“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold… And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas.”
And so began a twisted tale that would catapult Dr. Hunter S. Thompson into superstardom. “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: a Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream,” published in 1972, was a major hit as it flew off the shelves. 26 years later, Terry Gilliam directed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a movie based on Thompson’s book, starring Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke (Dr. Hunter S. Thompson) and Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo (Oscar Zeta-Acosta).The film had mediocre success at the box office, but became a cult classic.
“I loved the movie,” said Ruben Edouardo. “Those two guys were tripping balls the whole time. It was unreal!”
What Edouardo did not know was that the movie was based on a novel that was written from the first hand account of Hunter S. Thompson as he covered the Mint 400 and a police officer’s narcotics seminar in Las Vegas. He did not know that Thompson was a professional journalist.
“You mean these people really existed?” Edouardo asked.
Other people were also surprised that this character really existed.
“Well I knew it was based on a book,” said Peter Schauffhauser. “But I didn’t know these guys were real people.”
Thompson was a journalist. He is the founder of Gonzo Journalism: a form of journalism where the story is told from the eye of the journalist. There is no objectivity, there’s continuous dialogue, and places and events are described in great detail. It is almost like a novel. He also reported and wrote under the influence of a variety of drugs and alcohol. This style of reporting was a spin off of Tom Wolfe’s new journalism movement from the mid 1960s.
Before “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Thompson wrote a book about his first hand encounters with the California Hell’s Angels chapter. He rode with them for nearly six months before they beat the tar out of him for not sharing money from his book deal. At the time, the only press the Hell’s Angels received was bad press. Thompson was the first reporter to actually speak with members and see the lifestyle they were living. It gave the nation an insider’s view of the most talked about subject at the time. “Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs,” published in 1966, was Thompson’s first real taste of success.
In June 1970, Thompson was sent to cover the Kentucky Derby by Scanlon’s magazine, which is now defunct. It was here that gonzo journalism was born. Accompanied by British artist Ralph Steadman, Thompson went on a bender for the duration of the event. Desperate to meet deadline with no real notes about the event, he began ripping pages out of his notebook and sending them to his editor. What came out of it was “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” and a new style of writing which Thompson used for most of his career.
Thompson’s career as a writer was enormous. After “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” he wrote as a political critic in several primaries. In 1972, he spread the rumor that Democratic candidate Ed Muskie was doped up on Ibogaine, an African sex drug. The rumor seriously hurt Muskie’s campaign. His lack of objectivity and ability to insult every major candidate made him a favorite among readers.
Apart from the works mentioned above, Thompson published his articles from the 1972 campaign, called “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.” Other books include “The Great Shark Hunt,” “Generation of Swine,” “Songs of the Doomed,” “Better Than Sex,” “The Proud Highway,” “Screwjack,” “The Curse of Lono,” “The Rum Diary,” “Fear and Loathing in America,” and “Kingdom of Fear.” There were also four unauthorized biographies written about him; “Hunter,” by E. Jean Carroll, “Hunter S. Thompson,” by William McKeen, “Fear and Loathing; The Strange and Terrible Sage of Hunter S. Thompson,” by Paul Perry and “When the Going Gets Weird,” by Peter O. Whitmer.
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson contributed to journalism in his very own way. He was a drug addict, an exception to the rule of what the human body can tolerate in terms of consumption, but was a gifted writer. Thompson took his own life February 20, 2005. His remains were blasted out of a homemade cannon on his property.
The best way to articulate what kind of man Thompson was would be to refer to him as he referred to Dr. Gonzo in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,”: “Too weird to live, too rare to die.”