Hunter S. Thompson was the creator of Gonzo, a bizarre and hilarious form of literary journalism notorious for its hallucinogenic blend of fact and fiction—but his distortion of reality wasn't confined to just reporting. When writing or talking about his own life, he frequently exaggerated or invented stories, which biographers and journalists have reported as the truth even in the years since his death. Even today, it can be hard to separate the man from the myth. Here are six well-known stories about Hunter S. Thompson that are totally untrue.
1. Hunter S. Thompson quit the Jersey Shore Herald after wrecking a co-worker's car.
Thompson had numerous stories about quitting jobs in hilarious fashion, with one of the most memorable being his hasty departure from The Jersey Shore Herald in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. While working as the paper’s sports editor, Thompson claimed to have borrowed a journalist’s car to go on a date with the man’s daughter. But in his account, he wound up getting the car stuck on a riverbank at the end of the night and had to get a farmer to pull it out with his tractor, tearing the car's door off in the process.
In his 1990 book Songs of the Doomed, Thompson vividly recalled the moment that the enraged journalist appeared at the newspaper office the next day, his face "beet-red." Upon seeing the man pull up in the mangled vehicle, Thompson wrote that he hastily left the office, packed his things, and drove to New York. But his editor had a different story, explaining years later that Thompson had simply been fired after an argument over the content of a sports page.
2. He was fired from Time for kicking a cola machine.
After leaving The Jersey Shore Herald, Thompson headed for New York, where he worked as a copyboy for Time for nearly a year. He was incredibly lucky to have been given such a position as a young man with few qualifications, but his ego caused him to fall out with his superiors. He later claimed that he was fired for kicking a cola machine, but, in fact, he was fired for insubordination due to his poor attitude. He was fired from another newspaper after kicking a candy machine a year later, and he liked that story so much that he simply re-used it later on when explaining his Time departure.
3. Thompson typed out The Great Gatsby from cover to cover for inspiration.
One of the most famous stories about Hunter S. Thompson is that he typed out The Great Gatsby in its entirety—cover to cover—to feel what it was like to write a masterpiece. Thompson himself made this claim on a few occasions, and it was repeated faithfully by biographers (and Johnny Depp) in the years after. While it makes for a fascinating anecdote, Thompson’s literary executor Douglas Brinkley commented that the author just typed out a few pages of Gatsby to get the rhythm.
4. He lived in a cave in Bermuda and survived off stolen cabbages.
After a stint in Puerto Rico, where he wrote The Rum Diary, Thompson traveled to Bermuda with his girlfriend. Here, he claimed that they lived in a cave and ate cabbages they stole from locals to survive—but in fact, they were comfortably ensconced in a motel for the duration. (Though that didn't stop him getting friends to wire him money.)
5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is based on a real-life drug binge.
In 1971, Thompson traveled to Nevada with attorney Oscar Acosta and wrote his masterpiece, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the events of which were supposedly based on their adventures. Even after, he was coy about how much of it was true, but he usually hinted that most of it really happened. He wanted readers to believe that he and Acosta really had binged on hallucinogens and was disappointed when one of his editors said he could tell it was fictional. Thompson quietly admitted that there had been no actual drug use and that the book was rather an “attempt to simulate [a] drug freakout.”
6. Thompson wrote Fear and Loathing in a single burst.
Thompson frequently spoke about writing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in one or a series of marathon writing sessions, sometimes even claiming that he had written most of it on the way home after stopping off at a roadside bar. However, the book was the result of many months of hard work. He was deliberately creating a myth that put him in the same boat as Jack Kerouac, who famously claimed he wrote a draft of On the Road in just three weeks of Benzedrine-fueled typing. (Though, as with Thompson, those claims weren't quite true.)
Additional sources: Conversations With Hunter S. Thompson; Fear & Loathing in America by Hunter S. Thompson; The Proud Highway by Hunter S. Thompson; Kingdom of Fear by Hunter S. Thompson; When the Going Gets Weird: The Twisted Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson by Peter Whitmer; Fire Bone! by Robert Bone; Gonzo by Corey Seymour.