Photo of the Day

Hunter rode the British made motorcycle BSA A65 Lightning while researching Hell’s Angels. When he lived in Big Sur in the early 1960s, he rode his Lightning so much he was known as “The Wild One of Big Sur”.

“Some May Never Live, but the Crazy Never Die”

Hunter S. Thompson

He was a gun-loving, hard-drinking ‘outlaw journalist’ with a taste for illegal substances.

Hunter S. Thompson reached the peak of his literary career in the mid-Seventies after his books, Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas were published to great success.

His writing broke from conventional reporting and straddled both fiction and non-fiction, a unique approach which turned him into a counter-culture icon and won him legions of fans. His trademark reporting style became what’s now called gonzo journalism, in which he made himself a central character in his own stories. And a character he was: his stories often centred on his panache for excessive consumption while surveying America’s political and cultural landscape in a way that no one had before.

Asked to list what they require before commencing a day’s work, most would probably list things like coffee, toast and perhaps a cigarette or two, but not Hunter S. Thompson, who needed a kaleidoscopic bevvy of cocaine, Chartreuse and hot tubs in order to get his creative juices flowing.

His daily routine was charted by E. Jean Carroll in the first chapter of her 1994 book HUNTER: The Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S. Thompson, and remains an object of fascination, awe and horror to this day.

Thompson, who committed suicide at 67, was of course known for his heavy drinking and drug habit and they were both ingrained in his writing. He once said of them:  “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” In spite of his well-deserved reputation for substance abuse, Thompson was an assiduous worker with a writing career that spanned six decades and included 16 books and a litany of short stories and articles.

Whisky was his lifelong love. As a young man, he liked Old Crow but matured into Chivas Regal Scotch (liked it best when driving) and Wild Turkey. At his first meeting with his New York publishers, they watched in amazement as he gulped down 20 double Wild Turkeys in a little over three hours, then walked out as if totally unaffected.

Hunter S. Thompson, according to biographer E. Jean Carroll survived on a daily routine of drink and drugs.

Many writers have kept a schedule which involved a drink. “I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day,” noted Joan Didion. “A drink when you get tired, preferably at home,” advised Jack Kerouac. “When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water,” wrote Kurt Vonnegut. But Hunter S Thompson’s daily routine of drink and drugs was far more disciplined and thorough.

Carroll’s book begins with a list of Hunter’s daily intake mind-altering substances:

I have heard the biographers of Harry S. Truman, Catherine the Great, etc., etc., say they would give anything if their subjects were alive so they could ask them some questions. I, on the other hand, would give anything if my subject were dead.

He should be. Oh, yes. Look at his daily routine:

3:00 p.m. rise

3:05 Chivas Regal with the morning papers, Dunhills

3:45 cocaine

3:50 another glass of Chivas, Dunhill

4:05 first cup of coffee, Dunhill

4:15 cocaine

4:16 orange juice, Dunhill

4:30 cocaine

4:54 cocaine

5:05 cocaine

5:11 coffee, Dunhills

5:30 more ice in the Chivas

5:45 cocaine, etc., etc.

6:00 grass to take the edge off the day

7:05 Woody Creek Tavern for lunch-Heineken, two margaritas, coleslaw, a taco salad, a double order of fried onion rings, carrot cake, ice cream, a bean fritter, Dunhills, another Heineken, cocaine, and for the ride home, a snow cone (a glass of shredded ice over which is poured three or four jig­gers of Chivas.)

9:00 starts snorting cocaine seriously

10:00 drops acid

11:00 Chartreuse, cocaine, grass

11:30 cocaine, etc, etc.

12:00 midnight, Hunter S. Thompson is ready to write

12:05-6:00 a.m. Chartreuse, cocaine, grass, Chivas, coffee, Heineken, clove cigarettes, grapefruit, Dunhills, orange juice, gin, continuous pornographic movies.

6:00 the hot tub-champagne, Dove Bars, fettuccine Alfredo

8:00 Halcyon

8:20 sleep

And the cure for his hangover: Amyl Nitrates and beer.

