Hunter S. Thompson’s inherent knack for writing and passion for activism made him a key voice in the counterculture movement. He’s famous for writing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and his personal reporting style – Gonzo journalism. Thompson was also a Rolex man.
The Early Years
Thompson’s personality and talents developed in his early years. He was a mischievous adolescent who was constantly testing the limits. Writing interested Thompson early on and he was clearly talented. The Athenaeum Literary Association, a highly regarded literary and social organization, accepted him while he was in high school. Here he contributed regularly to their newsletter.
The literary society kicked Thompson out during his senior year after committing a robbery. In order to avoid jail time he joined the Air Force. He received an early discharge just two years later, and afterward he made writing his sole focus. Thompson traveled the country, working for a number of small publications and spending a brief period at Time magazine. He also began working on more personal writing projects and wrote his first novel. Decades after being written, this novel published in 1998. It is an autobiography titled The Rum Diary.
The Turning Point
Fortunately for Thompson, as time went on, his bad behavior marked him as an anti-establishment and fearless journalist, which resonated with the growing counterculture movement of the 1960’s. This ultimately led him to receive an assignment that would prove to be a turning point in his career: an article about the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club for The Nation. This article received rave reviews and secured a book deal for Thompson. Two years later, he debuted his first book, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Like the article for The Nation, the book was a huge success. It established Thompson as a powerful journalist with a decidedly unique writing style.
The book helped propel Thompson’s career as he continued to travel around the country on assignments for a variety of publications. Scanlan’s monthly printed his piece that he titled “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” It became one of his most influential articles and is considered the first example of Thompson’s signature style, Gonzo journalism.
A few months after he published the Kentucky Derby piece, he decided to run for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, where he owned a home. It came as no surprise that he lost the race. It was not all a loss though. He wrote a story about the campaign titled “The Battle of Aspen,” and it was featured in Rolling Stone. This lead to a longstanding relationship between the magazine and Thompson. He would eventually serve as its national affairs editor for the next two decades.
Fear and Loathing
A year later, Thompson received another assignment that would prove to be life changing. Sports Illustrated hired Thompson to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race in the Nevada desert. When he arrived at the site, Thompson decided to write something entirely different. Sports Illustrated rejected the work. However, Rolling Stone picked it up and released it in a serialized format. Thompson later expanded on his work to create his most well-known book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.
After the success of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson’s career continued to flourish. Eventually, however, his hard and fast lifestyle began to take a toll on his work. His writing was still published although much of it was from earlier, more productive years. As his career and health both dwindled, he became depressed and disillusioned. Ultimately, Thompson took his own life.
Thompson gravitated toward rather traditional timepieces even though he was undoubtedly a colorful and complex guy. He was a Rolex man with a particular affection for the GMT Master. He owned both a Coke bezel GMT Master II and a Root Beer GMT Master. Still, Thompson found a way to make Rolex his own. He oftentimes wore both watches simultaneously on the same wrist.
Check out other Profiles in Time, like Ernest Hemmingway’s.