑full of
scenes of random fornication, gang‑rape, public
drunkenness, a carnaval noire of hedonistic sex
book's results were startling. The Angels stomped
him, angered they would "not get a million
bucks," beating him badly on a lonely beach
at night, nearly crushing his skull with a huge
stone. During the Summer of Love, while this chronicle
of anger hung on the best‑seller list like
a glob of 50‑weight motorcycle oil, Thompson
took to a publicity tour, filled with rage. America
was at war, and Thompson said that "President
Lyndon Johnson would make a good Hell's Angel; he
is mentally qualified." Norman Mailer met him
in a Denver TV studio, saying of Thompson, "He
was a guy on the make. He said things like, 'This
book has got to sell. I wanna get a little back.'"
In Chicago, Studs Terkel interviewed him, finding
the writer "sitting in a little bar, drinking
Wild Turkey and he had a six‑pack of beer."
is an art of survival," Hunter said of his
next foray into the American process, an unsuccessful
run for Sheriff of Aspen's Pitkin County on a platform
allowing his deputies to eat mescaline on slow days,
and tearing up the streets of Aspen, replacing asphalt
with sod. "It's like watching big weights moving
around. It has to do with controlling your environment...
I didn't want to be the Sheriff. I just wanted to
own the Sheriff."
fascination with power and politicians became skin‑close,
when he followed Richard Nixon's presidential campaign
in New Hampshire, chasing the candidate, racing
at high speeds over icy New England roads, drinking
straight out of a bottle of Jack Daniels as he drove.
He pestered aides Pat Buchanan and Ray Price to
allow him an interview; they finally caved in, on
the grounds the two talk only football. Riding with
Nixon in the back seat of his limo, Thompson came
away staggered by Nixon's detailed knowledge of
the game. Nixon told Hunter that campaigning messed
up his football season and if he had it to do all
over again, he would like to be a professional sportswriter.
Thompson saw this as the ultimate con, a fantastic
whopper from a power‑starved man, saying the
only way he would touch him would be "with
a long cattle prod." Ultimately, Nixon became
the prime focus of Thompson's wrath; he would dedicate
his best‑ever selling book, The Great Shark
Hunt: "To Richard Milhous Nixon,
who never let me down."
only did Nixon never let him down, he set the stage
for the biggest breakthrough in Thompson's career,
an event that freed up the writer from his incessant
urge to write fiction, and provided him with his
own unique voice. The term "deadline"
comes from prison patois; it is the perimeter line
beyond which inmates will be shot and killed. Facing
a deadline for a story on the Kentucky Derby, Hunter
experienced severe writer's block and holed up in
a New York hotel, sitting in a bathtub drinking
White Horse Scotch from the bottle: Nixon had just
ordered an invasion of Cambodia, and four students
protesting this had been shot at Kent State.
along with Welsh illustrator Ralph Steadman, had
indeed covered the Derby, wheedling press passes,
being kicked out of the elitist Pendennis Club,
trying to mace the Governor, and composing a nosology
of inebriation: strutting drunk; staggering drunk;
and stumbling drunk, where true Kentucky Colonels
are easy to spot, because when they vomit they are
careful to miss their clothing, but always get some
on their shoes. It was Hunter's return home, a chance
to even the score with his blue‑blooded friends...
and he could not write.
were sent to Thompson's room. Out of futility he
gave them handwritten notes from his note pad. An
hour later, a copyboy returned, asking for more.
Thompson was disbelieving, but sent his entire note
pad over the telecopier, then slunk back to Aspen,
feeling tawdry for his butchered attempt at investigative
journalism. He misjudged his efforts: the phone
rang off the hook and mail poured in. The ragged
realism of the raw, elemental thought‑bursts—where
the story was the scene, not the main event, and
where anger was the vehicle—hit a nerve that
was in direct synch with the increasingly fragmented
and indignant American culture. A letter came to
Thompson from another journalist and drinking companion,
lavishly praising Thompson's style of journalism,
referring to it with a term the South Boston Irish
used to describe the last man left standing at the
end of a marathon drinking bout. "Gonzo."
one of my proudest achievements," Thompson
says of "Gonzo" making its entrance to
the Random House Dictionary, sandwiched between
"gonorrhea" and "goo." However,
the definition, "adj. Slang. fiercely advocative
or partial without regard for balance or objectivity.
