Weird Wednesdays: The strange and terrible saga of Hunter S. Thompson

It was 11:16 a.m. on a Tuesday when the accumulated stress of the semester hit. Though my obsession with my GPA has theoretically waned in my rejection of that decadent, depraved institution they call the pre-veterinary track, residual pangs remained like a bad hangover.

It was gonna be a long day.

I still had a column to write. Dicking around on the internet wouldn’t get it done and consuming increasing amounts of the glorious hallucinogenic substance they call 1,3,7-Trimethylxanthine wouldn’t either. I opened a new tab and hit a G. G-O-N-Z-O journalism and was greeted by a cigarette holder, sunglasses, a hat and a smirk.

Hunter S. Thompson is dead, but by God does he live on in our hearts, minds and our post-psychedelic anger-driven haze. If you want a succinct summary of his character and escapades, I’ll give you a quote by Ernest Hemingway that is universally applicable:

“Write drunk, edit sober.”

I’ll admit, while I’ve yet to write an article drunk, there are some days where it is very, very tempting.

To say Hunter S. Thompson adhered to this rule, however, would be a bald faced lie. He did not write drunk. Drunk was a mere baseline by which his creativity was unleashed like vomit onto a unsuspecting typewriter page. Hunter S. Thomas wrote drunk, high, sleep-deprived and more or less fueled by a cocktail of narcotic substances and his own unbridled rage.

Born in 1937 to a Louisville, Kentucky family, Thompson probably came into the world smoking a cigarette and complaining about how goddamn bright it is in here. With a librarian (and supposed heavy drinker) for a mother, his upbringing would go on influence him and his writing.

In high school, Thompson wrote for the year book-- and was promptly kicked out after being arrested as a robbery/mugging accomplice. The subsequent legal fallout event got him kicked out of high school and, with no other option open to him besides jail, the Duke joined the airforce in 1955 while completing classes at Florida State University. At the same time, he (anonymously) began writing articles covering local football for a town newspaper.

After being honorably discharged in 1957 due to his tendency to not give a crap about rules, regulations and policies, Thompson wrote for several newspapers and publications, sometimes getting fired for arguing with the publisher. To improve his skills, he would type the entire works of F. Scott Fitzgerald to understand the style. He also became the caretaker of a hot springs in California, hitchhiked across America, visited several countries and stole a pair of elk antlers from the estate of Ernest Hemingway when he was supposed to be reporting on Hemingway’s death.

It was in 1965 that Thompson got his big break when he published an article (later a book) about the motorcycle gang Hell’s Angels. After spending a year riding and spending time with the gang (and getting beaten up in multiple instances) his piece was wildly popular, getting him bylines in big-hitter magazines such as Rolling Stone.

In 1970, Thompson was assigned to cover the Kentucky Derby in Louisville for a sports magazine. Back on his home territory, Hunter got smashface drunk and spent most of his time partying and watching the attendants who swarmed the town, identifying himself as a Playboy photographer using a credential he bought off a pimp in Colorado.

When his deadline came knocking, Thompson had no article. Instead, he simply began tearing out pages of his notes and sending them to the publisher. The resulting article was… interesting, to say the least.

Instead of a succinct summary, a cheerful lede or play-by-play account of the horses, Thompson wrote a play-by-play act of the people; the rich drunkards, the fat gamblers and the horse owners, all, as he called them, decadent, lewd and depraved.

“The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” took what should have been standard event coverage and turned it into something new: a surreal look at the rich wickedness of the racetrack. It was a totally new style of reporting the writer would later dub ‘Gonzo journalism.”

“Regular” journalism is supposed to be neutral. The reporter is a spectator of events and an unbiased eye for the audience. Gonzo journalism turns the concept on its head by throwing the writer headlong into the experience, providing an opinionated, raw and real account of the things happening around them.

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is his most famous work and illustrates the fallout of the hippie drug culture in the 60s through a haze of hallucinogens as Thompson and his lawyer attend a drag race in the Nevada desert. Written in 1971 as a two-part article series for Rolling Stone, it was later adapted into a film starring Johnny Depp, who would later become a close friend of Thompson’s.

Hunter’s daily routine was something out of a rockstar’s register. He’d rise at 3 p.m., have coffee, alcohol, cocaine, a cigarette and orange juice for breakfast, eat dinner at around 6 p.m. at the local tavern, consume copious amounts of drugs and alcohol throughout the night and only begin writing at midnight. He’d type in a drug-fueled frenzy for six hours then finish off his day at 6 a.m. in a hot tub while consuming alfredo, champagne and Dove bars before hitting the sack at 8 a.m. Oh, and he kept dynamite in his house.

By the late 70s, with a few missed stories, arrests and general annoying of his higher-ups, Hunter’s career began to wane. Though he tried running for sheriff of Aspen County, Colorado, (he even shaved his head so he could call his rival “my long-haired opponent”) he lost. By the 80s he became more secluded, publishing books, articles or past accounts here and there.

In 2005, Thompson died at the age of 67 by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head at his “fortified compound” in Colorado. He left one note—“Football Season is Over” to his wife. With his body older, the effects of the extended drug use and alcohol consumption hitting him and the heyday of the 1900s fading in the sun, Thompson decided his time on earth was up. His funeral was attended by emissiaries, senators, politicians, strippers and bikers alike who watched as his ashes were shot out of a cannon (as per his request).

He was crazy. He was, at times, violent. He was over-the-top and gave no fucks. He probably had more synthetic chemical substances in his body than actual blood at certain points in his life.

He’s a man I look up to every day.

Don’t do drugs, kids. However, do stay alert, stay gonzo and, above all, stay weird. See you next semester, folks.


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.