Hunter S. Thompson, the famous and sometimes infamous Pulitzer prize winning writer and American social icon impacted generations of readers with his humorous, caustic, revelatory and sometimes rabidly poetic work. The list below is an attempt to capture the man in all his audacious splendor. The fact the list of quotes compiled spans some 46 years is a testament to Thompson’s relevance and iconic status in both America and literary culture as a whole.
Thompson was an widely acclaimed journalist, but also worked both professionally and non-professionally in the fields of deep sea fishing, politics, pistol and rifle shooting, as well as a tour of duty in the US Air Force. His often adventurous and sometimes wild exploits were well documented by himself (and others) as Thompson has often been referred to as the godfather of gonzo journalism.
His death in 2005 was a colourful as his life, when Thompson was found dead in his home from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Many however, immediately cried foul. Thompson had earlier exposed a CIA drug smuggling ring and in the weeks leading up to his death was researching a story about the suspicious uniform collapse of the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11. Thompson often said that people should not take the Bush Administration’s explanation of the events of September 11, 2001 as the truth.
Writer Paul William Roberts of the Toronto Globe and Mail has repeatedly gone on record as saying Thompson called him the night before his death to tell him about the WTC story he was working on and that he was scared for his life. He told Roberts he had stumbled across hard evidence showing the towers were brought down by explosive charges set off in their foundations. Now he thought someone was out to stop him from publishing it. Roberts has quoted Thompson as saying during the call, “They’re gonna make it look like a suicide. I know how these bastards think.” As compelling in his death as he was in his life, Hunter S. Thompson’s work continues to represent independence, swagger and the (North) American Dream.
- 1. Slaves to Fear
- “We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear—fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer.”
- Extreme Behavior in Aspen, 2003
- 2. Sheep and Swine
- “In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upwardly mobile—and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely. We owe that to ourselves and our crippled self-image as something better than a nation of panicked sheep.”
- The Great Shark Hunt, 1979
- 3. Rain is Poison and Sex is Death
- “There are times, however, and this is one of them, when even being right feels wrong. What do you say, for instance, about a generation that has been taught that rain is poison and sex is death? If making love might be fatal and if a cool spring breeze on any summer afternoon can turn a crystal blue lake into a puddle of black poison right in front of your eyes, there is not much left except TV and relentless masturbation. It’s a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die.”
- Gonzo Papers, Vol. 2: Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s, 1988
- 4. The Armed Forces
- “Be a beachcomber, a Parisian wino, an Italian pimp, or a Danish pervert; but stay away from the Armed Forces.”
- In a letter from Eglin Air Force Base while serving, 1957
- 5. Either Binge
- “We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine and a whole multicolored collection of uppers, downers, laughers, screamers . . . Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge and I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon . . .”
- 6. Used Car Salesmen
- “America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money… we need to buy guns and have no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.”
- The Rum Dairy, 1988
- 7. Disco
- “I feel the same way about disco as I do about herpes.”
- Speech to Graduates, University of Colorado, 1977
- 8. World of Thieves
- “In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”
- Rolling Stone, 1971
- 9. The Writer
- “As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I’m not sure that I’m going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says, ‘you are nothing’, I will be a writer.”
- In a letter to Roger Richards in The Proud Highway, 1959
- 10. The Absolute Truth
- “If I’d written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people—including me—would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.”
- The Great Shark Hunt, 1957