Hunter Stockton Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on July 18, 1937. His father, Jack, was a World War I veteran and insurance agent who died while Thompson was in high school, and his mother, Virginia, was an alcoholic left penniless and in charge of their charming but incorrigible son and his two younger brothers. Frequently involved in mischief, Thompson ran with a group of friends that were constantly testing the limits. At the same time, he was also developing a deep love of writing, and his talent was such that, while still in high school, he was accepted into the venerable Athenaeum Literary Association, an organisation whose membership was mostly comprised of the children of well-to-do families.

But Thompson was not to be contained, and his contributions to the group’s newsletter were typically sarcastic and incendiary. While honing his literary craft, Thompson simultaneously built upon his reputation as a hooligan and prankster as well, escalating his extracurricular activities from more harmless endeavours, such as dumping a truckload of pumpkins in front of a hotel, to shoplifting, vandalism and, eventually, robbery. It was during this time that he also developed what would become a lifelong fascination with firearms and a taste for drugs and alcohol.

By his senior year, Thompson found himself squarely on the wrong side of the law and was arrested several times. His misdeeds soon led to his ejection from the literary group and also earned him a few weeks in jail. Hoping to cure him of his wicked ways, the judge in his robbery case offered him the choice between prison or the military. Thompson chose the latter, and in 1956 joined the United States Air Force.

His friend Russell Chatham once told of something that happened to Hunter while he fished in Key West: “He told us ‘I was getting out of the boat. My foot slipped and I fell. My hand hit the throttle and the boat took off!’ He sent the goddamn boat away from the dock at top speed and it circled the harbour and came back at him and he had to make a run for it. It came back around, careened off the front of about three dozen boats and ripped the fronts off half of them, and fired up across the dock and across the lawn and into the country club.”

“Well, wanting to and having to are two different things. Originally I hadn’t thought about writing as a solution to my problems. But I had a good grounding in literature in high school. We’d cut school and go down to a café on Bardstown Road where we would drink beer and read and discuss Plato’s parable of the cave. We had a literary society in town, the Athenaeum; we met in coat and tie on Saturday nights. I hadn’t adjusted too well to society—I was in jail for the night of my high school graduation—but I learned at the age of fifteen that to get by you had to find the one thing you can do better than anybody else . . . at least this was so in my case. I figured that out early. It was writing. It was the rock in my sock. Easier than algebra. It was always work, but it was always worthwhile work. I was fascinated early by seeing my byline in print. It was a rush. Still is.

When I got to the Air Force, writing got me out of trouble. I was assigned to pilot training at Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola in northwest Florida, but I was shifted to electronics . . . advanced, very intense, eight-month school with bright guys . . . I enjoyed it but I wanted to get back to pilot training. Besides, I’m afraid of electricity. So I went up there to the base education office one day and signed up for some classes at Florida State. I got along well with a guy named Ed and I asked him about literary possibilities. He asked me if I knew anything about sports, and I said that I had been the editor of my high-school paper. He said, “Well, we might be in luck.” It turned out that the sports editor of the base newspaper, a staff sergeant, had been arrested in Pensacola and put in jail for public drunkenness, pissing against the side of a building; it was the third time and they wouldn’t let him out.

So I went to the base library and found three books on journalism. I stayed there reading them until it closed. Basic journalism. I learned about headlines, leads: who, when, what, where, that sort of thing. I barely slept that night. This was my ticket to ride, my ticket to get out of that damn place. So I started as an editor. Boy, what a joy. I wrote long Grantland Rice-type stories. The sports editor of my hometown Louisville Courier Journal always had a column, left-hand side of the page. So I started a column.

By the second week I had the whole thing down. I could work at night. I wore civilian clothes, worked off base, had no hours, but I worked constantly. I wrote not only for the base paper, The Command Courier, but also the local paper, The Playground News. I’d put things in the local paper that I couldn’t put in the base paper. Really inflammatory shit. I wrote for a professional wrestling newsletter. The Air Force got very angry about it. I was constantly doing things that violated regulations. I wrote a critical column about how Arthur Godfrey, who’d been invited to the base to be the master of ceremonies at a firepower demonstration, had been busted for shooting animals from the air in Alaska. The base commander told me: “Goddamn it, son, why did you have to write about Arthur Godfrey that way?”

