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2.22.05

Fear & Loathing: In the Heart of the American Dream

Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005)

By Sue Cauthen

When I discovered Hunter Thompson, I thought he was the funniest writer I'd ever come across.. I laughed out loud when I read Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. His "strange saga to the heart of the American Dream" expressed and informed the permissive culture of the time, at the height of the Nixon administration.

In Fear & Loathing: On the Campaign Trail, Thompson talked football with Nixon as they rode through the capital in the president's limousine. He covered the 1972 campaign as one of the boys on George McGovern's bus. His essay, "The Kentucky Derby Is Depraved & Decadent," was another howler. His first book, Hell's Angels, took him on a wild ride to Bass Lake with Sonny Barger and hordes of bikers one Fourth of July weekend. On a beer run into town, he became part of the story launching what he called Gonzo journalism as he sweated out what threatened to explode into a major rumble. "Are you guys really Nazis?" asked a local. "I'm Kiwanis," he replied.

He wrote long, rambling, alcohol-fueled Rolling Stone articles at the Seal Rock Inn out by the beach, faxing them to his editor in what he called a drug-crazed frenzy. He retreated to his ranch in Woody Creek, Colorado, ran an over-the-top campaign for sheriff, and beat a bust for drug possession and battery of a female fan.

But drink and drugs are tough masters. In recent years some of his rants were unreadable. The critics called him the quintessential outlaw journalist. In fact, he reveled in the role: iconoclastic, misogynistic, and occasionally out of control. To me, the lure was his wildly funny and madly irreverent take on the pretension, pomposity, and self-righteousness of middle America.

"As long as Hunter is around," a childhood friend told a biographer in 1993, "everything is okay. When Hunter dies, then we're all old."