[1970‑75, Amer.: appar. first used by U.S.
journalist Hunter S. Thompson (b. 1939); perh. <
It: simpleton (of uncert. orig.)]," fails both
in accuracy of his birthdate (1937) and in conveying
the truly bizarre dimension of "Gonzo"
that only Thompson's presence can. For example,
when he first interviewed for a writing job at Rolling
Stone, he wore his now‑famous Hawaiian
shirt, sunglasses and cigarette holder, but that
was just the beginning. He carried with him a six‑pack
of beer, a straw bag with paper and strings coming
out of it, and wore a cheap grey Dynell lady's wig
that he kept taking off, straightening and putting
presented founder and editor Jann Wenner with a
one‑sided monologue of his political views.
The magazine owner knew his audience; he had dropped
out of Berkeley during his freshman year, actually
reviewing galley proofs of Thompson's Hell's
Angels in the school newspaper, dismissing him
as "another hippie journalist," and founded
the first magazine to target baby‑boom music
fanatics, as his own vehicle "to meet John
at what he saw that day, during one of Thompson's
trips to the men's room he turned to an assistant
and said, "I know I am supposed to be the youth
representative in this culture... but what the fuck
was the future—of the magazine and Thompson's
career as a Gonzo journalist, wandering the world
with editorial immunity and a bottomless expense
account. "I've always looked at publishers
as people paying for my continuing education,"
Thompson said, and now all tuition bills were sent
to Wenner who provided a long and tolerant editorial
leash. And it was in the pages of Rolling Stone
that Hunter first revealed to the world what could
come from combining a life‑long pursuit of
the American Dream, with a three‑page outline
of The Great Gatsby.
marked the first serious editorial meeting between
Hunter and Alan Rinzler, shortly before serialization
of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In the
black of night, after having consumed LSD, Thompson
approached Rinzler carrying a box full of Roman
candles. He lit one. He handed it to Rinzler, saying
in his monotonic, challenging way, "Hold this."
It was a vivid metaphor for the book that begins
with the narrator yelling, "I want you to know
that we're on our way to Las Vegas to find the American
Dream," to a terror‑struck Okie hitchhiker
caught in the back of the red Chevy convertible,
screaming east across the desert near Barstow at
110 miles an hour, shortly after "the drugs
began to take hold."
writing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,
Thompson was true to his Gatsby outline,
right down to the length: discounting blank pages
and Ralph Steadman's caricatures, both are 182 pages
long. Issues of race, class and status, music, and
especially the car appear in the two books, showing
how little has changed since Fitzgerald expressed
his concerns in 1925. Jay Gatsby had two grand parties
at his house, and if Las Vegas is West Egg, the
Circus‑Circus is Gatsby's mansion. Thompson
finds the American Dream twice in that casino.
while masquerading as a sportswriter, he feels he
has found "the main nerve" of the American
Dream. While drinking Wild Turkey at a revolving
bar and watching the action, he realizes the "fantastic
possibilities of life in this country," and
lists some of them: Shooting the pasties off a ten‑foot
bull dyke; watching a high‑wire trapeze act
featuring a half‑naked teenage girl chased
through the air by snarling wolverines; or seeing
a 200-foot‑tall Nazi screaming "Woodstock
Uber Alles." He finds himself stumbling, in
an ether‑fueled stupor, into a nocturnal madness,
rather than a "dream."
story comes full circle when he changes his target,
next covering a Vegas National District Attorneys
Conference on Dangerous and Narcotic Drugs. The
authority figures of the time—or any time—are
little different from the Hell's Angels; brainless
thugs, intent on preserving moral values while the
government busies itself defiling foreign countries.
He considered educating the D.A.'s by offering his
hotel room as a "life‑slice exhibit."
