They say you can judge a man by his five closest friends, that you are the company you keep. To say that the company Hunter S. Thompson kept was prolific would be quite the understatement. The man lived life, and lived it hard. As such he met many fascinating, brilliant, creative, insightful, powerful and historic people along the way. Hunter S. Thompson’s celebrity friends were a varied bunch and many are just as crazy as he was.
Thompson’s Hollywood exploits are the stuff of legend. He can count Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, and Harry Dean Stanton amongst his friends. His first foray into La La Land yielded him many friends who just so happened to be ’80s Hollywood royalty; Matt Dillon and John Cusack, to name a few. Then, after some of his more famous adventures were adapted to film (and generally became more widespread via Rolling Stone and through his books), the next generation of Hollywood became enamored with Thompson as well – people like Josh Hartnett and Conan O’Brien.
This isn’t even mentioning his legendary on- and off-screen friendship with the man who would become Hunter S. Thompson: Johnny Depp. These guys became friends in a way that usually only happens in the movies. Depp became Hunter for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and in many ways he never came all the way back (just look at Depp’s interviews from before Vegas and after, when his speech patterns and mannerisms changed considerably). Depp and Thompson became brothers in arms in the war on boredom; Gonzo became a way of life, and these two brought it to the masses.
Depp read Thompson’s iconic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when he was a teen and had idolized the author ever since. They both happened to be in Colorado at the same time and a mutual friend offered Depp the chance to meet Thompson, he leapt at the chance. It was full fledged madness by the time he got there, Thompson had been parting a bar crowd with a pull prod… and a taser.
„People were hurling their bodies, leaping out of the way to try and save themselves from this maniac,” Depp said. „Then he made his way to me. The sparks had died down, he just walked right up to me and put his hand out and said, `How do you do? My name is Hunter.'”
Thompson and Depp quickly discovered they had a lot in common: they were both Kentucky boys with many literary of the same heroes, including Ernest Hemingway and Nathaniel West. It wasn’t long until the two of them were at Thompson’s house and Depp was admiring his gun collection, particularly a nickel-plated shotgun.
„‚Would you like to fire it?’ Depp recalled Thompson saying. „I said, `Yeah. Great, man.’ He says, ‚All right, great. We must build bombs.’ So we built bombs in his sink out of propane tanks and nitroglycerin. Then we took them out back and he said, `All right, you get first crack.’ So I leveled that 12-gauge and I blew it up – 80-foot fireball.
„I think that was my kind of rite of passage with Hunter. I think that was my test that I was OK.”
They stayed friends until the end, and maintained a mutual love of explosives, with Depp even paying for Thompson’s funeral complete with a giant fist shaped canon. What was that for? From which to launch Thompson’s ashes, of course. He left the world as he lived in it. Loud and larger than life.
Source: Huffington Post
John Cusack met Thompson while lobbying for, and almost booking, the lead in Fear and Loathing(which, of course, went to Johnny Depp). But Cusack and Thompson remained close friends.
Cusack credits Thompson with teaching him respect in his early twenties and the importance of growing up.
„Hunter [S. Thompson] was a friend. He wasn’t the best role model for survival . . . but, in a way, he was. At the end of the day, Hunter was a disillusioned romantic, an idealist, and a very dangerous character. But he was also very funny, loyal, and honest about his own faults. There was something shamanistic about him. Most of that relationship took place on the phone between 11 o’clock at night and six in the morning. A lot of late-night faxes. Not bankers’ hours.”
Ralph Steadman met Thompson when he was assigned to work with him on the now iconic „The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” article.
Thompson soon fell in love with Steadman’s violent, dark, and graphic style, it, in itself, being as depraved and harrowing as the writing. They collaborated on many more works together and Steadman quickly became the look of Gonzo.
Thompson once said, “I’ve been arguing for years now that music is the New Literature, that Dylan is the 1960s’ answer to Hemingway.” He also said, „Bobby Dylan is the purest, most intelligent voice of our time. Nobody else has a body of work over twenty years as clear and intelligent. He always speaks for the time.”
Eventually Dylan came to visit Thompson and they became friends.
Benicio told Short List magazine, „I remember my first meeting with him and Johnny Depp before we started shooting Fear and Loathing… It was really uncomfortable. Hunter started… testing me. He was saying to me, ‚I don’t think you can be in this movie. I don’t think you’re good enough. You don’t really understand the character.’ I turned to Johnny and said, ‚Is he for real?’ Johnny was like, ‚Relax, he’s testing you. He did the same thing to me.’ It was like an initiation. But we became good friends after that. Hunter was really special. I think he was the first true genius I’ve met.”
