Autobiography of a Rebel

From the Orlando Sentinel, 2003

A Hunter Thompson autobiography might seem a little redundant. After all, no matter what the outlaw journalist starts out writing about, the story always ends up being about himself.

Hunter S. Thompson

And then there’s the matter of his letters. From the time he was an apprentice juvenile delinquent back in Louisville, Thompson saw himself as a famous writer. Why else would he make carbon copies of every note he ever wrote, if not to put them together as his “collected letters.”

His two books of letters, The Proud Highway and Fear and Loathing in America, are in effect the first two parts of Thompson’s autobiography on the run. Those books, in fact, have rehabilitated Thompson’s reputation and contain some of his best writing.

What’s left to say?

Kingdom of Fear focuses on Thompson’s trial a decade back on  assault and drug charges. Acquitted after 99 days in court, Thompson now uses the incident – the alleged assault was on a porn star – as the central fabric of this book, which offers a disjointed chronology of the weird life and times of Hunter Stockton Thompson.

We expect nothing less. A fluid narrative with the Education of Henry Adams approach wouldn’t work for Thompson. Yet it’s not as if these are leaps made in a mescaline-enmeshed mind. Like all memories, a tissue of associations connects Thompson to his past.

There’s the mailbox incident. Two FBI men showed up at 9-year-old Hunter’s house to intimidate him into admitting he destroyed a mailbox. My son couldn’t have done that, Jack Thompson told the G-men. He is a moron. Hunter Thompson’s life lesson: I can get away with it.

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To say Thompson has had a lifelong problem with authority is like saying water is occasionally wet. If there is a theme to this venture into memoir, it’s Thompson vs. the System. So it’s about time he wrote about his trial, something he’d been threatening to do since his acquittal.

What seemed so odd when that particular story broke was that it forced his readers to contemplate Thompson as a sexual being – his books had betrayed no interest in pleasures of the flesh. A sexual come-on, as was alleged by his accuser, did not seem in character.

But Kingdom of Fear offers, among other things, a sexual memoir dating back to the days when he was an airman stationed in the Florida panhandle and engaging in vivid moonlit beach encounters with officers’ wives. Far from being a burned-out case, Thompson’s memory is fecund and sharp.

He forgets nothing – especially battles with authority. Bobby Fuller once sang, “I fought the law and the law won.” But Thompson, unlike Fuller, would never back down from a good fight. Kingdom of Fear is his autobiography as a rebel.