When I left the Air Force I knew I could get by as a journalist. So I went to apply for a job at Sports Illustrated. I had my clippings, my bylines, and I thought that was magic . . . my passport. The personnel director just laughed at me. I said, “Wait a minute. I’ve been sports editor for two papers.” He told me that their writers were judged not by the work they’d done, but where they’d done it. He said, “Our writers are all Pulitzer Prize winners from The New York Times. This is a helluva place for you to start. Go out into the boondocks and improve yourself.”

I was shocked. After all, I’d broken the Bart Starr story.”

After covering the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami for Rolling Stone, Hunter went for an evening swim in the ocean to clear his head. When a tropical storm blew up, Thompson was caught in a riptide and swept out to sea. He spent the rest of the night fighting to swim back to the beach, finally crawling ashore at 9 am.

After completing his basic training, Thompson was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where he coped with the rigid environment by working as a sports editor for the Command Courier. However, a handful for even the toughest commanding officers, he received an early discharge in 1958, and though his military career was at an end, a legendary future in journalism awaited him.

For the next few years, Thompson bounced around the country, working for a string of small-town newspapers and spending a short stint as a copy boy for Time magazine. He also spent a brief period in Puerto Rico, where he worked for a sports magazine. In his spare time, Thompson worked on more personal writing projects as well, including the autobiographical novel The Rum Diary. Rejected by publishers at that time and for decades to come, it would eventually see the light of day in 1998.

Though Thompson’s wild ways frequently cost him his job, they also endeared him to the counterculture that was gaining strength around the country at that time and helped establish him as a fearless journalist with a unique voice. In 1965 these bohemian credentials earned him an assignment to write an article for The Nation about the Hells Angels motorcycle club. Published in May, the story was a huge sensation and led to a book deal for Thompson.

He spent almost two years riding with the outlaw motorcycle gang, and in 1966 he published a bestseller that took readers deep inside a subculture largely inaccessible to the outside world.

“The Angels claim that they don’t look for trouble,” Thompson said in the interview. “They just try to live peaceful lives and be left alone, but on the other hand they go out and put themselves into situations deliberately and constantly that are either going to humiliate somebody else or cause them to avoid humiliation by fighting.”

But he went on to question their desire for peace, explaining that one of the gang’s bylaws stipulated that “when an Angel punches a non-Angel, all other Angels will participate.” He also said that he was on the receiving end of their wrath. “All during this stomping, I could see the guy who had originally teed off on me that just out of nowhere, with no warning, circling around with a rock [that] must have weighed about 20 pounds,” the journalist said. “I tried to keep my eyes on him because I didn’t want to have my skull fractured.”

Later in the interview, Thompson confided that, like the Angels’ claims, he was then trying to keep a peaceful existence – for his own safety. “I keep my mouth shut now,” he said. “I’ve turned into a professional coward.”

He and two friends robbed a liquor store by starting a fight with the clerks, then cleaning out the cash register in the confusion. He also once robbed the same gas station three nights on the trot. While a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association, Thompson also was on the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Hunter and chums once inflated a tractor tyre with a highly flammable gas until it was eight feet wide. “One of the gang was running late,” wrote his friend Michael Cleverly in The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S Thompson. “He was four miles away when he saw a massive orange glow in the sky. Then the concussion hit him; he felt it even though he was in his car. Back at Owl Farm [Hunter’s Aspen home], everyone was flat on their backs. The only one who counted the broken windows was the guy who fixed them.”

Though its members nearly killed him at the end of his time with them, Thompson came out the other side with the book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, published in 1967. The immersive and hallucinatory first-person account of his experiences was an instant smash, firmly establishing Thompson as a journalistic force and launching what would be his trademark style.

With the proceeds from Hell’s Angels, in 1967 Thompson bought a compound on the outskirts of Aspen, Colorado—which he named Owl Creek—and moved there with his wife, Sandy Conklin, whom he had married in 1963, and their son, Juan.

