14 Bizarre Stories From Hunter S. Thompson's Life

Hunter S. Thompson lived a pretty out-there life and there are plenty of true stories to prove it. This should come as no surprise, since just a few of his credos were: "Buy the ticket, take the ride," "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me," and "'Crazy' is a term of art; 'Insane' is a term of law. Remember that, and you will save yourself a lot of trouble." When these are the credos you live by, you find yourself in some wild situations. 

Hunter S. Thompson was a man who played by his own rules to such an extent that he invented new ones, got other people to follow them, published his findings and called it all "Gonzo." His exploits are the stuff of legend. Who else could make a year-long stint on the campaign trail seem interesting to the masses? Or make going to the Kentucky Derby seem like the most insane trip of one's life? Who else could set the bar on the depravity that is Vegas? 

Hunter S. Thompson lived an amazing life, and he lived it his way right up until he was done with it. These are the craziest Hunter S. Thompson stories, may they inspire you to have some of your own. Buy the ticket. Take the ride.

  • He Set A Yacht On Fire
    Photo: Ralph Steadman / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    He Set A Yacht On Fire

    Before the full-fledged dive into the gonzo journalism that created Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson covered the America’s Cup (a very prestigious boat race), and he brought illustrator/gonzo collaborator Ralph Steadman along with him.  

    Steadman quickly noticed that Thompson was downing pills, (that he claimed were for seasickness). As this was well before the Fear and Loathing era, Steadman didn't know any better and took one of the pills himself. Of course they had nothing to do with seasickness - far from it. They were actually psilocybin, the hallucinogen found in mushrooms.  

    It wasn't long until Steadman was seeing invisible red-eyed dogs and concocting plans to spray paint "F*** THE POPE" on the side of a yacht. Soon enough they were on a dinghy clinging to the side of a yacht trying to do just that. They were caught by a security guard and made a frantic, haphazard, getaway.

    As the psilocybin began to wear off, the severity of what he'd almost done put Steadman into a blind panic. Thompson decided that firing off a flare would aid in their escape. The second one landed on a nearby wooden yacht, instantly setting it aflame. The fire soon spread throughout the marina as people darted around in fear. A rescue boat eventually picked up the pair and they spent the rest of their trip listening to people tell them wild tales of the madmen who set the America's Cup on fire.

  • He Stopped A Hell's Angel From Hurting His Wife And Dog
    Video: YouTube

    He Stopped A Hell's Angel From Hurting His Wife And Dog

    Hunter S. Thompson’s first book, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, took Hunter into the depths of an organization few men would dare infiltrate. In order to research the book he spent two years eating, drinking, riding, and living with the Hell's Angels.

    Things went well enough at first, he was accepted and allowed unprecedented access into their world without much trouble. He seemed able to not only separate his life from theirs, but also to distance himself from other horrors.

    That is until Thompson saw an Angel called "Junkie George" hitting his girlfriend. 

    George's dog also tried to intervene and as he did George began hitting the dog as well. This was too much for Thompson and he attempted to break up the fight telling George that "only a punk [hits] his wife and dog." The Angels wouldn't stand for that kind of disrespect and it earned Thompson a trip to the hospital.

    This was the end of the unlikely truce between Thompson and the Hell's Angels.

  • He Helped Free A Wrongly Convicted Woman

    In 1998, Lisl Auman was convicted for shooting a policeman and sentenced to life in prison. An absolutely terrible crime, but there was no way she could have done it considering she was was handcuffed in the back of a police car at the time.

    Auman was catching a ride with a friend of a friend when they were pulled over by the cops. She was then handcuffed and put in the back of the police vehicle. Meanwhile the driver pulled a shotgun on the arresting officer, then himself. Under the law, Auman was held accountable for the crime and sentenced to life without parole, even though she hadn’t personally done anything.  

    She would've almost certainly spent the rest of her life in jail if Thompson hadn't became involved. Auman wrote him and he became so upset by the case that he initiated a nationwide campaign to draw attention to it. Calling on his celebrity friends (Benicio Del Toro, Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson, and many more) and campaigning tirelessly on the issue.  

