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

Hunter S. Thompson – Part 3

The book for which Thompson gained most of his fame had its genesis during the research for Strange Rumblings in Aztlan, an exposé for Rolling Stone on the 1970 killing of the Mexican-American television journalist Rubén Salazar who had been shot in the head at close range with a tear gas canister fired by officers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War. One of Thompson’s sources for the story was Oscar Zeta Acosta, a prominent Mexican-American activist and attorney. Finding it difficult to talk in the racially tense atmosphere of Los Angeles, Thompson and Acosta decided to travel to Las Vegas, and take advantage of an assignment by Sports Illustrated to write a 250-word photograph caption on the Mint 400 motorcycle race held there.

What was to be a short caption quickly grew into something else entirely. Thompson first submitted to Sports Illustrated a manuscript of 2,500 words, which was, as he later wrote, “aggressively rejected.” Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner was said to have liked “the first 20 or so jangled pages enough to take it seriously on its own terms and tentatively scheduled it for publication — which gave me the push I needed to keep working on it”, Thompson later wrote.

The result of the trip to Las Vegas became the 1971 book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which first appeared in the November 1971 issues of Rolling Stone as a two-part series. It is written as a first-person account by a journalist named Raoul Duke on a trip to Las Vegas with Dr. Gonzo, his “300-pound Samoan attorney”, to cover a narcotics officers’ convention and the “fabulous Mint 400″. During the trip, Duke and his companion (always referred to as “my attorney”) become sidetracked by a search for the American Dream, with “…two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers [...] and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls.”

The book was greeted with considerable critical acclaim, including being heralded by The New York Times as “by far the best book yet written on the decade of dope”. “The Vegas Book”, as Thompson referred to it, was a mainstream success and introduced his Gonzo journalism techniques to a wide public.

Within the next year, Thompson wrote extensively for Rolling Stone while covering the election campaigns of President Richard Nixon and his unsuccessful opponent, Senator George McGovern. The articles were soon combined and published as fear and Loathing on the campaign Trail ’72. Thompson was an early supporter of McGovern and wrote unflattering coverage of the rival campaigns in the increasingly widely read Rolling Stone.

Thompson was to provide Rolling Stone similar coverage for the 1976 Presidential Campaign and Jann Wenner then asked Thompson to travel to Vietnam to report on what appeared to be the closing of the Vietnam War.Both stories were pulled and Thompson’s story about the fall of Saigon would not be published in Rolling Stone until ten years later. These two incidents severely strained the relationship between the author and the magazine, and Thompson contributed far less to the publication in later years.

Despite publishing a novel and numerous newspaper and magazine articles, the majority of Thompson’s literary output after the late 1970s took the form of a 4-volume series of books called The Gonzo Papers. Beginning with The Great Shark Hunt in 1979 and ending with Better Than Sex in 1994, the series is largely a collection of rare newspaper and magazine pieces from the pre-gonzo period, along with almost all of his Rolling Stone short pieces, excerpts from the Fear and Loathing… books, and so on. He wrote for many publications, including Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, The San Juan Star, and Playboy. A collection of his articles for Rolling Stone was released in 2011 as Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writings of Hunter S. Thompson.

Thompson died at his “fortified compound” known as “Owl Farm” in Woody Creek, Colorado, at 5:42 p.m. on February 20, 2005, from a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the head. On August 20, 2005, in a private ceremony, Thompson’s ashes were fired from a cannon. The cannon was placed atop a 153-foot (47 m) tower of his own design, in the shape of a double-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button originally used in Hunter S. Thompson’s 1970 campaign for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado. Red, white, blue, and green fireworks were launched along with his ashes. According to his widow Anita, Thompson’s funeral was financed by actor Johnny Depp, a close friend of Thompson. Depp told the Associated Press, “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.”

The plans for this monument were initially drawn by Thompson and Steadman and were shown as part of an Omnibus program on the BBC entitled Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision (1978). It is included as a special feature on the second disc of the 2003 Criterion Collection DVD release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, labeled on the DVD as Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood.

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