Juan insists that there was a side to his father beyond the wild and entertaining tales – a loving father and grandfather whose influence he feels to this day.

He said ‘The biggest misconception is that Hunter was a party animal, that what he was about was getting f—– up on whatever and just having a good time and flouting societal rules, not for any real purpose beyond breaking the rules.

‘That’s not at all what he was about. I’ve asked a lot of people why he was important to them and many of them have read his books, and have what I would consider, a proper appreciation for what he was doing.

‘But I think there’s a lot of people who don’t know that much about him and they see this caricature which he helped to create.

‘This image of him as a clown – an interesting clown – but a clown.’

Juan, now 52, had a complex relationship with his father – a man who he describes in turn as ‘an alcoholic and drug fiend, a wild, angry, passionate, sometimes dangerous, charismatic, unpredictable, irresponsible, idealistic, sensitive man with a powerful and deeply rooted sense of justice’.

Unlike his father, Juan is an IT healthcare worker and happily married father of one.

Juan Thompson was born in March 1964 to Hunter and his wife of one year, Sandra, known as Sandy.

At the time they were living in a shack without heating in northern California and Sandy worked as a secretary to boost Hunter’s meagre earnings.

Juan writes: ‘For food, he would occasionally shoot a deer or an elk. My mother told me that for the duration of her pregnancy she lived on elk meat (especially elk liver), salad, and milk.’

But the writer seemed content as a new dad as Juan notes from the number of family photographs that existed from the time. Along with snapshots of the family in the garden and swimming pool, Juan writes about his favourite picture as ‘a photo of Hunter standing beside a large tree with a target nailed to it, a .44 Magnum pistol in one hand and a tiny me in his other arm, pointing with the barrel of the gun at the tight grouping of shots in the centre of the target’.
In 1968 Hunter bought Owl Farm, the Colorado ranch where he would stay for the rest of his life.

Juan describes idyllic summers spent picnicking in the woods with his father and mother, Sandy, their friends and kids.  The secluded landscape was well-suited to his father’s love of wild pranks and aptitude for explosions, bonfires and shooting practice.

Juan said ‘Sometimes Hunter would crank up his Bultaco Matador trail motorcycle, I would climb on the back and hang on to him as tightly as I could, and we would race down the street.

‘We never talked about it, it was just a quick motorcycle ride, but it was also a private adventure just between us. We didn’t have that many of them, so those memories are precious.’

His son reveals a softer side to Hunter – including awkwardness with demonstrations of love and how he often tried to convey his feelings by giving his son thoughtful gifts. In 1974, he went to Zaire for Rolling Stone magazine to cover the Rumble in the Jungle – the heavyweight championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Hunter missed the fight because he was drunk at his hotel, but he returned with a pair of souvenir gold boxing gloves for Juan, Ali being one of the few people that the journalist unreservedly admired.

Hunter rarely remembered birthdays or other special events but one Christmas he came home with a record player for his son.

‘I see now that the boxing gloves and the stereo were awkward tokens of love. Hunter wasn’t much for demonstrations of love, at least not his love of family and friends (lovers were an entirely different matter), so he did it through gifts.’

Back in Colorado, the relationship between Hunter and Sandy became even more fraught and their fights more intense until in 1978, she finally left the writer.

Juan lived with his mother and made regular visits to Owl Farm to see Hunter. He writes: ‘Once we were separated, I longed to be with him, though once there, neither he nor I knew what to do.’

It was at this time, Hunter and Juan struck upon their mutual appreciation of guns. Juan said ‘One activity we did together was clean guns. He had many guns and he shot most of them frequently. ‘Cleaning them was laborious but necessary. It became a bonding ritual between us that lasted up until the day of his death.’

Life with his mother was not without its bizarre moments. Sandy actively supported her son’s experimentation with LSD and when he was 14, Juan took acid with her and a boyfriend at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Despite Hunter’s own prolific and well-documented drug use, those rules did not apply to his son.

Juan recalls ‘I also remember hearing that someone once asked Hunter at a lecture how he would react if he found out his son had taken acid. He responded, “I’d beat the s*** out of him.”