    After seven years in jail, Auman was finally acquitted and released, thanks to Thompson. Unfortunately he never got to see it, having passed earlier that year.

    Auman remains a free woman, and the story has been optioned as a feature film. 

  • He Ran For (And Almost Won) Sheriff Of Aspen

    Back in 1970 Hunter S. Thompson campaigned on the "Freak Power" ticket in Pitkin County, CO. Meaning, he was supported by members of the late-’60s counter-culture who felt they weren’t properly represented by the incumbent, Carol Whitmire.  

    Thompson's platform was based around the promise to legalize drugs for recreational use. He also vowed to tear up the roads and carpet the streets with grass. He also planned to ban any building high enough to obscure the view of the landscape and rename Aspen “Fat City” in order to put an end to the “land rapers” who would develop the area further.

    Naturally, Thompson quickly conflicted with the current Sheriff, who went as far as to threaten to arrest anyone who looked like they might vote for Thompson. There was also an incident where over 200 sticks of dynamite were stolen from a local ski company - they left behind a note threatening to blow up half of the county if Thompson was elected. Thompson’s reply was to shave his head so that he could refer to his conservative, crew-cut rival as “my long-haired opponent.” 

    Eventually, (and shockingly) it began to look like Thompson might actually win. To make sure that wouldn't happen, Whitmire, a Republican, made a rare deal with the Democratic candidate to consolidate their votes. Thompson lost by a mere four votes.

  • He Terrorized Jack Nicholson With Fireworks And The Sounds Of Pig Slaughter
    Photo: Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    He Terrorized Jack Nicholson With Fireworks And The Sounds Of Pig Slaughter

    One of Hunter S. Thompson’s illustrious celebrity friends was Jack Nicholson. They had an odd, long-running joke of giving each other strange gifts. Nicholson's birthday present from Thompson took the cake by far. 

    Reaching Nicholson’s house after dark, Thompson arrived at a ridge overlooking the building and launched a 40 million candlepower parachute flare, which lit up 40 miles of darkness and looked like “the first flash of a nuclear explosion.” Not missing a beat he aimed a million-watt spotlight on the house and played the amplified sounds of dying pigs (this wouldn't be the last time he employed this trick) through a loudspeaker. Thinking that might not be enough, he began firing his automatic pistol into the air.

    Nicholson didn't respond.

    What Thompson didn’t know was that Nicholson was being stalked by a crazed fan at the time. When Thompson got no reaction from the extensive theatrics, he left a fresh elk heart on Nicholson’s doorstep.

    In a painting Nicholson would do in honor of Thompson's death, he wrote, "How'd ya like the Elk Heart?" as a nod.

  • He Went Hunting For Pygmies Instead Of Reporting On The Fight Of The Century

    In 1974, Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman (an artist and Thompson's long-time Gonzo compatriot), went off to Zaire for coverage on the Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. It remains one of the all-time strangest events in sports. It was hosted by an eccentric African dictator, covered by the world’s top journalists, and cost a fortune if, by chance, you were able to track down some tickets.

    Rolling Stone wanted to be at the center of the madness, so of course they sent their very best men to cover it. But instead of attending the fight, Thompson gave away his tickets (or, according to Steadman, sold them for weed) and then went of on a quest to find the wanted war criminal Martin Bormann. (And also to find pygmies, so he could ask if it was possible for them to be eaten by cobras). Whether he met his pygmies or not we'll never know, but he did meet some locals from whom he bought some ivory. While dealing with the locals he claimed to be George Foreman's doctor, Dr. Bormann.

    Later, George Plimpton and Norman Mailer discovered Thompson in the hotel pool, hammered thanks to Wild Turkey and high on who knows what. He didn’t even know who’d won the fight.

    Once Thompson and Steadman made it back to the states, Thompson's ivory was confiscated by customs. Instead of paying the meager fees and taxes (he didn't know they were only around $60), Thompson charged past security, grabbing the tusks and making a run for it.