“He shot out of the womb angry. And then he left that same way”

October 17th, 2007 by Larry Smith

gonzocover.jpgThe above headline is one of my favorite bits from our just-published excerpt of Gonzo: An Oral History of Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson has never been lacking in publicity, but I think even those with a PhD in the good doctor’s life and times will love reading this take on Thompson’s boyhood days in Kentucky. These were the emerging artist’s days of war games and BB guns and sports and pranks and booze. Tossed in jail for a crime he may or may not have committed with two friends, young Hunter was hung out to dry while his better-connected compradors were sprung free. Historian Doug Brinkley recounts what happened:

Hunter wrote his mother these very philosophical letters from behind bars. They exude the desperation of a young man in jail looking for his freedom as well as contemplating how the rich get away with dastardly things and the poor don’t—that the buddies that he was with in the Cherokee Park event were waltzing because they knew the judge, and that he was the poor kid on the other side of the railroad tracks with no dad. The game was fixed.

Like so many young writers, I fell in love with his work, specifically Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas*, and fortunately got my own god-awful gonzo stage out of the way early, in college. Later, after editing a story my friend Cheryl wrote about being Thompson’s assistant, she thanked me by giving me a cigarette holder he’d given to her. I’m not an autograph hound or huge celebrity worshipper (or, for that matter, even a smoker), but I cherish it.

Read more about the beginnings of HST, storytelling legend, here.

* My wife tells the story of how as a twentysomething in San Francisco commuting to a temp job she hated, she would re-read Fear & Loathing, standing up, squashed in the train like an animal. It kept her sane.

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