Hunter S. Thompson Biography

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Birth Name: Hunter S. Thompson
Born: 07/18/1937
Birth Place: Kentucky, USA
Death Place: Aspen, Colorado, USA
Died: 02/20/2005


Thompson was born July 18, 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky to an insurance agent father and librarian mother. At 10 years old, he began his own newspaper which he sold for 4 cents a copy and later became a member of the prestigious Athenaeum Literary Association while attending Louisville Male High School. A trouble maker and self-described "hard case," Thompson got into frequent trouble as a youth-a week before high school graduation he took part in a robbery and was sentenced to 60 days of juvenile detention followed by enlistment in the Army. After his release, Thompson joined the Air Force instead and was assigned to electronics school, but convinced his superiors to let him become sports editor for the base newspaper, the Command Courier. In 1958, he was honorably discharged two years early after a commanding officer noted that his "flair for invention and imagination" and "rebellious disregard for military dress and authority sometimes seem to rub off on the other airmen."

Soon after his discharge, Thompson began work as a reporter at a small town newspaper in Pennsylvania, but soon fled after wrecking the editor's car. His ensuing stint at Time magazine as a copy boy resulted in getting fired after demanding editors to make him a reporter. Thompson then moved to Puerto Rico, where his experiences as a decadent American journalist became the subject of his first completed novel, The Rum Diary, written in 1959, but published in 1998 as Thompson's "long-lost novel." In 1959, he landed a job at the New York Herald Tribune as their Caribbean correspondent. He left the Tribune for the National Observer in 1961 to become the South American correspondent, a post he held until 1963 when he quit after their refusal to print his review of Tom Wolfe's Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. In 1964, Thompson moved to San Francisco where he began writing a story on the Free Speech Movement in Berkley for the Nation. Editor Carey McWilliams then suggested that he do a story on the Hell's Angels-the violent and oft-misunderstood motorcycle gang. Thompson spent a year riding with the Angels, serializing his accounts for the magazine. The collection was later published in 1966 as Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.

Thompson watched the rest of the decade drown in a sea of drugs and despair. He was in Chicago for the riot at the Democratic Convention in 1968, narrowly escaping a savage beating at the hands of the police. Later that year, he came face to face with his future nemesis, Richard Nixon: he was asked to accompany the candidate for a limo ride to New Hampshire to talk football-and nothing but football. Thompson was impressed with Nixon's knowledge of the sport, though afterwards he still considered him scum. It wasn't until 1970, however, that Thompson officially went gonzo while covering the Kentucky Derby for Scanlan's Monthly. Up against a deadline with no story, he ripped pages from his notebook and sent them through the printer convinced it would be the last article he would ever do. Instead, the magazine published the piece"The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved"which was heralded as a breakthrough in journalism. The flurry of positive responses gave Thompson the lasting impression that if he could write that way and get away with it, why continue trying to write like the New York Times? Later dubbed gonzo by a fellow writer, Thompson unwittingly styled a new form of journalism.

That same year, Thompson moved to Aspen, Colorado to his infamous fortified compound-a sprawling ranch called Owl Farm-where he could sit on the porch naked and high on mescaline while exploding propane tanks with a .357 magnum. He ventured into politics by running for sheriff of Aspen on the Freak Power ticket, promising to decriminalize drugs, tear up downtown streets and replace them with bike paths, and rename Aspen to Fat City, Colorado. He lost by 468 votes. Meanwhile in 1971, Thompson was hired by Sports Illustrated to cover the Mint 400-a desert motorcycle race in Las Vegas-but the short article turned into a long rambling tale depicting Thompson as his alter ego Raoul Duke, who travels to Vegas with his 300-pound Samoan attorney Dr. Gonzo. The hallucinatory prose and wild criminal acts proved too much for the sports magazine, which dropped the article, but Rolling Stone was happy to run it. The magazine then sent Thompson back to Vegas to cover the National District Attorneys Association's annual drug convention and serialized his sordid accounts. His dispatches were later compiled into a second novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a savage journey into the heart of the American Dream that turned him into a counterculture hero.

In 1972, he jumped onto the campaign trail to cover the Democratic primaries and the presidential campaign between George McGovern and Richard Nixon. The result was a compilation of his Rolling Stone articles, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, in which he called Hubert Humphrey a "hopeless dishonest old hack", speculated that Ed Muskie was under the influence of the psychoactive drug, Ibogaine, and accused Nixon of representing "that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character." Throughout the 1970's, he continued working as a stringer for various magazines-namely Rolling Stone, Playboy and Vanity Fair-but his behavior became more unpredictable and irascible, sometimes resulting in publications refusing to print his work.

He released his first volume of "Gonzo Papers"-a collection of articles spanning the 1970's-in 1979 as The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales From a Strange Time. Two trips to Hawaii in 1980 with long-time illustrator Ralph Steadman courtesy of Running magazine was detailed in the strangely out-of-print Curse of Lono, released three years after the fact. Though he continued to write steadily throughout the 1980's, the quality of Thompson's work showed signs of decline-perhaps due to his ever-crippling addiction to drugs and alcohol. In the mid-80's, he began work as a "media critic" for the San Francisco Examiner, writing nearly 170 columns that eventually became his second volume of Gonzo Papers, Generation of Swine, in which he railed against Ronald Reagan, Ed Meese and Pat Robertson. Volume three of the Gonzo Papers, Songs of the Doomed, was released in 1990 and included articles Thompson wrote from 1950-1990. Several more compilations soon followed: Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie in 1995; The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman in 1997; Fear and Loathing in America : The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist in 2001; Kingdom of Fear in 2003; and Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness-Modern History from the Sports Desk, a collection of his ESPN Page 2 columns released in 2004.

Always sporting a fisherman's cap, aviator glasses and a cigarette holder stuffed with a Dunhill while mumbling incoherently and gesticulating wildly, it was inevitable that Thompson would be characterized on film. The first attempt to capture the madness was made by Bill Murray in "Where the Buffalo Roam" (1980), a loose account of Thompson's writing that ultimately failed to tell a coherent story. Both Thompson and fans were disappointed with the movie, though Murray did a passable impersonation. In 1998, Terry Gilliam directed an adaptation of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", starring Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke and Benicio Del Torro as Dr. Gonzo. Though Gilliam managed to bring Thompson's hallucinatory prose to life, he failed to show the author's biting wit, resulting in a flat and disparate film possessing a unique visual flare. Thompson, Depp and Del Torro became fast friends, however, and tried to parlay "The Rum Diary" into a film, but the project languished in development hell for years.

Thompson never got to see "The Rum Diary" move into production. After years of crippling back and hip surgery compounded by continued pain from a broken leg, Thompson shot himself in the head in the kitchen of his Owl Farm compound. The details of the suicide remained private, but friends and fellow journalists speculated that the pain he suffered over the years may have been the cause. Thompson left behind his second wife, Anita, his only son, Juan, born from his first wife, Sandy Dawn and a legacy of fear and loathing the likes of which will never be seen again. Indeed.




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