"If you're going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you're going to be locked up."
Happy birthday Hunter S. Thompson!
Hunter S. Thompson (July 18, 1937—February 20, 2005) was an American journalist and author. He invented a style of writing known as gonzo journalism, in which the writer places him or herself deep within the context of the story which he or she is reporting. He is best known for the novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971).
Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky to Jack Robert Thompson and Virginia Ray Davison. His father was an insurance salesman who died while Thompson was still in high school and his mother was an alcoholic. Thompson was a good student and athlete in his youth, but by the time he was a teenager, he was arrested for stealing a man's wallet. When faced with the option of prison or the military, he chose to join the United States Air Force.
After bouncing through a series of bases, he ended up at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where he landed his first job as the sports editor of The Command Courier by lying about his professional experience. Following his honorable discharge in 1958, he landed a series of jobs at small newspapers and a job as a copy boy at Time magazine. (Image source)
In 1960, Thompson moved to Puerto Rico for a job with sports magazine El Sportivo, which closed its doors not long after he arrived. He ended up working as a stringer for the New York Herald Tribune and wrote on Caribbean issues for a few U.S. newspapers. Upon his return, he hitchhiked across the United States, ending up in California's Big Sur. He published his first nationally distributed magazine feature based on his experience there. After being fired from his job as a caretaker of the area's hot springs, he wrote the novels Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary, the latter of which wasn't published until 1998.
Thompson spent May, 1962 to May, 1963 traveling South America, spending a good amount of time in Brazil writing for the English-language newspaper, The Brazil Herald. His longtime girlfriend, Sandra Dawn Conklin, traveled with him and the two married shortly after they returned to the United States in 1963. They had one son, Juan Fitzgerald Thompson, and divorced in 1980.
Thompson then spent time in Glen Ellen and later San Francisco, California. He became deeply involved in San Francisco's hippie culture. During this period, he quit writing for weekly newspaper The National Observer and eventually began writing for Berkeley's The Spyder.
Thompson's next major project came in the form of his deep immersion into the California-based Hell's Angels motorcycle club. After The Nation published Thompson's article about his experiences with them in 1965, he received several book offers. Upon further exploration, he began to develop what is now known as his iconic gonzo journalism style. The result was the book Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1966). He said of the experience, "I was no longer sure whether I was doing research on the Hell's Angels or being slowly absorbed by them."
After unsuccessfully running for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, Rolling Stone magazine published an article chronicling Thompson's experiences during the campaign. He went on to become national affairs editor of the magazine.
The defining moment of Thompson's career came when he began a project for Sports Illustrated. The product of this assignment was the novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971). The novel, an account of his experiences in Las Vegas while on a slew of drugs, became a bestseller. The novel was adapted to film in 1998, starring Johnny Depp.
The character "Uncle Duke" in the comic series Doonesbury, by Garry Trudeau, is based on Thompson.
Thompson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his compound in Woody Creek, Colorado.
Bonus: Hunter S. Thompson's Creative, Fearless Job Application Letter
To Jack Scott, Vancouver Sun
October 1, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City
I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I'd also like to offer my services.
Since I haven't seen a copy of the "new" Sun yet, I'll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn't know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I'm not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley. By the time you get this letter, I'll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I'll let my offer stand.
And don't think that my arrogance is unintentional: it's just that I'd rather offend you now than after I started working for you. I didn't make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he'd tell you that I'm "not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person." (That's a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.) Nothing beats having good references.
Of course if you asked some of the other people I've worked for, you'd get a different set of answers. If you're interested enough to answer this letter, I'll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now.
The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It's a year old, however, and I've changed a bit since it was written. I've taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession. As far as I'm concerned, it's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you're trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I'd like to work for you.
Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews. I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don't give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations. I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.
It's a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I'd enjoy the trip. If you think you can use me, drop me a line. If not, good luck anyway.
Hunter S. Thompson
published in The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967 (Ballantine, 1997).
- Birthday Date: Friday, 18 July 2014