Study Guide

Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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Hunter Stockton Thompson—“gonzo” journalist, legendary wild man, and would-be local politician—was born in Louisville in 1937 to Jack R. and Virginia Thompson; his father was an insurance agent. Thompson stood out as an intelligent, charismatic individual and a troublemaker in high school. He was a member of the Athenaeum, the school’s prestigious literary society, but he also began to have run-ins with the law and was arrested more than once. He finally served thirty days in jail while his friends were graduating from high school.

Thompson joined the Air Force in 1955 and was stationed at Eglin Air Proving Ground in Florida, where he began writing entertaining sports articles for the base newspaper. He soon chafed under the restrictions of military life, however, and he managed to get his separation papers in 1957. Thompson moved to New York, where he worked as a copyboy for Time-Life, read F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner, wrote fiction, and met Sandy Dawn Conklin, the woman he would marry in 1963. He soon went west to Big Sur, California. Then, in 1962, he moved to Brazil and wrote pieces for the National Observer, truly beginning his life as a journalist.

Returning to the United States, he moved to San Francisco in 1964, after having bought property (Owl Farm) in Woody Creek, Colorado, near Aspen. His and Sandy’s son, Juan Fitzgerald Thompson, was born in March of 1964. In California Thompson received an offer to write a magazine piece about the notorious motorcycle gang Hell’s Angels; the article spawned book offers, eventually coming to fruition as Hell’s Angels. Thompson, an inveterate motorcyclist, spent considerable time riding and partying with the Angels. The book was well received.

The frenetic style for which Thompson became famous, “gonzo journalism,” was born in a piece written for Scanlon’s Monthly, “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” published in the fall of 1970. Thompson had found himself unable to complete the article and, with the deadline upon him, gave pages of handwritten notes to the magazine, which published them essentially as they were—disjointed and frantic, with the “journalist’s” descriptions of his own actions and feelings more important than the event he was supposed to have been covering. Gonzo journalism is Thompson’s form of participatory journalism, and his style projects an on-the-edge immediacy.

Also in 1970, Thompson began a five-year stint as the “national affairs editor” at Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone, then a newspaper-style weekly. Many of his signature pieces were first published in the magazine through the years. Fear and Loathing in Las...

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Hunter S. Thompson Biography (American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

A journalist almost from birth, Hunter Stockton Thompson began writing for his neighborhood newspaper at age ten. In 1956, Thompson joined the United States Air Force and penned a weekly sports column for the Elgin base’s newspaper, The Common Courier. Between 1959 and 1965, he served as a correspondent for Time, the New York Herald Tribune and the National Observer. In 1963, in Greenwich Village, he married Sandra Dawn, with whom he had a son, Juan.

The 1960’s

In the 1960’s, the radical youth of the United States demanded a mode of journalism that would divorce itself from a media they viewed as pandering to the political hierarchy. They found it in Thompson’s work. In 1964, Thompson wrote an article for the Nation, “Motorcycle Gangs: Losers and Outsiders,” and began to challenge the media’s representation of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. He rode and lived with the motorcycle gang until 1966 when he completed Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, one of the best examples of New Journalism participant-observer reporting.

Impact

Thompson became known as a champion of the New Journalism, a form noted for its participant-observer approach and that would later become known as “gonzo journalism.”

Subsequent Events

In 1972, Thompson published Fear and Loathing in...

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Hunter S. Thompson Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226306-Thompson_H.jpgHunter S. Thompson Published by Salem Press, Inc.

It seems as if nothing known about Hunter Stockton Thompson is simple, authoritative, or goes without contention (even his birth date is occasionally contested as occurring between 1937 and 1939). Certain things are known for sure: He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Jack (an insurance salesman) and Virginia (a homemaker) as the oldest of three children; his father died of a heart attack before he was sixteen, and he found himself sentenced and incarcerated for sixty days for the robbery of a service-station attendant before he completed high school. Thompson only served half that time as a result of good behavior and never actually completed high school.

As such, Thompson’s childhood established indicative trends that he would become synonymous with later in his adult life. As a child, Thompson reported for the Southern Star, a newspaper run and operated by children, where the Louisville Courier-Journal noted that he made approximately 10 to 15 cents an issue. Moreover, as mature as this vocational choice was at a young age, little compares to Thompson’s more mature indulgences for alcohol, women, and illegal behavior. Thompson’s friends and family attribute the loss of his father as being the major catalyst for his societal disregard. Others have argued that Thompson’s early life has been held up to too close a scrutiny because his deviant behavior is often invoked, but the rigor and voracity for reading instilled in him by his mother is often overlooked.

Thompson’s life took a series of missteps from that point forward. At age eighteen, Thompson enlisted and was subsequently discharged early from the U.S. Air Force in 1958. From there, he frequently was unable to hold down steady employment as a journalist at a variety of publications during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Thompson became somewhat of a vagrant and vagabond wandering the United States, trying to pen what he deemed to be the great American novel (later to become his eventually published 1998 book, The Rum Diary). His journalistic sojourn led him from New York to Big Sur, California, and onward from there to South America and the Caribbean islands as a...

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Hunter S. Thompson Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Regardless of how seriously one considers Thompson’s remarks on his own approach to writing or journalism, it is difficult not to acknowledge his own unique contributions to public inquiry. Thompson rarely minced words and less frequently chose a phrase that did not articulate exactly what his perspective was on any given matter. Whether such colorful use of metaphor, emotion, and polemic can be considered as journalistic in its integrity is a matter of some debate. Thompson’s answer to that problem was simple; from the outset of his career he claimed quite vociferously that the material to be read came directly from his perspective alone. Whether or not one celebrates or declaims that perspective is open to debate.