Hunter S Thompson: 10 Gonzo tales of Fear and Loathing about the man who inspired new film

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Hunter S Thompson, the legendary Gonzo journalist, is hot property again – almost three years after his suicide.

The Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas author is the subject of Alex Gibney’s acclaimed documentary Gonzo – The Life And Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson, released in the UK last Friday.

The film is stacked with tributes to Thompson’s maverick genius – and countless tales of notorious bad behaviour from the man who once said, “I hate to advocate drugs or liquor, violence, insanity to anyone. But in my case it's worked.”

Here are 10 incredible stories which guarantee his cult status will live on…

10) No single tale of Thompson sums up his bizarre sense of humour better than his famed birthday gift to Jack Nicholson. Hunter decided the perfect tribute to his actor pal would be to drive to the top of a creek overlooking Nicholson’s mansion and fire off a few rounds of ammunition while booming out a tape of what Nicholson’s former girlfriend Anjelica Huston described as “terrible dying-animal cries”. Thompson then placed a frozen elk heart on Nicholson’s doormat, causing blood to seep into the star’s living room. Alas, Nicholson had recently been plagued by a stalker. Fearing a Mansonesque slaughter, he alerted the FBI while his terrified family hid in the cellar overnight. “I didn’t put two and two together because I didn’t see the elk heart until the following day,” he said. “But the animal noises and the screaming and the beating – I was petrified.”

9) Undaunted by the poor reception to his gift, Thompson later sent Nicholson’s nine-year-old daughter Lorraine a beautifully-wrapped Christmas present. Inside was a hideously graphic model of a dead rat caught in a trap. Also included was a note which read: “Dear Lorraine. This will teach you a lesson about trusting men which will be valuable later in life. You’re welcome, Uncle Hunter.”

8) Nicholson was not alone among celebrities who suffered at Hunter’s hands. Seeking spiritual guidance from the self-ordained Doctor of Divinity (a degree Thompson bought by mail), Miami Vice actor Don Johnson once asked him to answer the famous Zen riddle, “What is the sound of one-hand clapping?”. Said Johnson: “He reached up and slapped me upside the head.” The resulting tinnitus plagued the star for days.

7) Thompson loved explosions – as evidenced by his funeral, which saw his ashes blasted from 34 different shells fired from a gun barrel mounted on top of a 150-foot high monument. Most big bangs were planned in tandem with his friend and former landlord Grorge Stranahan. Said local sheriff Bob Braudis: “George and Hunter liked to blow up s*** as a recreation. They blew up an old Jeep Waggoner. The hood was blasted three hundred feet in the air. They used 25 pounds of gunpowder and five gallons of gasoline.”  On another memorable occasion Thompson detonated a tractor tyre inflated with acetylene and swollen to measure eight feet across and four feet high. “One of the gang was running late,” wrote Hunter’s friend Michael Cleverly. “He was four miles away when he saw a massive orange glow in the sky. Then the concussion hit him; he felt it even though he was in his car. Back at Owl Farm everyone was flat on their backs. The only one who counted the broken windows was the guy who fixed them.”

6) Thompson loved pets. While working in Brazil during the early 1960s his menagerie included an alcoholic monkey who committed suicide by jumping off Hunter’s hotel balcony. Said friend Robert Bone: “Everyone figured the monkey, being an alcoholic, had the DTs.”

5) In later years, Thompson kept a pride of peacocks at Owl Farm, his “fortified compound” in Aspen, Colorado. There were also a pair of Doberman dogs who enraged Hunter by continually digging up his pension fund – gold Krugerrand coins buried in ammunition canisters around the Owl Farm yard. This annoyance was finally cured when Thompson duct-taped boxing gloves to their front paws.

4) A huge sporting enthusiast, Thompson’s struggles with fishing are detailed in his books The Curse Of Lono and The Great Shark Hunt. One story from a spell in Key West, Florida, in the early 1980s is typical. Said his friend Russell Chatham: “He told us ‘I was getting out off the boat. My foot slipped and I fell. My hand hit the throttle and the boat took off!’ He sent the goddamn boat away from the dock at top speed and it circled the harbour and came back at him and he had to make a run for it. It came back around, careened off the front of about three dozen boats and ripped the fronts off half of them, and fired up across the dock and across the lawn and into the country club.”

3) Hunter’s final published column, for ESPN.com, described his invention of a game called Shotgun Golf. “The game consists of one golfer, one shooter and a field judge,” he wrote. “The purpose of the game is to shoot your opponent's high-flying golf ball out of the air with a finely-tuned 12-gauge shotgun, thus preventing him (your opponent) from lofting a 9-iron approach shot onto a distant ‘green’ and making a ‘hole in one.’ Points are scored by blasting your opponent's shiny new Titleist out of the air and causing his shot to fail miserably.”

2) Thompson was mortified when, in 2000, he shot and wounded his long-time assistant Deborah Fuller while attempting to chase a black bear away from Owl Farm. “Just as I pulled the trigger, Deborah stepped out of her front door and ‘bang’,” he explained. It embarrassed me and it ruined my safety record.” Said Braudis: “Deborah’s mood was stoic. She was smiling and still had her ironic sense of humour. ‘Hunter has threatened to shoot me dozens of times and now the son-of-a-bitch has!’”

1) In the early 1990s, after a long feud over land development in Thompson’s home village of Woody Creek, computer software multi-millionaire Floyd Watkins accused Thompson of firing “forty shots, then about five rounds from a shotgun” at his ranch at 4am. A Mexican stand-off between Watkins and Thompson ensued until police arrived. Unfortunately, Thompson was on probation at the time after shooting at an errant ball during a golf game with TV newsman Ed Bradley and so a cover story was needed. Said Thompson: “I was out in front of Watkins’ and I was charged by this gigantic porcupine. It came right at me, running at about 20 miles an hour. It lunged at me. I had to blast it. I’ve never seen anything so vicious.” Said Braudis later: “I asked, ‘Couldn’t you do better than a killer porcupine?’ The man was a creative genius.”

Quotes taken from Hunter by E Jean Carroll; The Kitchen Readings by Michael Cleverly and Bob Braudis; Gonzo by Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour

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