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Last Updated: Monday, 21 February 2005, 15:35 GMT
Thompson's classic Las Vegas trip
Benicio Del Toro, Hunter S Thompson and Johnny Depp at the premier of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Benicio del Toro and Johnny Depp starred in the 1998 film of Fear and Loathing
American counterculture writer Hunter S Thompson is likely to be best remembered for his cult classic Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas.

First published in 1972, it came about after Sports Illustrated magazine sent Thompson to Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race in Las Vegas.

The writer had recently made a name for himself with his book Hell's Angels, based on his experiences of hanging out with biker gangs in the mid-60s, and he had since found work writing for several newspapers and magazines.

Originally the assignment was to write a short article for Sports Illustrated on the motorcycle race, but it took a whole new turn after Thompson decided to write it in the "gonzo journalism" style he pioneered .

Gonzo journalism is a style of writing which captures the mood of a place or event and the journalist's experience of being involved with the action, rather than simply writing an account of the event itself, working on the basis that such writing carries more truth.

The phrase was coined by writer Bill Cardoso to describe an article Thompson wrote on the Kentucky Derby for the magazine Scanlan's Monthly in 1970.


In Thompson's case, he would instigate events and then document both his actions and how other people behaved as a result.

When he was asked to cover the Mint 400, he chose to report on the experience of covering the assignment itself, rather than the actual race - and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas was born.

The book follows the exploits of "fictional" author Raoul Duke - who is clearly based on Thompson - and his lawyer, who is known in the book as Dr Gonzo (based on Thompson's real life lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta) as they experiment with all manner of drugs in Las Vegas and take a vivid, hallucinatory trip through the city.

Later on, things become even stranger as Rolling Stone magazine sends them to cover a conference on narcotics and dangerous drugs.


The book was notable for highlighting Thompson's casual approach towards drug-taking, and illustrated just how much of his life revolved around substance abuse.

However, its theme of the state of the American Dream and the lives of the rich and decadent has also led to it being compared with another American classic, The Great Gatsby.

Despite its controversial content, the book received huge critical acclaim when it was published.
Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp played Thompson's alter-ego in the film

Bonfire Of The Vanities author Tom Wolfe described it as "a scorching epochal sensation" while the New York Times Book Review called it "the best book on the dope decade".


Thompson himself was somewhat disparaging about Fear and Loathing. In his 1979 book The Great Shark Hunt, he referred to it as "a failed experiment in gonzo journalism".

But it ensured his status as an American icon, not only for the pioneering writing style but also for the way in which it captured the mood of the country.

The main message of the book - that the optimism of the 60s had given way to a darker era, in part due to the Vietnam War - struck a chord with many readers.

The film version, directed by Terry Gilliam, made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998, with Johnny Depp as Duke and Benicio del Toro as Gonzo.

Depp spent many months living with Thompson in order to research the role, learning his mannerisms and even borrowing clothes from Thompson and shaving his head so as to resemble the author. Del Toro, meanwhile, gained 40lb to play Dr Gonzo.

It was a critical and commercial flop, making only $10m (5.6m) at the box office, although like the book, it has since gained a cult following.

Hunter S Thompson commits suicide
21 Feb 05 |  Entertainment
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21 Feb 05 |  Have Your Say
Fear and Loathing at the Book Festival
25 Aug 98 |  Entertainment

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