I wouldn’t recommend sex, drugs, or insanity for everyone, but they’ve always worked for me.
– Hunter S. Thompson
The man who brought free-flowing, entheogen and psychedelic-rich, intensely personal journalism to America, the man who wrote the counter-culture classics Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the man who’s drug-filled life was turned into two movies – Hunter Stockton Thomson – is dead at 67.
Thompson, who coined the term “gonzo journalism” to describe his intense, vivid, personal, minimially-edited approach to reporting, died the evening of February 20th of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head at his Woody Creek, Colorado home.
Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, a friend of Thompson’s, confirmed the death. Thompson’s son, Juan, discovered his body Sunday evening.
Thompson was found him dead in his home from a gunshot wound that “appeared to be self-inflicted and intentional”, Pitkin County sheriff’s spokesman Joe DiSalvo said. DiSalvo refused to say whether a note was found, but a family statement said Thompson had taken his own life.
His first book, Hell’s Angels, published in 1966, was an inside look at the notorious biker gang. Thompson describes the drug scene with the Hell’s Angels:
“The Angels insist there are no dope addicts in the club, and by legal or medical definitions this is true. Addicts are focused; the physical need for whatever they’re hooked on forces them to be selective. But the Angels have no focus at all. They gobble drugs like victims of famine turned loose on a rare smorgasbord. They use anything available, and if the result is a screaming delirium then so be it.”
While with the Angels, Thompson tried LSD, which later became one of his favorite drugs. He began using drugs more frequently after this assignment. While completing the manuscript for Hell’s Angels, he wrote for four straight days without sleep consuming nothing but Wild Turkey whiskey and speed.
Rolling Stone magazine publisher Jann Wenner learned of Thompson from his columns for Scanlan’s Monthly and Ramparts, and hired him as national affairs editor. This propelled Thompson and his unique reporting style to international fame.
In 1971, Thompson was in Los Angeles covering the killing of journalist Ruben Salazar when he received a call from his lawyer regarding a new assignment from Sports Illustrated to cover the Mint 400-motorcycle race in Las Vegas. He decided to write the piece in the Gonzo style, meaning that it was written as it happened, without editing. Unfortunately, this goal was never met; he had to edit some of the manuscript. Thompson and his lawyer began collecting supplies for their trip across the desert:
“The sporting editors had given me $300 in cash, most of which was already spent on extremely dangerous drugs. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-power blotter acid, a salt shaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers?Also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls.”
This trip would later become his classic book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, serialized in Rolling Stone beginning in 1971.
Playboy began printing Thompson’s articles on politics, particularly his coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign.
In 1977 Thompson wrote in the introduction to a collection of his journalism, The Great Shark Hunt: “I have already lived and finished the life I planned to live.”
In 1980, Bill Murry portrayed Thompson as a hedonaut and Don Quixote-like underdog in the fantastic film Where The Buffalo Roam. Drug use figured prominently in that film.
“Obviously, my drug use is exaggerated or I would be long since dead,” he told a USA Today reporter in 1990.
He also said: “I did assume, at that time, early on, and shit, forever, that I would be dead very soon. I never started any savings account. I just figured: ‘Bye, bye, Miss American Pie, good old boys drinkin’ whiskey and rye, singin’ this’ll be the day that I die.'”
He famously threatened to shoot trespassers, providing endless fodder for cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s (Doonesbury) ongoing portrayal of Thompson as the hard-living Duke, named after Raoul Duke, a character in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The book was made into a 1998 movie starring Johnny Depp.
Of Bill Clinton’s famous “I didn’t inhale” quote he was reported to have said;
“Bill Clinton does not inhale marijuana, right? You bet. Like I chew on LSD but I don’t swallow it.”
In his 2003 book Kingdom of Fear, he described the members of the current Bush administration: “They are the racists and hate mongers among us – they are the Ku Klux Klan.”
“Not even the foulest atrocities of Adolf Hitler ever shocked me so badly as these Abu Ghraib photographs did,” he wrote in 2004.
In a recent piece for Rolling Stone on the 2004 presidential campaign, he called George Bush a “treacherous little freak.”
Thompson married twice, first to Sandra Dawn Thompson Tarlo, with whom he had one son, Juan Fitzgerald Thompson. He later married his longtime assistant, Anita Thompson, a native of Fort Collins. Besides his wife and son, survivors include a grandson, William Thompson.
For online clips from Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas and Where the Buffalo Roam, check out:
For details of his life and death, please check out: