Pioneer of “gonzo” journalism, Hunter S. Thompson is born in Louisville, Ky., on this day.
By age 10, Thompson was publishing his own two-page newspaper, which he sold for four cents. By his early teens, he had already launched on the life of drinking, vandalism, and pyromania that would turn him into a bestselling writer. At age 18, he was jailed for robbery. After serving 30 days of his 50-day sentence, he was released after promising to join the Air Force.
While serving on a Pensacola, Florida, Air Force base, he became sports editor of the base newspaper and later went to work for a paper in New York, where he was fired for kicking a vending machine. He wrote conventional journalism pieces for various magazines, and in 1967 he expanded one of his articles into his first book, Hells Angels, which became a bestseller. In 1970, while covering the Kentucky Derby, Thompson went on a weeklong bender and developed severe writer’s block. He handed his scrawled notes to the copy boys his editors sent after him, and the result, “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” was hailed as a landmark in journalism. One of his editors dubbed the new style “gonzo,” for its wild, careening style.
In 1972, Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas became a bestseller, as did his 1972 Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, about the Nixon-McGovern presidential election. Thompson died at his home in Woody Creek, Colo., on February 20, 2005, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was 67 years old.