The ambiance of the room—the dorm of any college
student—was that of a failed zoological experiment
involving whiskey and gorillas; the bed was charred,
the carpet green with marijuana seeds, and the bathroom
floor so thick with vomit, soap bars, grapefruit
rinds and broken glass that Thompson commented,
"I had to put my boots on every time I went
in there to take a piss."
end of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
leaves the reader facing the failed American Dream,
as did the conclusion of Gatsby. The book
ends at the Denver Airport with Thompson using fake
Doctor of Divinity identification to purchase amyl
nitrate poppers. "Another fucked‑up cleric
with a bad heart," is Dr. Thompson's state
of health, and of the nation.
book very nearly disappeared into a legal wasteland,
never ever to be seen, when Thompson's traveling
partner, a Chicano attorney in real life named Oscar
("The Brown Buffalo") Acosta, looked at
the manuscript and said, "My God! Hunter has
stolen my soul! He has taken my best lines and has
used me. He has wrung me dry for material."
To avoid a lawsuit, lawyers cut a deal allowing
Acosta to publish two of his own books, today used
in Hispanic Studies courses, and to have his photo
appear on the original hardback.
manuscript, unlike his ground‑breaking piece
on the Kentucky Derby, was re‑written five
times. He intended it to be an American classic,
and indeed, it has become just that. Two‑time
Pulitzer Prize‑winner Tony Lukas called it
"the definitive piece on that time period."
"Amazingly true," was George Plimpton's
take of it, and Norman Mailer observed, "When
I saw Las Vegas, I just knew he had
the mark of excellence." The New York Times
provided the book with an epigram: "The Best
Book of the Dope Decade."
the story for the first film version in 1979—titled
Where the Buffalo Roam—provided its
own form of Fear and Loathing, especially
for the producer and screenwriter when they visited
Thompson on his own territory, Owl Farm, in Woody
Creek, near Aspen, to get a sense of their main
character and the movie's possibilities. Starting
on the wrong foot, Thompson drove them from the
airport, first smashing a van that blocked their
way, then getting stopped by police for going 70
in a 35‑m.p.h. zone, the car filled with alcohol
and drugs. The stint ended a few sleepless days
later, with both Hollywood men sitting on the airport
lawn, painfully aware there was potential in this
man's story, and assessing who was more deserving
of the last Valium in their possession. The producer‑director
Art Linson won.
one of the most eerily accurate casting jobs ever
done, Bill Murray, then a Saturday Night Live
actor, played Thompson. Murray had been a huge Thompson
fan for years, seeking him out at Aspen's Jerome
Bar, where Thompson toyed with him, calling the
actor "Houdini," taping him into a metal
pool‑side chair and throwing him in the deep
end. When Murray did not surface, Thompson dove
in and rescued him. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd
also openly embraced Hunter, where every SNL show
was an assault mission; Aykroyd called it "Gonzo
investment into the role was so thorough that later,
upon returning to the set of SNL, one of the writers
said, "Billy was not Bill Murray. You could
not talk with him without talking to Hunter Thompson."
Aside from taking a pitchfork and stabbing it upright
in the director's pile carpeting as a way of emphasizing
his need for expense money, and breaking a cast
iron chair at the apartment he shared with Murray,
Thompson simply observed. He was going through tough
times himself, in the middle of a difficult divorce
from Sandy. He needed money, and sold the rights
for $63,000 with an additional $25,000 as a "consultant":
he would advise on matters, such as showing Murray
his traditional way of taping the tape recorder
on his arm to capture every word of conversation
(Thompson still keeps all the tapes made during
his and Acosta's trip to Las Vegas at Owl Farm).
the prototypical Outlaw Journalist, ferociously
independent and appearing in public rarely and furtively,
to sell his life story to Hollywood was seen by
some as politically incorrect. Gary Trudeau had
been a student at Yale's Davenport College a few
years earlier when Hunter appeared on a panel discussion.
Late to arrive, sleeping through half the day's
events, Thompson finally responded to repeated knocks
on the door of his guest suite by throwing open
the door. Standing in his underwear, he extended
one arm, palm up, and slapped it repeatedly with
the other hand, saying, "... you want me to
shoot up in front of the students? Is that what
you want?" The then‑budding cartoonist
saw a real "character," casting him as
Uncle Duke in Doonesbury, a cartoon
strip with a heart of compressed political satire
perfectly in synch with Thompson's writings.
of his own success, Trudeau, who has never met Thompson,
wrote him, implying he had "gone mainstream"
with the movie deal. Thompson, always enraged that
Trudeau was making money off him, did two things
that showed his sense of desperation and bile. He
responded to Trudeau, writing, "You silly little
fart. Don't lay your karmic nightmares on me...
