Journalist, author and activist, Hunter Stockton Thompson (1937-2005) was born in Kentucky July 18. His mother an alcoholic, his father dying while Thompson was in high school, as a result he became a ‘troublemaker’, getting arrested for theft as a teen- given the choice between prison or the military, he joined the US Air Force in 1956.
He become a sports editor at a military newspaper in Florida and later discharged in 1957. From then he decided to pursue the journalistic field, working at various local newspapers, shortly becoming a ‘copy boy’ for Time Magazine.
Thompson began writing his first novel in 1959, The Rum Diary (not published until 1998), a gonzo journalistic piece written in Puerto Rico. He then married Sandy Conklin in 1963 (divorced in 1980). The consumption of drugs and alcohol fuelled his interest in American society, involving himself in the ‘cultural shifts’ taking place throughout the 60s and 70s.
Gonzo journalism refers to focusing on the experience of the writer rather than the story/ event taking place. It arose when Thompson was attempting to reach a deadline for a piece on the Kentucky derby (published 1970).
His first published book was ‘Hell’s Angels: A strange and terrible saga’ (1967) was written in gonzo journalism and follows the Hell’s Angers motorcycle gang, he wrote: ‘I was no longer sure whether I was doing research on the Hell’s Angels or being slowly absorbed by them’.
In 1970 Thompson failed to run for sheriff in Colorado (Pitkin county), writing an article ‘the battle of aspen’ on the experience. This was also his first piece published in the rolling stone; there he was the national affairs editor until 1999.
In 1971 fear and loathing in Las Vegas was born, Thompson was sent on an assignment by sports illustrated which turned into a drug filled adventure. The quickly became a bestselling book, a film representation being made in 1998.-“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold”.
In 1973 the collection of Thompson’s articles for the rolling stone (on the 1972 presidential campaign) was published (Fear and loathing on the campaign trail). A year later Thompson was sent to cover the famous fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, he skipped this fight, spending his time floating in the hotel pool, throwing one and a half pounds of weed into it.
Thompson married his assistant, Anita Beymunk in 2003, staying with her until his death. February 2005 Thompson shot himself (aged 68); his ashes were shot out of a cannon to Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine man.
Ever since I came across Thompson, he seemed strange to me. Fear and Loathing sitting on my shelf unread for a shamefully long time. Once I did pick it up it took me about a year to read (the majority of the time was spent trying to get past the first chapter). Now I realise that Thompsons work is beyond genius and I would be happy to stalk him if he didn’t shoot himself… I believe we would have been great friends, minus the blowjobs. And so, I may be about to order in too many of his books and collections… to eBay!!