Happy family: Despite his hard-living, Thompson was a loving father – although his son came to fear the prospect of ‘a beating’. His wife Sandy endured his drinking and affairs until Juan was a teenager.

Around a year after he was born, Hunter and Sandy took Juan to a party in the woods outside San Francisco thrown by Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and a prominent counter-culture figure.

Hunter thought it was a good idea to invite members of the Hells Angels to the party. Juan said ‘I can only imagine the scene: dozens, maybe hundreds of people in various stages of undress, stoned on pot, tripping on LSD, drunk on beer – maybe all three at once – wandering around in the forest while music blared from the house and the colored lights strung among the trees flashed.

‘At one point during the party, the Hells Angels gang-raped a woman in a small cabin, an event that haunted Hunter for a long time afterwards.’

In the middle of the frenzied scene was baby Juan, fast asleep in one of the cabins. Juan described the episode as ‘a situation that violates all my notions of safe and responsible parenting’.

Daily life with Hunter had its own unusual routine. A night-owl from childhood, Hunter would still be asleep when Juan returned home from school at 3 pm. His son would tip-toe around the house so as not to wake him.

The writer would rise in time to watch Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News, the one channel the family’s black-and-white TV set received.

Dressed in his robe, he would eat breakfast, ‘always bacon and eggs, often with corned beef hash, and some toast with orange marmalade’.

Hunter would then shower and begin his day which often involved making the short drive into Aspen to see friends.

Hunter S. Thompson. The iconic author, journalist, and all-around wild man built his literary career in part on narratives fuelled by pills, booze, coke and weed. In the years before his suicide in February of 2005, he became more reclusive, spending most of his time at his Owl Creek compound in Colorado. There are many who share his feelings about ganja, which he expressed clearly when he said, “I have always loved marijuana. It has been a source of joy and comfort to me for many years. And I still think of it as a basic staple of life, along with beer and ice and grapefruits—and millions of Americans agree with me.” Photo: Getty Images

But despite these seemingly domestic trappings, Thompson was anything but settled down. He travelled constantly on assignments for a wide array of magazines, covering topics such as the hippie movement, the Vietnam War and the 1968 presidential campaigns, all in his now characteristically irreverent style.

Among the best known and important of these pieces was “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” a rambling, willingly subjective account of the Derby that was more the experience of watching it than it was about the race itself. Published in the June 1970 edition of Scanlan’s Monthly, and with illustrations by British artist Ralph Steadman, it was hailed as a breakthrough in journalism and is considered the first ever example of what is now known as “Gonzo journalism.”

Yet even his newfound success could not quiet the troublemaker in Thompson’s heart, and in 1970 he decided to shake up the local establishment by running for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, on the “Freak Power” ticket. Not above a political gambit, Thompson shaved his head and began to refer to the crew-cut wearing Republican candidate as “my long-haired opponent.” With a platform that included relaxing penalties for drug offences, renaming Aspen “Fat City” and turning replacing the asphalt on the streets with sod, Thompson was only narrowly defeated by his mainstream opponent, but his story about the campaign, “The Battle of Aspen,” appeared in Rolling Stone that October. Thompson would maintain his relationship with the magazine for most of his life, serving as its national affairs editor until 1999.
In 1971, Thompson received an assignment from Sports Illustrated to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race in the Nevada desert. Although he did travel there in March to witness the event, the resulting piece wound up as something else entirely—a substance-soaked, out-of-control tale about his alter ego, Raoul Duke, and his lawyer, Dr Gonzo (Thompson’s friend Oscar Acosta) travelling around Las Vegas in search of the American Dream.

Soundly rejected by Sports Illustrated, it appeared in a serialised format in Rolling Stone that November and was later expanded upon to become what is Thompson’s best-known work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Published in hardcover by Random House in 1972, and once more featuring illustrations by Ralph Steadman, the book was both a critical and commercial success and is considered a modern classic.

In 1998 Fear and Loathing was adapted into a film, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. Depp, who is an admirer of Thompson’s work, would develop a friendship with the author and also later starred in a 2011 adaptation of The Rum Diary.

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

Riding high on his newly won celebrity—and any number of controlled substances—Thompson set out on his next assignment, to cover the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon and George McGovern. Appearing initially as a series of articles in Rolling Stone, Thompson’s incendiary and humorous accounts were later collected and published as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.

However, around this time, Thompson’s hard-driving lifestyle began to take its toll on his output. Sent to Zaire in 1974 to cover the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, Thompson skipped the fight and instead spent his time floating in the hotel pool, into which he had tossed a pound and a half of marijuana. The article never materialised, nor did many other of Thompson’s projects in the coming years that were begun in earnest only to be abandoned later. In 1980, his wife, Sandy, divorced him as well.

Thompson was an avid sportsman and firearm enthusiast, so he was almost duty-bound to combine the two at some point in his life. Enter shotgun golf, first conceived with Bill Murray (of course) at 3:30 in the morning on a Tuesday, then written up for Thompson’s last column for ESPN. The equipment list is short and sweet: golf club, golf ball, shotgun. (Preferably a 12-gauge.) The participants are a shooter, a golfer, and a judge, though the game can be expanded for two-man teams. The objective is simple: if you’re golfing, you need to make it onto the green. If you’re shooting, you need to blast your opponent’s golf ball into oblivion. Two points are awarded for success on either end. Thompson played the first game with Aspen Sheriff Bob Braudis… and then John Cusack played a round with him after somehow being coerced (or bullied) into stealing Don Henley’s car.

Nobody would say that Hunter S Thompson was the easiest of interviewees. It was a combination of things, really: the ubiquitous firearms and narcotics, his nocturnal regime and sudden mood swings. (“Interviewing Hunter,” Loren Jenkins — Newsweek bureau chief in Saigon,— said, “was the most excruciating experience of my life.”)

I first encountered Thompson in 1993 when I was working for The Observer, which had decided to send him to join the Royal press corps for the Highland Games met him at Gatwick Airport at 6am. He lit his hash pipe while we were still in sight of the customs hall and insisted on being driven to Smithfield Market for whisky. When we reached his hotel, he barricaded himself in his suite for 36 hours, and then fled back to Aspen in the middle of the night. His subsequent faxes referred to me as an “evil treacherous dingbat” and a “weird limey freak”.

“Insults,” says Ralph Steadman, “are Hunter’s way of articulating affection.”

Hunter appeared outside Jack Nicholson’s home on the night of Nicholson’s birthday. He set off a high-powered spotlight and gunfire and played a tape of animal cries through an amplifier to awaken him. Thompson then left a freshly-cut elk’s heart at Nicholson’s door as a joke. Fearing a stalker, Big Jack alerted the FBI while his terrified family hid in the cellar overnight. Bizarrely, given the outcome of the previous gift, Thompson later sent Nicholson’s nine-year-old daughter Lorraine a beautifully-wrapped Christmas present. Inside was a grotesquely graphic model of a dead rat caught in a trap. A note included read: “Dear Lorraine. This will teach you a lesson about trusting men which will be valuable later in life. You’re welcome, Uncle Hunter.”

One of the most infamous Hunter S. Thompson escapades involves the night that Johnny Depp, John Cusack, and Thompson celebrated the “birthday” of Hunter’s blowup doll in Los Angeles. At the end of the evening, the trio was pulled over after the police department received a phone call reporting that someone was beating a blow up doll. After Hunter explained that the blowup doll had been ungrateful for the celebration, Depp, Cusack, and Thompson were let go with a warning.

For the remainder of his life, Thompson continued to write, though much of his published work would be from his earlier, more productive periods. From the years 1979 to 1994, Random House released four volumes of his collected writing under the series title The Gonzo Papers, and in 2003—a year in which he remarried, to his assistant Anita Bejmuk—his semi-autobiographical rambling Kingdom of Fear was published by Simon and Schuster.