" Then, in nearly the same breath, in legal
preparation for divorce proceedings, on a list of
pre‑trial witnesses and exhibits, he included
Trudeau, to "testify as to the public image
of the life style of the petitioner; of the petitioner's
relationship with Owl Farm," even offering
to exhibit a "Dunesbury [sic] comic strip...
" in an attempt to keep from Sandy a valuable
piece of property, and the lair of the myth himself.
When illustrator Ralph Steadman accused Hunter of
selling out, Thompson again disagreed, but offered
his reasoning. He depicted Hollywood as "...
a huge tit. We're just supposed to fasten on and
movie was plagued with problems at the beginning,
middle and end. Peter Boyle, cast as Acosta (who
had disappeared off Mazatlan), played a Chicano
attorney one day, then "Lazlo," a Hungarian
drug lawyer the next, after a Chicano rights group
protested a non‑Chicano playing that role
(luckily, no Hungarian rights protesters were heard
from). Late, over budget, far beyond deadline, in
dire need of a "punch‑up," the ending
of the movie never seemed quite right until Hunter
was paid another $25,000. He and Murray holed up
in a high‑tech womb with gear allowing them
to make the leap directly—with no intervention—from
script to screen. It provided Thompson with the
ultimate non‑drug high, literally doing somersaults,
shouting, "Hot damn, we have done it! Oh, we've
flogged the beast home with this one." Nevertheless,
the movie lasted mere weeks in the theater before
it quietly entered the land of video Cult Classic.
keeping with yet another literary tradition, that
of Oscar Wilde, it seemed that after writing Fear
and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson "devoted
his talent to writing, his genius to living."
His works took on a ragged, disjointed quality,
often compilations of articles, like The Great
Shark Hunt, or of old newspaper columns,
such as Generation of Swine. His editor
for a decade, Alan Rinzler, saw his increased consumption
of alcohol and drugs seriously eroding his genius,
until he became "... like a smart little brat,
writing graffiti, calling attention to himself."
And clearly, it has been his genius for living that,
to this day, garners attention and keeps his persona
on a high and visible plateau. The examples are
the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight in Kinshasa,
Hunter goofed off, doing so little work and having
so much fun that Norman Mailer said his writing
style was like playing tennis with no net; Thompson's
readers were interested in what happened to Hunter.
He would sign his bar tabs, "Martin Bormann,"
spreading rumors of a huge Nazi torpedo being constructed
across the river, aimed at the city; he tried to
locate a house filled with pygmies, not to go in,
but to lie in front and watch; he searched for a
sewer in which a cobra lived—from time to
time the reptile would pop his head up to look around.
the fight drew near, he bought a small car with
its steering broken in such a way that it would
only turn to the left, then bought and strapped
to the side two huge elephant tusks. While careening
toward his hotel, he was stopped and boarded by
a soldier who shoved a machine gun in his ear and
told him to drive to the city jail. Thompson jabbered
back in Spanish, dodged potholes, rolled to a stop
in front of the hotel, then ambled through the lobby
and up to his room with a tusk under each arm.
the fight itself, Hunter's ringside seat between
Mailer and George Plimpton was empty: he had "taken
the night off," staying at the empty hotel,
tossing a pound and a half of local marijuana in
the pool, floating naked under a rising moon. He
commented later, "It's not the best way to
Saigon, days before the fall, he hooked up with
two seasoned war correspondents to get close to
the action at the front; he began the day dressed
in shorts, shades, Aloha shirt and cigarette holder,
hiring two 60‑year‑old room boys in
white pajamas to load a cooler of beer in the back
of their jeep. "Hunter Thompson was going to
war," observed Newsweek's bureau
chief, Nick Proffitt. Their jeep was strafed by
jet fighters near the combat zone; Thompson, who
had been popping handfuls of pills washed down with
beer, first remained silent, then emitted a primal
shriek that totally unnerved their driver. He lost
control, smashing the jeep nose‑down in a
culvert. "There were four giant pterodactyls
that just went overhead," Thompson explained
as Proffitt grabbed him by the throat and threatened
to kill him.
