Hunter S. Thompson is considered one of the great writers of the 20th century, known by many for his musings on politics and drug culture, though it was his time spent with the Hells Angels that truly launched his literary career.
In 1964, a story was published in the San Mateo Times suggesting that “two teen-aged girls were raped by a score of hell-for-leather cyclists” during a Labor Day Run in Monterey, California.
Monterey was one of the few places left where the outlaw bikers could convene without too much backlash, but the truce between ordinary citizens and bikies was put to an end when four Hells Angels members were jailed for multiple rapes.
“The girls were sobbing hysterically,” read the San Mateo Times story.
“They told police they had been stripped, raped and subjected to numerous indecencies by a score of youths.”
Although the charges were soon dropped due to insufficient evidence, the motorcycle clubs were banned from Monterey.
A young Hunter S. Thompson questioned the legitimacy of stories about the Hells Angels.
“The difference between the Hell’s Angels in the paper and the Hell’s Angels for real is enough to make a man wonder what newsprint is for,” he wrote in an essay for The Nation.
“It also raises a question as to who are the real Hell’s Angels.”
Thompson decided that he would embed himself in the San Francisco and Oakland chapters of the Hells Angels, and he began to write his now lauded book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.
By becoming close with his subjects, and often participating in their hijinks, Thompson nurtured his own style of journalism. He called it Gonzo, and it got him in trouble, more times than once.
“The Hell’s Angels try not to do anything halfway, and anyone who deals in extremes is bound to cause trouble, whether he means to or not,” Thompson wrote.
“This, along with a belief in total retaliation for any offence or insult, is what makes the Hell’s Angels unmanageable for the police and morbidly fascinating to the general public,” he continued.
“Their claim that they ‘don’t start trouble’ is probably true more often than not, but their idea of ‘provocation’ is dangerously broad, and their biggest problem is that nobody else seems to understand it.”
After riding with the Hells Angels for over a year, and filing a draft of his book, Thompson was beaten on a Labor Day run in Mendocino, California.
As the story goes, Thompson was getting drunk and stoned on the beach as he saw Angel Junkie George beating up his wife. Hunter had the wits to keep his mouth shut at this point, but when Junkie George began laying into his dog, Thompson piped up.
“Only a punk beats his wife and dog,” Thompson reportedly said.
Apparently this is all it took for several Hells Angels members to start beating Hunter to a pulp.
“All during this stomping, I could see the guy who had originally teed off on me just out of nowhere, with no warning, circling around with a rock that must’ve weighed about 10 or 20 pounds,” Thompson said in a later interview.
“I tried to keep my eyes on him because I didn’t want to get my skull fractured.”
Fortunately, Hunter survived the incident, and went on to become arguably one of the greatest writers of his time, giving us such works as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Rum Diary and The Great Shark Hunt.
Hunter S. Thompson died by suicide in 2005 at his home in Woody Creek, Colorado, and is survived by his son and fellow writer, Juan F. Thompson.
Spencer has a keen eye for hard news, and does some of his best living on deadline day. He loves more than anything to travel on his motorcycle, and is adamant that Melbourne Bitter is a world-class lager. He also knows how to operate the big computery thing in the office. By night, Spencer plays guitar with Melbourne punk outfit LOUTS.