Johnny Depp lived with Thompson for a while to get his mannerisms down for the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. His quarters were down in Thompson’s basement, and apparently, they were hastily assembled out of whatever was handy at the time: Depp recalls going to ash his cigarette into an ashtray on his bedside table and then casually noticing that the table itself was a crate of dynamite. He called Thompson down to the basement and asked if the dynamite was real; Thompson replied, “Good God, Colonel [his nickname for Depp]! You could have blown us all to bits!” Explosions seemed par for the course during the tenure of Depp and Thompson’s friendship. Their relationship began with Depp blowing up propane tanks in Thompson’s yard, and ended with the actor bankrolling Thompson’s request to have his ashes shot out of a cannon.

By 2005, Thompson had grown chronically depressed, disillusioned by the world around him, frustrated with ageing and suffering from numerous health problems.

Thompson, sitting at his desk in the kitchen at Owl Farm, picked up his .45, put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He was 67. His suicide, as Steadman said, was not entirely unpredictable.

In 1999, Hunter had had hip replacement surgery and four years later underwent an operation on his lower back. His recovery was inhibited by his lifelong alcoholism and drug use and these factors were key to his declining health.

Son Juan said ‘What really struck me about the alcohol was it wasn’t that he would drink and lose control and get violent or be the stereotype of a drunk. He didn’t seem to ever get drunk.

‘But the long-term effects over years and years of all that alcohol just started to break his body down. Part of that was the incontinence and that was hard to write about because that was deeply embarrassing for him.

‘Were he alive, I would never talk about that because it would be humiliating. But I decided that it was important for people to know how alcohol had really affected him in the long run.

‘I think it really was one of the factors in his decision to kill himself. His body was breaking down and it was irreversible. It was really affecting his ability to be independent.

‘I think that’s really important for people to know because one of the big questions has always been, why did he kill himself?

‘Well he drank for 55 years and alcohol is a pretty serious poison when you drink it in large quantities every day.’

Juan recalls the night before his father took his own life. The father and son were in the kitchen, quietly involved in a familiar routine – Juan cleaning Hunter’s guns and he inspecting each glistening part, before giving a grunt of approval.

‘It’s strange and sad that that which took him away from us that weekend was also one of the threads binding us,’ Juan writes.

As Juan methodically wiped down gun parts with swabs dipped in solvent, Hunter handed his son a .45 semiautomatic pistol to be cleaned.

Hunter S. Thompson shot himself with the gun in his writing chair the following afternoon, seconds after Juan had left the room.  Hunter’s wife of two years, Anita, had been on a call to the writer at the time but later said that she mistook the cocking of the gun for his typewriter keys and hung up. A month later, Hunter’s close family and friends held a private ceremony to mark his death at one of his old haunts, the Hotel Jerome. The writer was then honoured with a larger memorial six months later near his Woody Creek home.

The writer, who had been in a wheelchair for much of the previous two years following spinal surgery, always made it clear that rather than dwindle away in a nursing home, he would prefer to exit in the manner of his hero Ernest Hemingway, whose chalet Thompson visited after the author of The Old Man And The Sea turned a shotgun on himself in Idaho, in 1961.

But Thompson’s suicide was rendered shocking, even to those who knew him, when reports revealed that his son, Juan, daughter-in-law, Jennifer, and their seven-year-old son, Will, were in the next room when the shot was fired and that Thompson was on the phone to his wife, Anita – his former research assistant, 35 years his junior – immediately before he pulled the trigger. Juan, hearing what sounded like “a large book” falling, entered the kitchen and, having made sure that his son was shielded from the scene, wrapped his father’s body in gold scarves then walked out and fired a shotgun into the air.

Hunter S. Thompson, another satisfied customer


Hunter S Thompson once left this expletive-laden voicemail for a company who installed a new entertainment system for him. The highlight of the message comes when he brilliantly forgets his own phone number.

In the 1970s, Hunter S. Thompson was already planning his funeral – and much like the man, himself, it was never going to be a restrained affair.

He had envisioned his ashes being shot out of a cannon behind his home, Owl Farm, in Woody Creek, Colorado.

Hunter had designed the cannon with his long-time artistic collaborator, Ralph Stedman. The tower was shaped in a double-thumbed clenched fist with four fingers holding a peyote button, a hallmark of Gonzo journalism.

