Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
“If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people, including me, would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.” Hunter S. Thompson
American journalist and writer Hunter S. Thompson (born in 1937, died in 2005) became known for his free-wheeling, intoxicant-fueled notices on society and politics in Rolling Stone magazine and in books, most remarkable Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971). Getting his start in journalism when he was in the United States Air Force in the late 1950s, Thompson received the title of the Gonzo journalism creator in early 1970s thanks to Scanlan’s Monthly magazine that published his article “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved.” Following this, his work appeared in numerous magazines, books, and more recently, on the Internet. His books include “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72” (1972), “The Great Shark Hunt” (1979), “The Proud Highway” (1997), “Fear and Loathing in America” (2001), “Kingdom of Fear” and “Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness Modern History from the Sports Desk” (2004), a compilation of his ESPN Page 2 columns.
Thompson, who was also popular as “Dr. Gonzo,” “Dr. Hunter S. Thompson” and “Raoul Duke,” has been portrayed by Bill Murray in the movie Where the Buffalo Roam (1980), and Johnny Depp, as well as Benicio Del Toro, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). Depp will star in the upcoming film The Rum Diary (2008), based on the famed Gonzo journalist's book of the same name. The actor also serves as executive producer.
Thompson had two marriages in his lifetime. He was married to first wife Sandra Dawn Tarlo from 1963 to 1980 and had a son with her, Juan Thompson. He was married to second wife Anita Bejmuk from 2003 until his death in 2005. From his son's marriage to Jennifer Winkel, he had a grandchild in 1998 named Will Thompson.
Childhood and Family:
Hunter Stockton Thompson was born on July 18, 1937, in Louisville, Kentucky, to parents Jack, an insurance agent, and Virginia, a librarian. His father died when he was 14 years old, leaving Hunter and his two brothers, Davison and James, under the guidance of their single mother who was a chronic alcoholic. Growing up in the Cherokee Triangle region of the Highlands, Hunter graduated from Louisville Male High School. A rebellious teen, he missed his graduation exercises because he was in jail due to a robbery. Hunter later began calling himself Dr. Thompson after purchasing a Doctorate in Theology from a church by mail order. He also majored in Journalism at the Columbia University in New York.
On May 19, 1963, Hunter married girlfriend Sandra Dawn Tarlo and they had a son named Juan Fitzgerald Thompson on March 23, 1964. The couple divorced in 1980. Hunter married long-time assistant Anita Bejmuk on April 24, 2003.
On February 20, 2005, Hunter died at his house in Woody Creek, Colorado, after committing suicide by shooting himself in the head. At the time of his suicide, his only son, Juan, daughter in law Jennifer Winkel and grandson Will were visiting for the weekend. His wife was at a gym and was on the phone with him when he ended his life. Although the family believed that the cause behind his suicide was his many painful medical conditions, rumors said that he may have been assassinated because of information he had relating to the September 11, 2000, attacks.
In August, in a private ceremony attended by an estimated 280 people, Hunter's ashes were fired from a cannon atop a 153’ tower of his own design. Actor Johnny Depp, a close friend of Hunter, attended and financed the funeral. Depp stated, “All I'm doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out.”
Numerous other renowned guests attended, including U.S. Senator John Kerry, ex-U.S. Senator George McGovern, 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley, actors Bill Murray, Sean Penn and Josh Hartnett, as well as singers Lyle Lovett and John Oates.
The Rum Diary
10-year-old Hunter S. Thompson started his own newspaper, which he sold for 4 cents a copy, and later joined the prestigious Athenaeum Literary Association while he was a student at high school. A trouble maker and self-described “hard case,” he was detained in 1956 for robbery, and after his release 60 days later, joined the Air Force where he became a sports editor for the base newspaper, the Command Courier. Thompson also wrote for some local newspapers, which was against Air Force regulations. He was honorably discharged in 1958. Next, Thompson worked as a reporter for a small town newspaper in Pennsylvania. He then worked as a copy boy at Time magazine, but was immediately fired after demanding editors make him a reporter. Later that same year, he worked for the Middletown Daily Record in upstate New York as a reporter and again was fired from his job because of his behavior.
