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Summary Article: THOMPSON, HUNTER S.
from The Encyclopedia of American Journalism

Hunter S. Thompson (July 18, 1937–February 20, 2005) was one of the most parodied American journalists of the twentieth century. His self-created literary image as a drugged-out, slightly out-of-control angry man drowning in a sea of personal irony while railing against a creeping American fascism has been well reproduced. It exists in most of his works, two major Hollywood movies (Where The Buffalo Roam [1980] and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas [1998]), the character “Uncle Duke” in the nationally syndicated comic strip Doonesbury and the character “Spider Jerusalem” in the sixty-issue DC/Vertigo comic book series Transmetropolitan . Behind this self-mocking mask, however, was a hard-working prose stylist whose decades worth of carefully crafted newspaper and magazine articles, personal correspondence, online essays, and book narratives made Thompson a star among the “new” journalists of the 1960s and 1970s. A senior statesman of American letters, he was still producing work to some acclaim when he fatally shot himself in the head at age sixty-seven on February 20, 2005.

Hunter Stockton Thompson was born on July 18, 1937 (although some Thompson biographies incorrectly list the date as 1939) in Louisville, Kentucky. He entered the U.S. Air Force in 1956. He began his journalistic career as the sports editor of the Command Courier, his base newspaper. He left the Air Force a year later after angering top brass with his investigative reporting and by his moonlighting for a local newspaper. He moved to New York City for a brief time, attending night classes at Columbia University while working as a Time magazine copyboy. Personally inspired by the work of, characters in the novels of, and lives of writers like Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Tom Wolfe, Thompson was determined to blaze an independent trail.

After a brief Caribbean stint for the New York Herald-Tribune, Thompson became first a South American correspondent, and later a national correspondent, for the National Observer. All the while he freelanced for publications like Scanlan's Monthly. An assignment for The Nation magazine on the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang led to a book contract and some fame.

But it was in Scanlan's that Thompson began experimenting with composing half-fictional, fragmented, and purposely-seeming stream-of-consciousness, first-person accounts of events. In these articles, he presented himself as an anti-hero often defeated by his own absurdity. This subset of “new” journalism he created was dubbed “gonzo journalism.” A counter-culture magazine out of San Francisco named Rolling Stone first published his “gonzo” magnum opus, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Thompson, having settled in Colorado, became one of Rolling Stone‘s star journalists in the 1970s. In these articles, he was also an anti-hero often defeated by absurdity.

Scores of magazine articles, and book collections of articles past and current, would follow from the 1970s to shortly before his death. In 1997 and in 2000, Thompson published volumes of select letters in his approximately twenty-thousand-item collection of personal correspondence. By early 2001, Thompson was writing a semi-regular sports column for ESPN.com. His memoir, Kingdom Of Fear, was published in 2003.

Thompson's image often overshadowed his work. But Thompson's so-called “non-fiction” writing documents a turbulent era inf American history, and does so with all the satirical wit and precise detail of the then-young writer's literary heroes.

Further Reading
  • Anson, Robert Sam. Gone Crazy and Back Again: The Rise and Fall of the Rolling Stone Generation. New York: Doubleday, 1981.
  • Carroll, E. Jean. Hunter: The Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S. Thompson. New York: Plume, 1993.
  • Draper, Robert Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
  • Love, Robert, ed. The Best of Rolling Stone: 25 Years of Journalism on the Edge. New York: Doubleday, 1993.
  • McKeen, William Hunter S. Thompson. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991.
  • Perry, Paul Fear And Loathing: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Hunter S. Thompson. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1992.
  • Thompson, Hunter S. Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996, originally published 1967.
  • Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. New York: Vintage, 1998, originally published in 1971.
  • Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ‘72. New York: Warner Books, 1983, originally published in 1973.
  • Thompson, Hunter S. Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century. Foreword by Timothy Ferris. New York: Simon And Schuster, 2003.
  • Thompson, Hunter S. The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955–1967.Edited by Douglas Brinkley. Foreword by William J. Kennedy. New York: Villard, 1997.
  • Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist, 1968–1976.Edited by Douglas Brinkley. Foreword by David Halberstam. New York: Simon And Schuster, 2000.
  • Whitmer, Peter O. When the Going Gets Weird: The Twisted Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson. New York: Hyperion, 1993.
  • Todd Steven Burroughs
    © 2008 by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

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