American journalist, author and founder of Gonzo Journalism, Hunter S. Thompson is perhaps best known for being a wild, genius of a mess, his drug addiction, and his strangely addicting dynamic with Oscar Zeta Acosta (attorney, politician, novelist, and activist), better known as Dr. Gonzo. They have been talked about since the 70s and were portrayed by Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998).
Let us celebrate Hunter S. Thompson by learning a little more about what made him such an interesting, yet troubled writer.
A Broad View of Hunter S. Thompson’s Life
- Born in Louisville, KY, Thompson was born into a middle-class family. He was the first of three sons.
- When he was 14, his father died of myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease that causes weakness and fatigue. To support her children, Thompson’s mother worked as a librarian but ended up becoming a heavy drinker due to her husband’s death.
- In school, Thompson co-founded the Hawks Athletic Club. It led to an invitation to join Louisville’s Castlewood Athletic Club, aimed at preparing teens for high-school sports. He excelled at baseball, although he never joined a sports team in high school.
- In 1952, he was accepted in the Athenaeum Literary Association, a literary and social club in school. He also helped produce the yearbook, but quickly found himself in trouble for the first major time in his life: he was charged with an accessory to robbery after being in the car with the guilty party. Because he was in jail, the superintendent didn’t grant him permission to take his final exams, so Thompson did not graduate high school. He went to jail for 60 days, before enlisting in the Air Force.
- While in the military, Thompson studied electronics and took evening classes at Florida State University.
- He began working as sports editor of The Command Courier by lying about his job experience and covered the Eagles football team. He traveled with them, covering their games.
- Recommended for an honorable discharge, Thompson was a free agent again in November 1957.
- After working as a sports editor for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, he moved to NY and enrolled at Columbia University School of General Studies. He got a job working at Time but got fired for insubordination.
- He also got fired from The Middletown Daily Record for damaging the candy machine in the office and arguing with the owner of a local restaurant (adviser with the paper).
- He moved to Puerto Rico for work, but the paper he was supposed to work for folded soon after. He moved on to the New York Herald Tribune, as a stringer (freelance journalist). William J. Kennedy was his editor.
- Thompson then went on to hitchhiking across the U.S. on highway 40 and ended up in Big Sur, CA. He wrote two novels during this time, Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary.
- He married his long-time girlfriend, Sandra Dawn Conklin, better known as Sondi Wright, in 1963. They lived in Colorado briefly and had a son, Juan Fitzgerald Thompson. The other five pregnancies did not work out (3 miscarriages, 2 infants who died shortly after childbirth).
- The couple split in 1980 but remained close friends nonetheless.
- After writing several artsy, yet controversial pieces for the Observer, he moved to San Francisco, where he began doing drugs. He lived with the Hell’s Angels for a year, in order to write a story on them for The Nation.
- In the following years, Thompson wrote for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Pageant and Harper’s. During this time, Thompson studied counterculture of the drug-filled 60’s, which he’d later recount in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
- In 1970, he began Gonzo Journalism where the reporter is part of the story, as a first-person narrative. It came about out of desperation. He sent ripped pages out of his notebook, due to the soul-crushing deadlines.
- It was during a 1970 exposé on Mexican-American journalist Ruben Salazar’s murder that Thompson met Acosta, better known as Dr. Gonzo. They ran into trouble in LA, so they traveled to Las Vegas to take advantage of a Sports Illustrated assignment.
- The notorious 1972 book was published in Rolling Stone as a two-part series.
- In the following years, Thompson wrote, inhaled, snorted and drank. He found himself in heaps of trouble for sexual assault, and authority searches turning up all types of narcotics and dynamite sticks in his home.
- He became more reclusive after 1980, once everyone began claiming his old self had died, and he was publishing content, and tales, based on old experiences.
- He really committed suicide in his Colorado home, which he affectionately named Owl Farm. It was February 20, 2005. His kids were visiting for the weekend, and his new wife was on the phone with him at the time. He’d suffered from depression in his later years, due to a failing of new material, chronic medical problems, and advancing age.
“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’s “Football Season Is Over.” Rolling Stone.
There’s a saying that states that to be a genius, you have to be a little crazy. If anyone was a prime example of this, it was Hunter S. Thompson. The writer, journalist, drug addict, and crabby old man was anything but ordinary. His life reflected all the highs and lows of a writer’s career, especially one with a drug problem. And apparently, dynamite. Let us celebrate the man who gave us a new kind of journalism, a better kind.