The writer had brought up his funeral wishes again on the night before he committed suicide. In his memoir of his father, his son Juan writes: ‘Therefore, there was no question of how to proceed. A Cannon would be built.’

Hunter’s Funeral


“Hunter S Thompson f***ed up my life.” So began the eulogy delivered by Ralph Steadman, Thompson’s longtime collaborator, to the invited audience of friends and family at the writer’s memorial service, in Aspen, Colorado.”He was a bastard,” Steadman continued. “But he was a good bastard. I used to tell him he was a fraud,” the artist says, recalling Hunter’s perennial threats to blow his brains out. “I am deeply sorry that I was wrong.”

“Some years ago,” declared the actor Bill Murray, who played Hunter in the 1980 film Where The Buffalo Roam, “after I’d been staying with Hunter in Aspen, I came back home and I said to my wife: “Honey, Hunter has told me about this big ranch. It’s got five acres of land and its right next to his place. It’s only $850,000”. And she said: “I will never live next door to Hunter S Thompson”.

“Anyhow,” Murray shrugs, and then adds, with a look of indifference: “She’s gone now.” Apparently unaware of the laughter around the room, he bows his head. When he raises it, his face has an expression of a man overcome by a sudden realisation of irretrievable loss. “God,” Murray says, “I would be so rich if I had bought that ranch. I would be so f***ing rich, I would ask you all to leave. Right now.”

The greatest contributions to the memorial come not from celebrities but from Thompson’s friends and immediate family: there were intense, moving speeches from son Juan and daughter-in-law, Jennifer and from wife, Anita, who began by reading part of a letter Hunter sent her in March 2003. “I will always be with you,” he wrote. “Always. Never doubt it. Never be afraid of anything, no matter how weird it might seem at the time. We are far beyond ‘seems’ and we have no fear… only moments of confusion, now and then.”

Thompson’s son is a calm, eminently sensible man, who has inherited his father’s courage, intelligence and facility with words, but not his volatility.

“Hunter trusted Juan implicitly.” Steadman goes on. “He knew that he would not panic and he’d handle things properly.”

“If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.”

His ashes were fired from a 150ft tower topped by a red fist with two thumbs clutching a peyote button (pictured), the symbol of Thompson’s first-person gonzo journalism.

On August 20, 2005, Hunter’s ashes were fired from a cannon on top of a 153ft tower, by a red fist with two thumbs clutching a peyote button, the symbol of Thompson’s first-person gonzo journalism, close to Owl Farm, accompanied by fireworks and songs, Spirit In the Sky by Norman Greenbaum and Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man.
What price for giving an absurd send-off to a writer who cherished the absurd? $3 million, if you’re Johnny Depp. “All I’m doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true,” Depp said at the time, “I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out.”  Thompson’s ashes were fired from a cannon that was placed atop a 153-foot (47 m) tower shaped like a double-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button.

Depp played gonzo writer Thompson in the 1998 movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – the two men remained friends until Thompson’s death in 2005.

Thompson, who shot himself aged 67, had said that he would like his ashes scattered in such a fashion. “He loved explosions,” said Thompson’s widow, Anita. Around 300 people attended the memorial along with Hunter’s family and widow Anita, including actors Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson, Billy Murray, Benicio del Toro, Senators John Kerry and George McGovern and musicians Lyle Lovett and John Oates.

“Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy shit…what a ride!”

An online archive of his Rolling Stone writing is available here.

Johnny Depp spent $3 million blasting Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes …

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Paris Review – Hunter S. Thompson, The Art of Journalism No. 1

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Atlantic Unbound – Interview with Hunter S. Thompson – The Atlantic

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Hunter S. Thompson Shrine – Aspen, Colorado – Atlas Obscura

Hunter S. Thompson Photos That Prove He Was Larger Than Life

Why Hunter S. Thompson Was a Rebel of Modern American Literature

Busting myths and reminiscing with Hunter S. Thompson’s son

Juan Thompson, Son of Hunter S., Writes a Book of His Own | Vanity Fair

Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson: Juan F …

Hunter S. Thompson’s son shocker: “Hunter was surprised and … – Salon

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