Friday, 6 May 2011

Profile: Hunter S. Thompson


By Lisa Cowell

Hunter S. Thompson was the first writer to popularise Gonzo Journalism, a form of New Journalism that was used in the 1960s.

Thompson was born in Kentucky, 1937, with 2 brothers and later lost his father at 14 years old. His mother, Virginia, struggled to cope with her husband’s death leading to alcoholism.

Although Thompson was often in trouble at school he showed great potential as a writer. In 1952 he was accepted by a school-sponsor to be a member of the Anthaeum Literary where he regularly contributed articles to the literary yearbook.

The damaging effects of Thompson’s childhood resulted in several troubles with the law including an arrest for assisting on a robbery in 1956. He served 30 days in prison.

As part of Thompson’s sentence he served in the US Air Force and started to write sport journalism for The Command Courier. In 1958, Thompson was discharged from his service and relocated to New York City to study Creative Writing at Columbia University School of General Studies.

During the time Thompson was in New York he worked for Time as a $51 a week copy boy. After being fired from Time for insubordination and then from The Middletown Daily Record for an angry dispute with a candy machine, Thompson moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico.



Thompson’s endeavour in San Juan to work for El Sportivo quickly ended when the magazine folded before it had a chance to begin. However, his move to Puerto Rico was not all lost as he frequently travelled throughout South America and to the Caribbean where he would work for numerous local newspapers.

When returning to America in 1961 Thompson started to work as a security guard for Big Sur Hot Springs. His position only lasted 8 months but the 1960s was the beginning of for coming opportunity.

During the 60s Thompson wrote two novels, Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary. Prince Jellyfish had little success and The Rum Diary did not get published till 1998.

In 1965, the editor of The Nation, gave Thompson a break to write his story about
the Californian-Hells Angels. Once the article was published in May of ’67 Thompson was severely ‘stomped’ by the Hells Angels after they believed he was using them to seek royalties. His book Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs was released and praised by The New York Times.



Thompson’s new success found him working for prestigious magazines like Esquire, Rolling Stone and Times Magazine.

He famously wrote the article “The Hashbury is the Capital of the Hippies” in ’67 for the Times that stated the Hippie Counter-Culture had lost its political stance and become nothing more than a mere drug den for newcomers.

The 60s was almost over and Thompson’s success was at a high. His controversial drugs use was no secret and his extravagant writing style gave Thompson a signature.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was published in 1972 and received outstanding acclaim. The book’s character, Raoul Duke, plays an exaggerate likeness to Thompson being an erratic journalist with a tendency to dabble in drugs. The next instalment of his novels was Fear and Loathing on the Camping Trail 1972.



From the 1980s onwards Thompson released the novel The Curse of Lono and a small film adaption of his early work, Where the Buffalo Roam, starring Bill Murray. Unfortunately since the success of Fear and Loathing Thompson’s later work did not resurface his full potential once showed.

The last book Thompson wrote was Kingdom of Fear. It was a collection of notes and stories he had gathered over the years. Many were angry statements against the so-called ‘American Dream’.

Gonzo Journalism is now recognised throughout the world and Hunter S. Thompson was its creator. In 1998, Director Terry Gilliam, released the cult film adaption of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, featuring Johnny Depp as Raoul.

Thompson’s novel, The Rum Diary, is also to appear at cinemas in 2011 with good friend Johnny Depp again playing lead role.

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