Gonzo: the Life of Hunter S. Thompson

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This oral biography of Hunter S. Thompson, written by Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour, consists of anecdotes culled from interviews with 120 of Thompson's acquaintances, beginning with his childhood in Kentucky and ending with his death in 2005 in Woody Creek, Colorado.

Some people -- most notably Thompson's second wife -- have complained that this oral biography paints an ugly picture of Thompson. I'm not in a position to say whether or not the material was skewed to present a misleading image of Thompson. I think Thompson was a tremendously talented writer (my favorite book of his is Hell's Angels, which was published in 1966) who lived a far out life, and what I learned from reading this book doesn't seem to be out of line with what I imagined he might be like as a person. He was fiercely loyal to his friends but could be also be abusive and cruel. His first wife, Sandy, was interviewed extensively for the book, and her description of Thompson as an exceedingly charismatic man who could be lovable and funny one moment and brutally inconsiderate the next seems to echo the opinions of most of the other people who offered their stories in the book.

It's interesting to note, however, that most of the people who were friends with Thompson remained friends with him for life. Despite his flaws, his generosity and love made up for his frequent bouts of bad behavior. Here's an example of Thompson's (reckless) bigheartedness:

Tim Ferris [former New York Bureau Chief for Rolling Stone]: Around that time, I was leaving New York to go on tour with David Bowie. [Rolling Stoneeditor] Jann [Wenner] was in New York, and we had a meeting. I had my bag with me because I was on my way to the airport, and Jann fired me -- which happened periodically during downturns. When I called Owl Farm, Sandy answered and said that she had just spoken to Hunter, who was in his room at the Watergate. I asked her how things were going, and she said, "Pretty well, but we're worried about money. That's what we were just talking about. We only have four hundred dollars left in the bank and we don't know where any more money is going to come from." We talked a bit more, and then I hung up and immediately called Hunter. He said, "How's it going?" I said, "I just got fired by Jann." And Hunter said, "Do you need any money? I can lend you four hundred dollars."

My gut feeling tells me this book comes as close as possible to being an accurate portrayal of Thompson. Whether I'm right or not, it was absolutely addictive: as soon as I cracked it open, I could hardly stop reading, and I tore through all 467 pages in two days. Link

Previously on Boing Boing:
Hunter Thompson's widow unhappy with new bio
Hunter S Thompson tribute beers with Steadman labels
Hunter S Thompson's ashes in fireworks display


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  2. Haven’t read the third of the series, but his first two books of letters, The Proud Highway and Fear and Loathing in America, offer a view of how his writing style evolved over the decades. Good stuff if you liked the peek at his early writing life in Shark Hunt.

  3. I bought my hardbound 2nd or 3rd printing edition of The Great Sharkhunt in a small used book store after finding a slightly rusted razor blade pagemarker, probably from the person that bought it. That to me is marketing Zen.

  4. I spent an hour on the phone the other night talking to a friend about this very book and HST in general (he’s read it, I haven’t). I guess I have to pick it up now that it’s got Boing Boing’s approval as well. Doubly good.

    But seriously, everyday I wish HST was alive just to cover the campaign. I don’t think there will ever be another person that can dissect a candidate like Thompson could.

  5. #6 VONNEGUTLIVES you could reread his accounts of the nixon administration and his coverage of the 92′ election.

  6. HST was one of the most acute political observers
    it’s every been my pleasure to read. Every time
    I see what fresh horror our increasingly fascist,
    increasingly theocratic government has in mind for
    us, there’s a moment when I wonder what HST will
    say…before I remember that he’s gone.

    As to his negative qualities, they pale in
    significance to his genius. Any moron can be
    polite; only a precious few can be brilliant.

  7. Jann Wenner has GOT to have a warped view of what Hunter Thompson was like, considering he was the guy who paid for most of Hunter’s escapades. Hahahaha!

    /Does a warped view of a warped life get you back to normal?? :D

  8. “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro”… I got the book “Gonzo” for Christmas and loved it. Mostly pics, with a great intro written by Johnny Depp. I’ll have to check this one out. I met the good doctor once at UCSD back in the early 80’s- an amazing man. Kinda scary…. never saw human eyes that wired before.

  9. Ralph Steadman’s The Joke’s Over, a memoir of his times with Thompson, paints a similar picture of a man who could be difficult to love sometimes, particularly in later life, but could also be intensely loyal and generous.

  10. Regardless of how much I respect Anita, and how much I loved her new book “The Gonzo Way”, that is obviously only one side to Hunter S. Thompson, and that is not the way we want him to be remembered. Being a Thompson mega fan (like me) is really a problem unless you can accept that Hunter had a very cold and cruel side to him. That does not by any means make him any less of a genius or an icon. A person that intense usually has a little bit of a sting to them. I have read several Thompson biographies, including Stedman’s new one, and they all reveal that Hunter was a force to be reckoned with. We all knew that from the beginning. But as Anita pointed out in her book, he lived without apology, for good or ill.

  11. I finally started reading this last week. I don’t want to put it down. I am tempted to find a dark corner of the office to hide in and read instead of sitting at my desk in front of the computer.

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