Bill Murray met Hunter S. Thompson in preparation for the lesser known Where the Buffalo Roam in which Murray played the enigmatic writer. Murray and Thompson remained close friends after the production and Murray described Thompson’s funeral as the greatest party he’d ever been to, and as the standard he’s setting for his own. On the topic of his funeral, Murray has said:
„Well, I don’t think I’m quite ready yet. There are some people that are ready earlier than others. Like, I knew Hunter Thompson – he was a friend – and I remember when he did this crazy thing that they actually videotaped, he and Ralph Steadman going into an undertaker talking about this funeral they had planned, and he wanted to blow his ashes out of a double-thumbed fist built up on a stainless steel tower 150 feet high. And they were all laughing about it … and damned if it didn’t happen. That is his final funeral, [Hunter S. Thompson’s] ashes were blasted out of the top of this 150-foot [tower] and showered all the people at the party. And it was the best funeral I’ve ever been to in my life. The funniest men, the most beautiful women, all the women he’d ever dated in his life showed up and that was considerable.
His wake was another enormous, great thing, too, where people got up and told stories about him for about 40 minutes a pop and then they’d take a break and go drink and smoke and then they’d go do it all over again. It lasted for many hours and the funeral itself was a fantastic party. I ended up swimming in a pool in a neighbor’s house about two miles down the road somewhere between midnight and dawn. It was a lot of fun. It was that kind of night. ”
The above drawing of Thompson was actually done by Jack Nicholson as part of Thompson’s memorial service. The Elk Heart mentioned in the drawing takes a bit more of an explanation. Thompson and Nicholson were neighbors, and Thompson liked to terrorize his neighbors, as outlined in his book, Kingdom of Fear.
When Nicholson and Thompson were neighbors, the author celebrated the actors birthday with the following:
„… a massive outdoor amplifier, a tape recording of a pig being eaten alive by bears, a 1,000,000-watt spotlight, and a 9-mm Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol with teakwood handles and a box of high-powered ammunition.”
Oh, and a frozen elk heart, which he left on the actor’s doorstep while he played the tape through his Jeep and the amplifier, and let off a couple rounds from the Smith & Wesson.
Source: Kingdom of Fear
Anjelica Huston visited Thompson at his Owl Creek home fairly often as she and Jack Nicholson were living down the street from him at the time.
She mentioned the last time she saw Thompson and his effect on everything and everyone around him in Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson, saying:
„The last time I saw him was at the Taschen bookstore party in LA for the special edition of The Curse of Lono. I had gotten a call from Laila because Benicio Del Toro and Harry Dean Stanton were doing reading from Lono and Sean Penn had dropped out at the last minute, and Laila said, „Would to like to come read one of the stories? Hunter wants you to.” Taschen is a very select bookstore in Beverly Hills, and when I walked in, Hunter’s influence was immediately felt — The room was thick with smoke, and champagne was being poured in more than liberal amounts, and Hugh Hefner was there with four of his blondes.”
Thompson was Don Johnson’s neighbor and good friend, and Johnson actually came up with the idea for Nash Bridges with Thompson. He mentioned the pros and cons of living next to, and being such good friends with Thompson, saying:
„Well ya know Hunter would pull into my driveway in one of his red convertibles, while I was sleeping, and do cat’s asses in the driveway and set of fireworks and fire a couple of pistols in the air. Screaming, ‚you son of a bitch wake up, I want a bottle of whiskey!’ But also if I had an animal on the ranch that was sick, and I was out of town. Hunter would come over and sleep in the stall with the animal. To comfort and nurse the animal back to health. Hunter was a dear, dear friend.”
Source: Huffington Post
Thompson met Ali when Rolling Stone sent him to cover the fight of the century (and easily one of the biggest fights of all time), the Rumble in the Jungle.
He chronicles the meeting in Last Tango in Vegas: Fear and Loathing in the Near Room.
“We both understood the deep and deceptively narrow-looking moat that eighteen years of celebrity forced Ali to dig between his ‘public’ and his ‘private’ personas, It’s more like a ring of moats than just one. I was still shaking hands with Bundini when I realised where I was — standing at the foot of a king-size bed where Ali was laid back with the covers pulled up to his waist and his wife, Veronica, sitting next to him… I felt like I’d been shot out of a cannon and straight into somebody else’s movie. I was, after all, the undisputed heavyweight Gonzo champion of the world — and this giggling yoyo in the bed across from me was no longer the champion of anything.”
Then, Hunter revealed his pocket aces, “a spectacularly hideous full-head, real-hair, 75 dollar movie-style red devil mask.”
“His eyes lit up like he’s just seen the one toy he’s wanted all his life, and he almost came out of the bed after me. He laughed wildly and jabbed at himself in the mirror. ‘Yes indeed!’ he chuckled. ‘They thought I was crazy before, but they ain’t seen nothing yet. He had decided one day a long time ago not long after his twenty-first birthday that he was not only going to be King of the World on his own turf but Crown Prince on everybody else’s…”
“He came, he saw, and if he didn’t entirely conquer — he came as close as anybody we are likely to see in the lifetime of this doomed generation.”
Thompson was one of the few who ever truly met the champ; he saw Ali’s craziness and used it to his advantage.
Thompson and George McGovern became friends on the 1972 campaign trail while Hunter was working on articles for a collection called Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. McGovern was gunning for the democratic ticket, and earned Thompson’s trust (for the most part) as well as his vote – neither an easy feat.
