The late Hunter S. Thompson will join the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, Joseph Gerth reported Tuesday for the The (Louisville, Ken.) Courier-Journal.
Thompson’s career spanned six decades, beginning with a stint covering sports for a U.S. Air Force base newspaper in Florida. Over the years, he contributed to Scanlan’s Monthly magazine, where he wrote his breakout piece, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” and more famously was a correspondent for Rolling Stone Magazine.
He also wrote for, among others, The New York Times, Boston Globe, Esquire, Playboy, Time and Vanity Fair. Early in his career, Thompson applied for a job at The Courier-Journal and was rejected.
Thompson, who was born in Louisville, wrote “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “The Rum Diaries” and “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs,” among other books. His style, using first-person writing with a clear point of view, came to be known as gonzo journalism.
In a 2000 interview with Douglas Brinkley and Terry McDonell in The Paris Review, Thompson talked about his start in journalism while in the Air Force, where he read books about journalism at the library and soon started writing for both the local and the base newspapers.
When I left the Air Force I knew I could get by as a journalist. So I went to apply for a job at Sports Illustrated. I had my clippings, my bylines, and I thought that was magic . . . my passport. The personnel director just laughed at me. I said, “Wait a minute. I’ve been sports editor for two papers.” He told me that their writers were judged not by the work they’d done, but where they’d done it. He said, “Our writers are all Pulitzer Prize winners from The New York Times. This is a helluva place for you to start. Go out into the boondocks and improve yourself.”
In that Paris Review piece, Thompson talks about realizing what he could really do with journalism, and how he often worked while high.
Almost without exception writers we’ve interviewed over the years admit they cannot write under the influence of booze or drugs—or at the least what they’ve done has to be rewritten in the cool of the day. What’s your comment about this?
They lie. Or maybe you’ve been interviewing a very narrow spectrum of writers. It’s like saying, “Almost without exception women we’ve interviewed over the years swear that they never indulge in sodomy”—without saying that you did all your interviews in a nunnery. Did you interview Coleridge? Did you interview Poe? Or Scott Fitzgerald? Or Mark Twain? Or Fred Exley? Did Faulkner tell you that what he was drinking all the time was really iced tea, not whiskey? Please. Who the fuck do you think wrote the Book of Revelation? A bunch of stone-sober clerics?
Thompson committed suicide in 2005. He’ll be inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, run by the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications, on April 29.