Culture and Trends ›

Hunter S. Thompson: Beyond Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives

Hunter S. Thompson: Beyond Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Hunter S. Thompson, father of the anarchic style of reporting known as Gonzo Journalism, is best known for writing the drug-fueled travelogue Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The book itself is a prime example of Gonzo, oscillating between reality and wild hallucinations as its characters bash their way through the desert city. Readers in the Boomer generation devoured the words when they were first published in 1971. A younger audience was transfixed by Terry Gilliam’s 1998 film adaptation, in which Johnny Depp played Thompson’s semi-autobiographical character, Raoul Duke.

It's easy to understand why people revere Thompson for having created Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. However, there’s much more to remember about this complicated man. Below, we explore 7 surprising facts about his legacy.

1. He was a country boy.

For all his worldliness, Thompson was neither a slick New Yorker nor a denizen of Hollywood’s hills. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of an insurance agent who died while Hunter was in high school, and an alcoholic mother, who was left penniless. He lived most of his adult life in his Colorado hideaway, Owl Farm.

2. He was a veteran.

As a young man he joined the Air Force (because the other option was going to prison). He took his service seriously, however, writing a sports column for The Command Courier, his base's newspaper. He was honorably discharged in 1958.

3. He had a deep respect for other writers.

Early in his career, Thompson typed up Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms word for word, to teach himself what it felt like to write a great novel.

4. He challenged authority through his writing, but not all of his work was contemptuous of cops.

At one point, Thompson worked with Don Johnson to create a film script about a police officer recovering from addiction. Though the script was never produced as a movie, CBS turned it into Nash Bridges, a successful police drama starring Johnson and Cheech Marin. The show ran from 1996 to 2001.

5. He had an incredibly strong work ethic.

The tales of Thompson's debauchery and excess were quite true. In E. Jean Carroll’s 1993 biography, Hunter: The Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S. Thompson, Carroll details a typical day for Thompson as beginning at 3:00 p.m. with scotch and cigarettes and ending early the next morning in a hot tub with “champagne, Dove Bars, fettuccine Alfredo” and, finally, sleeping pills. And in between, a frenzy fueled by enormous amounts of cocaine. But in the midst of that frenzy, he put in countless hours at his typewriter, churning out novels, short stories, essays and articles. He was also known for diving head-first dive into research, even putting his safety on the line for a story (as when he spent a year living and riding with the Hell's Angels, gathering firsthand knowledge for the book Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs).

6. He wasn’t camera-shy.

Thompson was a regular talk show guest, appearing several times during the 1980s and ‘90s on Late Night with David Letterman, Charlie Rose and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

7. He struggled with suicidal thoughts for years before his death.

Thompson had thoughts about ending his life for years leading up to his 2005 suicide. His wife Anita tried to dissuade him, threatening to leave the home they'd shared at Owl Farm and cut ties with his legacy if he committed suicide. When she received news of his death on February 20, 2005, she was heartbroken but also felt instant forgiveness. “As soon as I saw him, all that craziness, all the anger and fear, went away,” she said to The Los Angeles Times. “I held him, kissed his head and rubbed his leg like I always did... I said it was OK, Hunter; I know what you did. Suddenly, there was nothing but peace.”

Chuck Falzone is based in the Chicago area, where he writes, cooks, sings and tries to keep up with a preschooler.