Thompson wrote, „This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes… understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon.”
Jann Wenner ran Rolling Stone while Thompson was a journalist there. He dealt with all the good and bad that came with Thompson, both professionally and socially. There were both the brilliant, one-of-a-kind writing and sales figures and the days of overdue deadlines and 4 am edits and lawsuits that came with working with a person like Hunter S. Thompson. In dealing with those situations over a long enough timeline, you either become close friends, or bitter enemies.
Wenner outlines their relationship in an excerpt from Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone:
„After Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, everything else he wrote was a full-on siege. Setting up the assignment was easy–Hunter was pretty much welcome everywhere and had the skills and instincts to run a presidential campaign if he had wanted. But then came the travel arrangements: hotels, tickets, researchers, rental cars.
Later in the process, finding a place for him to hunker down and write–The Seal Rock Inn, Key West, Owl Farm, preferably isolated and with a good bar. Flying in IBM Selectric typewriters with the right typeface; booze and drugs (usually he had this part already done); arranging for a handler-assistant at his end. Back at Rolling Stone, I had to be available to read and edit copy as it came in eight-to-ten-page bursts via the Xerox telecopier (the Mojo Wire), a primitive fax using telephone lines that had a stylus that printed onto treated, smelly paper (at a rate of seven minutes per page).
I had to talk to Hunter for hours, then track and organize the various scenes and sections. He would usually begin writing in the middle, then back up or skip around to write what he felt good about at the moment, report¬ing scenes that might fit somewhere later, or spinning out total fantasies („Insert ZZ” or „midnight screed”) that would also find a place–parts that were flights of genius. Generally the lede was easy, describing the invariably dramatic weather wherever he was writing from. Then a flurry of headlines and chapter headings and the transitions he had to produce on demand to create the flow and logic, and always, sooner or later, the conclusion, which we always called „the Wisdom.”
He liked to work against a crisis, and if there wasn’t a legitimate one, he made one. We never had a fight about the editing. I never tried to change or „improve” him, but since I had a pretty deep understanding of his style and his motives, I could tell where he was going and sit at his side and read the map to him. If I didn’t personally supervise everything he wrote for Rolling Stone, he wouldn’t finish. It was a bit like being a cornerman for Ali.
Editing Hunter required stamina, but I was young, and this was once in a lifetime, and we were both clear on that.
We were deep into politics and shared the same ambition to have a voice in where the country was going (thus the „National Affairs Desk”). We became partners in this as well, as mad as it may have seemed at the time–a rock-and-roll magazine and a man known for writing about motorcycle gangs, joining forces to change the country.
We used to read aloud what he had just written, get to certain phrases or sentences, and just exclaim to each other, „Hot f**king damn.” It was scorching, original, and it was fun. He was my brother in arms.”
Thompson and Lyle Lovett became friends after Lovett (who was himself a big fan of Thompson’s writing) found out that Thompson was a big fan of his music. He wrote a brief eulogy for EW:
„I was a journalism major at Texas A&M, so Hunter was one of my heroes. When I found out he included me on his ”Honor Roll” list in his book Songs of the Doomed, I was stunned and honored. We became friends and stayed in touch. Hunter had a heart as big as the world. He knew the difference between right and wrong and loved to illuminate people who might be too much in the dark. He was genuinely thoughtful about people in his life; he always demonstrated interest in what I was doing — he was like a great teacher. I never saw him live up to the antics you’d find in one of his books, but he didn’t mind courting that perception. He liked to play the outsize iconoclast, but not without purpose — he was very mindful of every step he was taking. He had fun, and there was always that glint of mischief. One time we were backstage and he found out our next show was in Salt Lake City. He said, ”Well, you’ll need a pace car for that. You ought to buy my Cadillac.” I figured if Hunter S. Thompson offers to sell you his car, the only thing you can do is ask him how much. He said, ”Two thousand dollars,” and I paid him right there. There was a case of beer in the trunk, and he threw that in, too.”
John Oates, of Hall & Oates, was Hunter S. Thompson’s closest neighbor in Woody Creek, CO for the last decade of Thompson’s life. They became good friends over the years and knew each other prior to being neighbors. Describing their football viewing parties, Oates has said:
“He’d have Monday Night Football, and he would invite certain people he thought were a good mix. He’d have writers. The local sheriff was his best friend. He’d have some local artists. Some drug burnouts.”
The above painting by Manson, of Thompson, now hangs in Johnny Depp’s house as a memorial for their fallen friend.
Marilyn Manson and Thompson became friends through their mutual friend Johnny Depp. Manson credits Thompson with getting him back on the right path.
Manson said, „One thing I always liked about him was that his drug use was shameless. I once made the mistake of letting someone drag me along to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting — I got asked for autographs, and then they started talking about god too much, and I just left and called Hunter immediately. He told me that he would be my sponsor and get me back on the road to recovery — to drug use and alcohol use again.”