Hunter Stockton Thompson (July 18, 1937- February 20, 2005) was an American journalist and author. He was known for his flamboyant writing style, most notably in his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which blurred the distinctions between writer and subject, fiction and nonfiction. He is the creator of gonzo journalism and, as such, is widely imitated
A Louisville, Kentucky native, Thompson grew up in the Cherokee Triangle neighborhood of the Highlands and attended Louisville Male High School. His parents, Jack (d. 1952) and Virginia (d. 1999), married in 1935. Jack's death left three sons—Hunter, Davison, and James,to be brought up by their mother, who was a heavy drinker. Thompson's difficult youth, and its influence on his behavior and the development of his misanthropic worldview, awaits serious literary analysis.
After early trouble with the law, including an arrest in 1956 for robbery, he enlisted in the Air Force as part of his sentence. At Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in 1956, he began working as a sports journalist, writing for the base newspaper and moonlighting for various local newspapers on the side, despite regulations. He was discharged in 1958. On the GI Bill Thompson attended the Columbia University's School of General Studies where he took classes on short story writing, while maintaining a beat-inspired lifestyle in New York City.
During this time he also worked briefly for Time Magazine as a copyboy for $50 a week. While at Time he also copied two novels in their entirety on a typewriter in order to learn about the writing styles of the authors. They were F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms. He was fired from the job at Time in early 1959 for insubordination. Later that year, he also worked briefly as a reporter for the Middletown Daily Record in upstate New York. He was fired from this job after damaging an office candy machine and, separately, arguing with the owner of a local restaurant who happened to be an advertiser with the paper.
In 1960 Thompson moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico to take a job with the sporting magazine El Sportivo which soon folded. However the move to Puerto Rico was the beginning of a period during which Thompson was to travel extensively in the Caribbean and South America writing freelance articles for a number of U.S. daily newspapers. While in Puerto Rico he befriended noted journalist William Kennedy. Thompson also spent time as a South American correspondent for a Dow Jones-owned weekly newspaper, the National Observer. In the early 1960s he lived and worked as a security guard at Big Sur Hot Springs at the time it became the Esalen Institute.
In these years Thompson wrote two serious novels (Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary) and many short stories, submitting them to many publishers. The Rum Diary was only published in 1998 long after Thompson had become a celebrity. Kennedy later remarked that he and Thompson were both failed novelists who had turned to journalism in order to make a living.
Thompson got his big break in 1965 when he was approached by The Nation editor Carey McWilliams with an idea for a story based upon his experience with the notorious Hells Angels motorcycle gang. Thompson had spent a year living and riding with the Hells Angels, but the relationship broke down when the bikers suspected that Thompson was making money from his writing, and they demanded a share of the profits. The author ended up with a savage beating, or 'stomping' as the Angels referred to it. After the article was published by The Nation (May 17, 1965), numerous book offers on the subject came his way, and Random House published the hard cover Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs in 1966.
In the late 1960s, Thompson received a "doctorate" in Divinity from a mail-order church while living in San Francisco. He was jocularly referred to as "the Good Doctor" on account.
Thompson went on to work for Rolling Stone magazine where his next two books, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972, were first serialized.
Thompson debuted in Rolling Stone with an article describing his 1970 bid for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado on the "Freak Power" ticket. Thompson narrowly lost the election, having run on a platform promoting drugs decriminialization (but for use only, not trafficking, as he disapproved of profiteering), tearing up the streets and turning them into bike paths, and renaming Aspen, Colorado to "Fat City" — . The incumbent Republican sheriff whom he ran against had a crew cut, prompting Thompson to shave his head bald and refer to his opposition as "my long-haired opponent."
Thompson's last book, Kingdom of Fear, is an angry commentary on the passing of the American Century. Thompson also wrote a web column, "Hey Rube," for ESPN. He had at times also toured on the lecture circuit, once with John Belushi.
Thompson was fond of firearms and was known to keep a keg of gunpowder in his basement.
Thompson died at his fortified compound in Woody Creek, Colorado, at 5:42 pm on February 20, 2005 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was 67 years old.
Artist and friend Ralph Steadman wrote:
"...He told me 25 years ago that he would feel real trapped if he didn't know that he could commit suicide at any moment. I don't know if that is brave or stupid or what, but it was inevitable. I think that the truth of what rings through all his writing is that he meant what he said. If that is entertainment to you, well, that's OK. If you think that it enlightened you, well, that's even better. If you wonder if he's gone to Heaven or Hell- rest assured he will check out them both, find out which one Richard Milhous Nixon went to —and go there. He could never stand being bored. But there must be Football too- and Peacocks..."
Three months later, Rolling Stone released what was claimed to be Thompson's final written words, written with a marker four days before his death, The title was "Football Season is over":
"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."
On August 20, 2005, in a private ceremony, Thompson's ashes were fired from a cannon atop a 150-foot tower of his own design (in the shape of a double-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button) to the tune of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," known to be the song most-respected by the late writer. Red, white, blue and green fireworks were launched along with his ashes. As the city of Aspen would not allow the cannon to remain for more than a month, the cannon has been dismantled and put into storage until a suitable permanent location can be found. There is talk of a public party sometime in the summer of 2006. Johnny Depp, a close friend of Thompson (and who portrayed Thompson in the movie adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), financed the funeral, according to widow Anita Thompson. Depp told the Associated Press, "All I'm doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out." Other famous attendees at the funeral included US Senator John Kerry and former-US Senator George McGovern; 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley; actors Bill Murray (who portrayed Hunter S. Thompson in the movie Where the Buffalo Roam), Sean Penn, and Josh Hartnett; singers Lyle Lovett and John Oates as well as numerous other friends of Thompson. An estimated 280 people attended the funeral.
The plans for this impressive monument were initially drawn by Thompson and Ralph Steadman, and were shown as part of an "Omnibus" program on the BBC, titled "Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision" (1978). It is included as a special feature on the second disc of the 2003 Criterion Collection DVD release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The video footage of Steadman and Thompson drawing the plans and outdoor footage showing where he wanted the cannon constructed were played prior to the unveiling of his cannon at the funeral.
Douglas Brinkley, a friend and now the family's spokesman, said of the ceremony: "If that's what he wanted, we'll see if we can pull it off."