Biography of Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He grew up in a middle-class family; his childhood was relatively tranquil. However, this changed in 1952 when Thompson's father, a public insurance adjuster, died of an autoimmune disease called Myasthenia Gravis. After the elder Thompson's death, the family was plunged into poverty, and Thompson's mother, Virginia, became an alcoholic. Although young Hunter was heavily involved in clubs at his high school, including the yearbook and the literary society, he was also something of a juvenile delinquent. After being caught driving a stolen car, he was expelled from high school and served one month in prison. He joined the Air Force in 1955.

Although members of the Air Force were not allowed to hold other jobs, Thompson became a sportswriter while in the service and traveled the country with a minor-league football team. He was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1958 due to his "rebellious and superior attitude" (Perry 28). After that, Thompson worked briefly as a sports editor for a small newspaper in Pennsylvania before moving to New York City. There, he became a copy boy for Time, but was quickly fired for insubordination. Over next two years, Thompson traveled to Puerto Rico, hitchhiked across the United States, and worked as a caretaker at the hot springs in Big Sur. The hot springs job provided Thompson with the material for his first long magazine feature, which was published in Rogue. He also wrote two novels, Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary, although neither was published until later in Thompson's life.

In 1962, Thompson was hired as the South American correspondent for the newsweekly The National Observer. His girlfriend Sandra Conklin traveled to Brazil with him, and they were married shortly thereafter. After Thompson's tenure with The National Observer came to an end, he and Sandra moved around the country and had a son, Juan. They eventually ended up in San Francisco, where Thompson became involved in the city's hippie culture.

Thompson broke through as a journalist in 1965, when The Nation published his article on the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang. After the article's publication, Thompson traveled with the Hell's Angels for over a year, which he chronicled in an extremely successful nonfiction book called Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. However, the Hell's Angels objected to the fact that Thompson was making money from his travels with them, which resulted in a highly-publicized feud between the writer and the gang.

Nevertheless, Hell's Angels solidified Thompson's reputation as a journalist, which led to assignments for a number of nationally-distributed magazines. Between 1965 and 1972, Thompson wrote long-form articles on a variety of topics, many of which explored and critiqued the '60s counterculture. In 1970, Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, as part of the 'Freak Power' ticket; his party advocated the decriminalization of drugs and a ban on motor vehicles. He received 44% of the vote and was narrowly defeated by the Democratic candidate. During this period, Thompson also pioneered a technique called Gonzo journalism, which employs first-person, stream-of-consciousness narration and blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction. Often, a Gonzo journalist will involve him or herself in the events being covered. Thompson's first Gonzo style article was "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" in Scanlan's Monthly. He continued to use the Gonzo technique for all of his later work, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72.

In 1971, Thompson was assigned to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race for Sports Illustrated. Although it was meant to be a short assignment, it quickly blossomed into a novel-length report on the American Dream and the death of the '60s counterculture. Fear and Loathing was well-received by both critics and the public, and made Thompson a household name. He employed a similar writing style in his coverage of the 1972 presidential election, which became the novel Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72.

In the following years, Thompson fell out with his editors at Rolling Stone and wrote much less frequently. However, he still occasionally covered high-profile events including the invasion of Grenada, the appointment of Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, and the Clinton and Kerry presidential campaigns. Thompson committed suicide in 2005.

Study Guides on Works by Hunter S. Thompson