sensitive as he is assaultive, Thompson rankled
when William F. Buckley, in The New York Times,
reviewed one of his books (under the title "Blunt
Instruments") and stated "Hunter Thompson
has no apparent interest in sex." His angry
reaction took many forms for many years. Much was
fueled, most likely, by his awareness that his younger
brother, Jim, was actively gay and terminally ill
with AIDS, and that Jann Wenner was also gay. Thompson
strived to demonstrate his heterosexuality... in
his own way.
he got a job as "Night Manager" at San
Francisco's Mitchell Brothers Theater, known as
"the Carnegie Hall of sex." While dozens
of buck naked women performed incredible sex acts—the
double‑ended dildo and group‑shower‑spanking
are but a sampling—writhing on the tables
and stage below, Hunter occupied himself in an office
above, making videos... of dune buggies slamming
into one another, producing twisted wrecks of steel
he wrote an article for Rolling Stone
on the heavily publicized Palm Beach divorce trial
of Peter and Roxanne Pulitzer. The press indulged
themselves with charges of lesbianism, menage‑a‑trois,
cocaine use, and such bizarre sex partners that
the New York Post ran the banner line
"I Slept with a Trumpet," about which
Thompson commented, "We all sleep with trumpets.
The real question is, is Peter Pulitzer jealous
of the trumpet?" He got some of his material
by wrangling an invitation to a dinner party Roxanne
was attending, arranging to be seated next to her.
On the eve of publication, after days spent arguing
with libel attorneys, Thompson said, "I've
taken a lot of shit for not writing about sex. These
people want sex and violence and cocaine, I'll give
it to them. Yes, sir! You can really feel this one."
When the piece appeared, Roxanne Pulitzer was warned
by a friend, "... not to even get near the
has long claimed to be "part Kentucky hillbilly,
part Southern gentleman," and his weird style
of dealing with sex in the age of Internet porn,
Sidney Sheldon books and White House wildness may
simply be a steel‑plated resolve to protect
his "Southern gentleman" image in the
eyes of his mother. In 1992, while researching for
a biography of Thompson, after many pleasant telephone
conversations with Thompson's mother in Louisville,
this author had arranged a scheduled interview with
her. It was to be more than a pro‑forma meeting—Virginia
Thompson, and my father, Robert Whitmer, had been
in the same class at the University of Michigan.
Just before the interview, Mrs. Thompson canceled,
stating she had the flu; other Thompson family members
thought she was "put out" over having
to talk about her son. Carrying a lovely bouquet
of fresh flowers, I stopped by her apartment on
the way to another interview and handed them to
her saying simply, "These are from Peter Whitmer;
I hope you have not been bothered by all the questions.
hours, Hunter had contacted a local attorney with
the intent of suing me for harassment. Within days,
a "Stipulation" had been carefully worded
and sent to a judge for final proclamation. When
the document, preventing me from ever delivering
flowers to Hunter's mother, became public, wire
services around the world went non‑linear
with headlines such as "Gonzo Journalist Sues,
Wilting Era Of Flower Power."
this day, rarely venturing far from Owl Farm, Hunter
works sporadically on the most current version of
Rum Diary, the autobiographical work
first seen by Dennis Murphy at Big Sur in 1961.
He guards this work carefully, as if completion
might be some omen of his pre‑occupation with
death, where as a teen he thought he would live
only until age 27. At one point, he sold the manuscript,
then paid a secretary to steal it back for him.
The title has changed to Polo Is My Life,
and perhaps by not finishing the work, releasing
instead his first volume of collected letters, he
feels he is buying time on his Faustian bargain.
age, politicians, whores and even ugly buildings
gain respect. Perhaps Gonzo journalists as well.
And like Gatsby, Thompson still believes in the
green light; it may be the dawn of a new era. It
may be another acid flashback. Or it may be the
stunning success of Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing
in Las Vegas. But until this happens,
Thompson's ultimate questions remain unanswered:
"How do you film fear? And also a certain kind