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.


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