Hunter Stockton Thompson was born and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky on July 18, 1937. His family had lived in the state for quite some time, fighting on both sides of the Civil War, as it was a state that had something of both the North and of the South in it (Vitullo 49), a duality that Thompson experienced as being stuck between the local community and larger ambitions. His father, Jack Thompson was a World War I veteran and insurance agent, but he died when Thompson was still in high school; his mother was an alcoholic –overall, the Thompson family was therefore quite poor. Nevertheless, his interest in writing managed to get him into the Athenaeum Literary Association, a fairly elite group, where he started writing. This way, he managed to draw attention to himself in the local community. The Lost Generation writers (Vitullo 55) and the Beatniks (Gonzo, 32) were major influences. Still, he got expelled from his school in 1955 and shortly after that was arrested for assault and robbery. After being released from jail (a short imprisonment, but one that would turn his life around according to Vitullo, 63), he joined the Air Force, and worked as sports editor in Florida. This was the first time he displayed his originality in writing articles, “bending the format [of sports writing] to meet his own demands” (Vitullo 66). After leaving the Air Force, he traveled around, taking assignments here and there, before heading to Puerto Rico in 1959. In the period that followed, he wrote for various magazines, including National Observer. Over the course of the nineteen-sixties, he became interested in the Hell’s Angels, who represented all of America’s flaws. He spent time with them to write what would eventually become Hell’s Angels (1967), an in-depth study of the Hell’s Angels that also represented a further move toward participatory journalism according to Vitullo (92), writing in a style that has led to comparisons with Norman Mailer, who saw objectivity as a useless activity.
Known for his extravagant lifestyle and use of drugs and alcohol, Thompson quickly became emblematic of the counterculture. In 1968, he worked as a reporter for various magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone and Esquire, for which he wrote on topics like the Nixon campaign and the Democratic National Convention. These and other stories were later collected in The Great Shark Hunt. Around this time, too, he began working on a book on the death of the American Dream, something for which he found answers on a trip to Las Vegas in 1971, which would provide the inspiration for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In the meantime, he ran for Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado in 1970, but without success. In 1972, he followed the election even more closely, in part because he knew George McGovern personally, and later collected his writings in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. His work on the 1972 election has been compared to what Mailer did during the conventions in 1968 (Seligson), with a similar type of critical reporting. In terms of his literary achievements he is particularly well-known for creating his own style of journalistic writing – Gonzo. This has been investigated from various angles (taking into account the historical development of magazines as economic context and other historical facts) by Mark Vitullo in Riding the Strange Torpedo. In his introduction, he identifies three main elements to the Gonzo style; “subjectivity, author involvement, and metajournalism” (8), essentially blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction. Although Thompson was in many ways an outsider, he managed to attract a mainstream readership (Vitullo 9) and he would continue to write throughout his life, although rarely with as much success as he had had during the nineteen-seventies. On February 20 2005, he committed suicide at his home Owl Farm in Wood Creek, Colorado.