February 20th 2018 marks thirteen years since the death of inimitable journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson.
Thompson redefined journalism working with Rolling Stone magazine. His work would come to be described as gonzo, written as a first-person narrative without objectivity. It disregards the traditions and rules of media for an approach with much more personality and humour.
His most acclaimed work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, began as a 250-word assignment for Sports Illustrated covering the Mint 400 motorcycle race. In preparation for the event, he took an astonishing amount of drugs with him, including, but far from limited to, two bags of grass, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid and a salt shaker half full of cocaine.
The resulting piece was 2,500 words and was less about the race and more of, as he puts it, “a savage journey into the heart of the American dream”. Unsurprisingly it was rejected. He instead turned to Rolling Stone, whose editor Jann Wenner loved it, and so Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was born. It ran in two parts in November 1971, later published as a book and adapted into a cult film.
During his career Thompson penned many more extraordinary works, such as his book Hell’s Angels, but as he grew older and his health declined he became increasingly depressed. On February 20th, 2005 he took his own life, leaving a note titled ‘Football Season Is Over’:
“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your (old) age. Relax — This won’t hurt”