Hunter S. Thompson: Eight years on from the demise of the godfather of Gonzo.

February 14, 2013 1:35 pm

Hunter S. Thompson“There he goes, one of God’s own prototypes.
A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.
Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

– Hunter S. Thompson

No matter what field of work you’re in anywhere in the world and no matter how hard you try you will never quite manage to avoid the reality that every once in a while someone will come along and completely tear up the rule book. For journalism in the 1960s and 1970s that someone was a man from Louisville, Kentucky by the name of Hunter Stockton Thompson. A tall guy with fire in his eyes and a taste for truth as well as various hallucinogens, Hunter S. Thompson smashed onto the scene with his debut book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs which became internationally known. In 1965, Carey McWilliams, editor of The Nation, offered Hunter the opportunity to write a story based on his experience with the California-based Hells Angels, an outlaw motorcycle gang who were gaining notoriety in the area. After The Nation published the article, Hunter received several book offers and spent the next year living and riding with the Hell’s Angels which included wild parties that spanned several days, going on several runs up and down states, the funeral of a high-ranking member and eventually suffering a “stomping” as the Angels called it when the gang perceived Thompson as using them for his own personal gains.
The relationship broke down and Hunter went on to publish the book. The fight between Hunter and the Angels was well-marketed but it was his next book that took him from counter-culture figure to rock star writer.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas remains Thompson’s best known piece and for good reason too, the man himself described it once as a failed experiment in Gonzo journalism but what I think is more important than that is that what we actually got from Fear and Loathing was a blistering account of the death of the American dream from his perspective and also what made it so popular was that the subtext of it all dealt mainly with coming to terms with the failure of the 1960s counter-cultural movement.
The book features Thompson’s alter ego “Raul Duke” and his attorney “Dr Gonzo”( described as a 300 pound Samoan man whose real identity was that of Oscar Zeta Acosta a Mexican lawyer and activist) going on an incredible drug-fueled trip to Las Vegas to cover the famous Mint 400 motorcycle race and to catch the National Conference of District Attorneys seminar on Narcotics and Dangerous drugs. First appearing in Rolling Stone as a two-part series and illustrated by Ralph Steadman, a British artist and friend of Hunter’s who also collaborated with him on other projects, the book was published on the 11th of November 1971.


Thompson’s next book would go on to be described as the least factual but most accurate account of the 1972 American electionwatergate scandal
between Senator George McGovern and Hunter’s own arch nemesis Richard M. Nixon. Thompson followed the democratic McGovern party through New Hampshire to Florida, Milwaukee to Los Angeles, and all the while keeping his veins and pages pumped to capacity with his molten Gonzo flair. Richard Nixon was to become Hunter’s primary target for abuse, blame and degradation (rightly so more often than not) for the rest of his presidency until, after the cataclysmic damage done to his name by the Watergate scandal, he resigned on August the 9th 1974. But the joke wasn’t over just yet. The last attack on Thompson’s psyche came on September 8th of the same year when Nixon’s successor Gerald Ford announced a full pardon for Nixon despite the fact he had still never released unedited versions of the notorious “Watergate tapes” thought to prove him and many of his key staff and aides guilty of criminal activity. Nixon died in April 1994 having never released the tapes.
Hunter’s rants about Nixon soon became the stuff of legend as this example from the obituary Thompson wrote for Nixon shows.

“At the stroke of midnight in Washington, a drooling red-eyed beast with the legs of a man and 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 … pauses briefly to strangle the chow watchdog, then races off into the darkness… toward the Watergate,
snarling with lust, loping through the alleys behind Pennsylvania Avenue and trying desperately to remember which one of those 400 iron balconies is the one outside Martha Mitchell’s apartment.”

– Hunter. S Thompson
In the later years of Hunter S. Thompson’s career however success began to take its toll on him. Years of partying all night with drugs, booze and explosives began to affect the quality of his work, coupled with the divorce of his then wife Sandy, Hunter’s articles became more sporadic rolling from publication to publication and even working as the night manager of a strip club. His fans and some of his closer friends expressed their disappointment in the quality of some of his work stating that he was merely reminiscing on past glories and not producing enough new material.
These concerns were alluded to in the introduction of The Great Shark Hunt where he suggests his old self committed suicide. The drains of a mixture of success and excess haunted Thompson for the rest of his life, but he soon found form again with the help of one of his biggest addictions. Politics.
Hunter’s loathing of both Bush administrations was clear early on in both cases as he would recount in his various collections the “Gonzo papers”. A series of books set throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s that, when read cover to cover in order, expose an extremely disturbing and depraved era with wit, humour and crystal clear observation.

hunter s thompsonHunter S. Thompson died at his home in Woody Creek, Colorado on the 20th of February 2005, committing suicide with a gunshot to the head. His wife Anita Thompson was home along with son Juan, daughter in law Jennifer and grandson Will who were visiting at the time. Juan and Jennifer originally mistook the sound of the gunshot for a book falling and carried on with what they were doing for a few minutes before checking on him. To mark the passing of his father Juan fired a shot-gun into the air.
For his funeral Hunter was shot out of a cannon placed upon a 153 foot tower of his own design. The Gonzo fist.

Even his suicide note reflects his signature mania.

“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won’t hurt”

– Hunter S. Thompson

His influence lives on today in the writing of many different like-minded writers and authors and his message shall live on long into the future inspiring writers for years to come. “Some may never live, but the crazy never die.”

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