American writer Hunter S. Thompson was born in 1937 and raised in Kentucky. When he was 14, his father died of a rare immune disorder. His mother then took to heavy drinking. Thompson transferred high schools, and was accepted into the prestigious Athenaeum Literary Association. The club was populated by the socially elite, wealthy young people of Louisville. Thompson contributed articles and editorials for over two years, but was banned from the association after being arrested in connection with a robbery and spending 30 days in prison.
His writing career continued in the U.S. Air Force in 1955 as the sports editor on an airbase newspaper. He did brief stints with other small papers, and also Time magazine, who fired him for insubordination. In his spare time, Thompson meticulously studied and analyzed his favorite novel, The Great Gatsby.
In 1964, Thompson was commissioned by The Nation magazine to write a short article about the Hell’s Angels. Upon the article’s publication, a publisher offered Thompson $1,500 to write an entire book about the biker gangs. Thompson agreed, bought a motorcycle with his advance, and travelled America, meeting Hell’s Angels and writing about them. He was almost killed when five of gang members beat him savagely, accusing him of using them for profit. The book, Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, made the New York Times bestseller list. The book tour went poorly, as Thompson arrived drunk for many of his tour dates.
Playboy hired Thompson in 1969 to write an article. Short on time and desperate, Thompson wrote from the hip and the heart, ignoring journalistic norms such as objectivity, and it was with this article that ‘Gonzo Journalism’ was born. A much more personal and editorial style of reporting, Gonzo writing has been criticized for its subjectivity, but applauded by others for its honesty and style. While Playboy turned down the article, it was later published in Ramparts magazine.
In 1971, Thompson published his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. The book is a drug-fuelled, manic, funny and terrifying detailing of two trips to Las Vegas. Much of the narrative is largely non-linear, hallucinatory and surreal. It was originally published in two parts, illustrated by Ralph Steadman, in Rolling Stone magazine. The following year Random House combined the texts, added more Steadman’s illustrations, and published the hardcover edition. The book remains Hunter S. Thompson’s best-known work.
In 2005, Thompson committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. He had been struggling with many chronic medical conditions. In his suicide note, he wrote that the end of the N.F.L. season was one of the reasons for his depression. He was 67.
Signed copies of Thompson’s work are fairly scarce, with a matching price tag. Signed copies of Fear and Loathing, in particular, are becoming more expensive as availability diminishes.