An Exclusive by Paul Krassner

Monday, February 21, 2005

When Hunter Thompson's first book, Hells Angels, was published in 1967, I assigned him to write about his promotional tour for The Realist, and because he was having financial problems, I paid him $200 in advance. Later, I extended his deadline and offered to send him some LSD if it would help.

"Good," he wrote back. "I've blown every deadline I've had for the past few months and it's good to find somebody with a schedule as fucked up as mine. The action here for the past two months has been unbelievable. All at once I got evicted, my wife went into a lingering two-month miscarriage, and my lawyer came out from San Francisco and flipped out so badly that the two sheriff's deputies took him, one Saturday night, 200 miles across mountains to the state loony bin....As for acid, thanks but I'm suddenly OK."

Soon after, another letter arrived from Hunter, asking, "Can I get any leeway on the July 1 delivery date?...In the meantime, you can send me some acid to help me level out. And I'll send you a dozen just-born marijuana weeds. You can plant them in Central Park."

As it turned out, he bungled his book tour by appearing on radio and television as either a blathering drunk or an insane mumbler. He walked off his first TV show when the interviewer said, "Tell me, Hunter, what do you think of the Hells Angels?" Who could blame him?

But at least he was honorable with me. In October, he wrote, "There's no avoiding the fact that I blew this one completely. I'm sending you $200 of the $1,900 I now show as book-profit on the hardcover edition....With Johnson as president, I feel on the verge of a serious freak out but if I ever get over that hump I'll write a good article for you. In the meantime, we're at least even on the money. This check is good. I've sworn off money articles a/o December, so maybe I'll level it out then. If not, I might run for the Senate or send off for a Carcano [the rifle ostensibly used to kill President Kennedy]."

Instead, 38 years later, he pointed the barrel of a handgun at himself.

Editor Phil Bronstein had wanted Thompson to cover the O.J. Simpson trial for the San Francisco Examiner. He told me, "I thought Hunter would be the perfect person to write about the trial." They met at a waterfront restaurant to discuss that possibility.

"Hunter's face was all banged up," Bronstein recalled. "He claimed he had gone night-diving and scraped his face on a rock. The waiter had some glandular problem, causing his eyes to bug out, but Hunter accused him of staring. Then he started telling me about these rumors he heard from friends in the L.A. coroner's office about nasty activities with dead bodies, including the infamous bodies involved in the Simpson case. Teeth marks on the butt and things like that. He said that he would cover the trial if we put him up at the Chateau Marmont, in a suite with three satellite dishes, four fax machines and several assistants."

That particular assignment was withdrawn because Hunter was such a flaky prima donna. Yet, like other editors, I too was willing to tolerate his irresponsibility in the hope of presenting his talent.