In 1960, Thompson relocated to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to take a job with the sporting magazine El Sportivo. The move to Puerto Rico gave Thompson the opportunity to travel in the Caribbean and South America and write freelance articles for several American daily newspapers, including the New York Herald Tribune. Upon returning state side, he took a job as a security guard and caretaker at Big Sur Hot Springs for eight months in 1961. There, he could publish his first magazine feature in the nationwide distributed Rogue magazine. The article caused Thompson to be fired from his job as a caretaker.
During this time period, Thompson also penned two novels, “Prince Jellyfish” and “The Rum Diary,” and submitted numerous fictional short stories to publishers with little victory.
Thompson returned to South America and was there from May 1962 to May 1963 working as a correspondent for the National Observer. He quit after they refused to print his review of Tom Wolfe’s Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. A year later, in 1964, he moved to San Francisco where he became the West Coast correspondent for Nation. It was Carey McWilliams, editor of The Nation, who offered Thompson a chance to write a story about the California based Hells Angels motorcycle gang. He spent a year living and riding with Hells Angels, serializing his reports for the magazine. The collection was later published in 1966 by Random House as “Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.” The book was well-received by both readers and critics.
Thompson saw the remainder of the 1960s overwhelmed by a sea of drugs and desperation. He was in Chicago at the Democratic Convention in 1968 and later that same year, was asked to accompany his future arch rival, Richard Nixon, for a limo ride to New Hampshire to talk football. Thompson, however, did not go gonzo until 1970, when he covered the Kentucky Derby for the short-lived new journalism magazine Scanlan’s Monthly. Facing a looming deadline, he cut pages from his notebook and sent them to the magazine. The result, “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” was hailed as a breakthrough in journalism. 1970 also found Thompson venture into politics. An Aspen, Colorado, resident, he ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, on a Freak Power Party platform of legalizing drugs. He lost by 485 votes.
Back to journalism, Thompson worked for Sport’s Illustrated in 1971 and wrote a short article about the Mint 400, a desert motorcycle race in Las Vegas. The article turned into a long meandering tale describing Thompson as his alter ego Raoul Duke, who trips to Vegas with his 300-pound Samoan lawyer Dr. Gonzo. When the sport magazine dropped the article, Rolling Stone magazine picked it up and even sent Thompson back to Vegas as their writer to cover the National District Attorneys Association’s annual anti-drug conference. The reports were later collected into a second novel titled “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream,” which has been regarded as his best known work.
In 1972, Thompson published “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72,” a compilation of his Rolling Stone articles he wrote while covering the Democratic primaries and the presidential campaign between George McGovern and Richard Nixon. He spent the rest of the decade working as a stringer for various magazines, including Playboy and Vanity Fair, in addition to Rolling Stone. His behavior, however, grew more capricious and hot-tempered and frequently resulted in publication rejections. In 1979, Thompson released the first volume of “Gonzo Papers,” a collection of Watergate-era articles spanning the 1970’s, titled “The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales From a Strange Time.”
Thompson went on to write regularly throughout the 1980s, though the quality of his work began to decline. Many people believed the reason behind it was his ever-disabling addiction to alcohol and drugs. Early in the decade, actor Bill Murray portrayed Thompson in the film Where the Buffalo Roam (1980), based on Thompson's stories “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat and Strange Rumblings in Aztlan.” Despite Murray's adequate impersonation, both the writer and fans were unhappy with the movie. In the mid-1980s, Thompson established himself as a “media critic” working for the San Francisco Examiner. There, he wrote almost 170 columns that finally became his second volume of Gonzo Papers, “Generation of Swine,”
Entering the 1990s, Thompson published his third volume of the Gonzo Paper, “Songs of the Doomed,” featuring articles written from 1950 to 1990, which was followed by several more compilations like “Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie” (1995), his account of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential win, “The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman” (1997), “Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist” (2001) and “Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century” (2003).
Many years after the unsuccessful effort of bringing Thompson's work to film in 1980, a second attempt was made in 1998 and Terry Gillian directed an adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, starring Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke and Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo. The effort was seen as a failure, but Thompson, Depp and Del Torro became fast friends after the production.
Before his death, Thompson released “Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness-Modern History from the Sports Desk” in 2004. It was a collection of his ESPN Page 2 columns. An upcoming movie, The Rum Diary, based on Thompson's book of the same name, is now in production with Bruce Robinson directing and scripting. Actor Johnny Depp will star as Paul Kemp, in addition to being one of the film's executive producers.