10 Life Lessons We Can Learn From The Writing Of Hunter S. Thompson

Who doesn’t like Hunter S. Thompson? Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is right up there with the Bible for many university students and young journalists, who idolize the excessive lifestyle of alcohol, drinks and general recklessness that Thompson lived, which unfortunately ended with his suicide in 2005 at the age of 67. Recently the first trailers and movie poster for the The Rum Diary debuted, which is based on the author’s novel of the same title and stars Johnny Depp as a boozehound journalist on assignment in Puerto Rico (loosely based on Thompson’s own experiences). In celebration of the film, here are ten life lessons we’ve learned from Thompson’s literary canon.

1. Drugs are bad.

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)

Arguably one of the most famous opening passages of any novel, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas is more effective as an anti-drug PSA than those lame monthly presentations they gave when you were in high school. 

2. Some drugs are worse than others.

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 galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… 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 locked 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.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)

Okay fine, you can smoke weed. Just stay away from the hard stuff, otherwise you’ll end up like Fear and Loathing‘s protagonist Raoul Duke’s attorney Dr. Gonzo, screaming for someone to throw a radio into a bath tub while the water is running.

3. Drink in moderation.

Thousands of raving, stumbling drunks, getting angrier and angrier as they lose more and more money. By mid-afternoon they’ll be guzzling mint juleps with both hands and vomiting on each other between races. The whole place will be jammed with bodies, shoulder to shoulder. It’s hard to move around. The aisles will be slick with vomit; people falling down and grabbing at your legs to keep from being stomped. Drunks pissing on themselves in the betting lines.

– “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” (June 1970)

When he wasn’t writing, it was well-documented that Thompson routinely enjoyed four Bloody Marys, two margaritas and six lines of cocaine as part of his daily breakfast, but he balanced it out with two grapefruits, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon, a slice of key lime pie and eggs benedict. The lesson here? Everything in moderation.

4. Don’t get involved with motorcycle gangs.

The hard core, the outlaw elite, were the Hell’s Angels… wearing the winged death’s-head on the back of their sleeveless jackets and packing their “mamas” behind them on big “chopped hogs.” They rode with a fine unwashed arrogance, secure in their reputation as the rottenest motorcycle gang in the whole history of Christendom.

Hell’s Angels (1967)

Remember when your mother told you not to run away with a motorcycle gang? If you didn’t believe her it was a bad idea, just read Thompson’s account of running with the Hell’s Angels in California, which doesn’t shy away from details of the group’s more unsavory and illegal activities.

5. Some politicians are really, really corrupt.

Richard Nixon has never been one of my favorite people anyway. For years I’ve regarded his existence as a monument to all the rancid genes and broken chromosomes that corrupt the possibilities of the American Dream; he was a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad.

Pageant (July 1968)

Thompson covered a lot of politicians and political campaigns during his lifetime, so he witnessed firsthand the dark side of American politics on many occasions. No writer was more outspoken about Nixon, and even though he slowed down writing towards the end of his life, Thompson wrote several columns highlighting his disgust and outrage over George W. Bush’s presidency.

6. Too much television will rot your brain.

The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.

Generation of Swine (1988)

Thompson, a print journalist through and through, did not care for the gloss and pageantry of the television business. He’s probably turning in his grave right now at the thought of Jersey Shore.

7. Music makes the world go around.

Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of fuel. Sentimental people call it inspiration, but what they really mean is fuel. I have always needed fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.

Kingdom of Fear (2004)

Even though he wrote most frequently for Rolling Stone, Thompson didn’t contribute music articles, though he enjoyed listening to a variety of artists including Warren Zevon, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan.

8. War never solves anything.

The TV news was about the Laos Invasion – a series of horrifying disasters: explosions and twisted wreckage, men fleeing in terror, Pentagon generals babbling insane lies.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)

Or to quote Edwin Starr, “War/ What is it good for/ Absolutely nothing.”

9. Perseverance will get you everywhere.

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

– “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl” (Rolling Stone, February 1974)

They should make motivational posters with this slogan on it.

10. If all else fails, move to Puerto Rico.

It was the kind of town that made you feel like Humphrey Bogart: you came in on a bumpy little plane, and, for some mysterious reason, got a private room with a balcony overlooking the town and the harbor; then you sat there and drank until something happened. I felt a tremendous distance between me and everything real.

The Rum Diary (1998) Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image – MDCArchives

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