Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Hunter S. Thompson – Part 1

Hunter Stockton Thompson (July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005) was an American journalist and author. He first came to popular attention with the publication of Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1966), although the work he remains best known for is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), which was first serialised in Rolling Stone magazine.

Thompson became a counter cultural figure as the creator of Gonzo journalism, an experimental style of reporting where reporters (him initially) involve themselves in the action to such a degree that they become central figures of their stories. He had an inveterate hatred of Richard Nixon, who he claimed represented “that dark, venal, and incurably violent side of the American character” and who he characterised in what many consider to be his best book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. He was known also for his lifelong use of alcohol and illegal drugs; his love of firearms and his iconoclastic contempt for authoritarianism.

Thompson was born into a middle class family in Louisville, Kentucky. Interested in sports from a young age, Thompson joined Louisville’s Castlewood Athletic Club, and excelled in baseball. Thompson attended I. N. Bloom Elementary School, Highland Middle School, and Atherton High School, before transferring to Louisville Male High School in September 1952. Also in 1952, he was accepted as a member of the Athenaeum Literary Association, a school-sponsored literary and social club that had been founded at Male High in 1862.

As an Athenaeum member, Thompson contributed articles and helped edit the club’s The Spectator; but the group ejected Thompson in 1955, citing his legal problems. Charged as an accessory to robbery after being in a car with the robber, Thompson was sentenced to 60 days in Kentucky’s Jefferson County Jail. He served 31 days and, a week after his release, enlisted in the United States Air Force. Whilst he was in jail the school superintendent refused him permission to take his high school final examinations, and as a result he did not graduate.

While in the Air Force, Thompson had his first professional writing job as sports editor of the The Command Courier, where he covered the Eglin Eagles football team. Thompson was discharged from the Air Force in June 1958 as an Airman First Class, having been recommended for an early honorable discharge by his commanding officer. “In summary, this airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy”, Col. William S. Evans, chief of information services wrote to the Eglin personnel office. “Sometimes his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen staff members.” In a mock press release Thompson wrote about the end of his duty, he claimed to have been issued a status of “totally unclassifiable”.

After the Air Force, he worked as sports editor for a newspaper in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania before relocating to New York City. There he attended the Columbia University School of General Studies part-time on the G.I. Bill, taking classes in creative writing. During this time he worked briefly for Time, as a copy boy for $51 a week. In 1959, Time fired him for insubordination.

In 1960 Thompson moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to take a job with the sporting magazine El Sportivo, which folded soon after his arrival. Thompson worked for the New York Herald Tribune and a few stateside papers on Caribbean issues. After returning to the States, Hunter hitchhiked across the United States along U.S. Hwy 43, eventually ending up in Big Sur, California working as a security guard. While there, he was able to publish his first magazine feature in the nationally distributed Rogue magazine on the culture of Big Sur. Thompson had a rocky tenure as caretaker of the hot springs, and the unwanted publicity generated from the article finally got him fired.

During this period, Thompson wrote two novels, Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary, and submitted many short stories to publishers with little success. The Rum Diary, which fictionalized Thompson’s experiences in Puerto Rico, was eventually published in 1998, long after Thompson had become famous.

He travelled and worked through Rio, Brazil; Aspen, Colorado before moving to Glen Ella, California, where Thompson continued to write for the National Observer on an array of domestic subjects, including a story about his 1964 visit to Ketchum, Idaho, in order to investigate the reasons for Ernest Hemingway’s suicide. Thompson then moved to San Francisco, immersing himself in the drug and hippie culture that was taking root in the area. About this time. he began writing for the Berkley underground paper The Spyder.

In 1965, Thompson wrote a story based on his experience with the California-based Hells Angels motorcycle club for The Nation. 

One response

  1. Pingback: For No Good Reason | socialpsychol

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