Hunter S. Thompson's Iconic and Famous Friends

They say you can judge a man by his five closest friends, that you are the company you keep. To say that the company Hunter S. Thompson kept was prolific would be quite the understatement. The man lived life, and lived it hard. As such he met many fascinating, brilliant, creative, insightful, powerful and historic people along the way. Hunter S. Thompson's celebrity friends were a varied bunch and many are just as wild as he was.

Thompson's Hollywood exploits are the stuff of legend. He can count Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, and Harry Dean Stanton amongst his friends. His first foray into La La Land yielded him many friends who just so happened to be '80s Hollywood royalty - Matt Dillon and John Cusack, to name a few. Then, after some of his more famous adventures were adapted to film (and generally became more widespread via Rolling Stone and through his books), the next generation of Hollywood became enamored with Thompson as well - people like Josh Hartnett and Conan O'Brien.

This isn't even mentioning his legendary on- and off-screen friendship with the man who would become Hunter S. Thompson: Johnny Depp. These guys became friends in a way that usually only happens in the movies. Depp became Hunter for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and in many ways he never came all the way back (just look at Depp's interviews from before Vegas and after, when his speech patterns and mannerisms changed considerably). Depp and Thompson became brothers in arms in the war on boredom; Gonzo became a way of life, and these two brought it to the masses.

There are also people like David Letterman, Lyle Lovett, George McGovern, Keith Richards, and even Muhammad Ali. The man was like a magnet, drawing in the best, brightest, and craziest people in range. These are Hunter S. Thompson's famous friends and iconic pals, who, together, were responsible for all kinds of hijinks and good times.

Photo: Straight Arrow Press/Annie Leibovitz / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

  • Johnny Depp
    Photo: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas / Universal Pictures

    Depp read Thompson's iconic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when he was a teen and had idolized the author ever since. They both happened to be in Colorado at the same time and a mutual friend offered Depp the chance to meet Thompson, he leaped at the chance. It was full-fledged madness by the time he got there, Thompson had been parting a bar crowd with a pull prod... and a taser.

    "People were hurling their bodies, leaping out of the way to try and save themselves from this maniac," Depp said. "Then he made his way to me. The sparks had died down, he just walked right up to me and put his hand out and said, 'How do you do? My name is Hunter.'"

    Thompson and Depp quickly discovered they had a lot in common: they were both Kentucky boys with many literary of the same heroes, including Ernest Hemingway and Nathaniel West. It wasn't long until the two of them were at Thompson's house and Depp was admiring his gun collection, particularly a nickel-plated shotgun.

    "'Would you like to fire it?' Depp recalled Thompson saying. "I said, 'Yeah. Great, man.' He says, 'All right, great. We must build bombs.' So we built bombs in his sink out of propane tanks and nitroglycerin. Then we took them out back and he said, 'All right, you get first crack.' So I leveled that 12-gauge and I blew it up – 80-foot fireball."

    "I think that was my kind of rite of passage with Hunter. I think that was my test that I was OK."

    They stayed friends until the end, and maintained a mutual love of explosives, with Depp even paying for Thompson's funeral complete with a giant fist-shaped canon. What was that for? From which to launch Thompson's ashes, of course. He left the world as he lived in it. Loud and larger than life.

    Source: Huffington Post

  • John Cusack
    Video: YouTube

    John Cusack met Thompson while lobbying for, and almost booking, the lead in Fear and Loathing (which, of course, went to Johnny Depp). But Cusack and Thompson remained close friends.

    Cusack credits Thompson with teaching him respect in his early twenties and the importance of growing up.:

    Hunter [S. Thompson] was a friend. He wasn't the best role model for survival... but, in a way, he was. At the end of the day, Hunter was a disillusioned romantic, an idealist, and a very dangerous character. But he was also very funny, loyal, and honest about his own faults. There was something shamanistic about him. Most of that relationship took place on the phone between 11 o'clock at night and six in the morning. A lot of late-night faxes. Not bankers' hours.

    Source: Details

  • Thompson once said, “I’ve been arguing for years now that music is the New Literature, that Dylan is the 1960s’ answer to Hemingway.” He also said, "Bobby Dylan is the purest, most intelligent voice of our time. Nobody else has a body of work over twenty years as clear and intelligent. He always speaks for the time."

    Eventually Dylan came to visit Thompson and they became friends.

    Source: Beatdom

  • Benicio del Toro
    Photo: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas / Universal Pictures

    Benicio del Torro grew to truly respect and admire Hunter S. Thompson, after a short... trial phase.

    Benicio told Short List magazine:

    I remember my first meeting with him and Johnny Depp before we started shooting Fear and Loathing... It was really uncomfortable. Hunter started... testing me. He was saying to me, 'I don't think you can be in this movie. I don't think you're good enough. You don't really understand the character.' I turned to Johnny and said, 'Is he for real?' Johnny was like, 'Relax, he's testing you. He did the same thing to me.' It was like an initiation. But we became good friends after that. Hunter was really special. I think he was the first true genius I've met.

  • Bill Murray
    Photo: Where the Buffalo Roam / Universal Pictures

    Bill Murray met Hunter S. Thompson in preparation for the lesser-known Where the Buffalo Roam in which Murray played the enigmatic writer. Murray and Thompson remained close friends after the production and Murray described Thompson's funeral as the greatest party he'd ever been to, and as the standard he's setting for his own. On the topic of his funeral, Murray has said:

    Well, I don't think I'm quite ready yet. There are some people that are ready earlier than others. Like, I knew Hunter Thompson - he was a friend - and I remember when he did this crazy thing that they actually videotaped, he and Ralph Steadman going into an undertaker talking about this funeral they had planned, and he wanted to blow his ashes out of a double-thumbed fist built up on a stainless steel tower 150 feet high. And they were all laughing about it ... and damned if it didn't happen. That is his final funeral, [Hunter S. Thompson's] ashes were blasted out of the top of this 150-foot [tower] and showered all the people at the party. And it was the best funeral I've ever been to in my life. The funniest men, the most beautiful women, all the women he'd ever dated in his life showed up and that was considerable.

    His wake was another enormous, great thing, too, where people got up and told stories about him for about 40 minutes a pop and then they'd take a break and go drink and smoke and then they'd go do it all over again. It lasted for many hours and the funeral itself was a fantastic party. I ended up swimming in a pool in a neighbor's house about two miles down the road somewhere between midnight and dawn. It was a lot of fun. It was that kind of night.

    Source: Moviefone

  • Muhammad Ali
    Photo: Ira Rosenberg / Wikimedia Commons / No known restrictions

    Thompson met Ali when Rolling Stone sent him to cover the fight of the century (and easily one of the biggest fights of all time), the Rumble in the Jungle. 

    He chronicles the meeting in Last Tango in Vegas: Fear and Loathing in the Near Room:

    We both understood the deep and deceptively narrow-looking moat that eighteen years of celebrity forced Ali to dig between his ‘public’ and his ‘private’ personas, It’s more like a ring of moats than just one. I was still shaking hands with Bundini when I realised where I was — standing at the foot of a king-size bed where Ali was laid back with the covers pulled up to his waist and his wife, Veronica, sitting next to him… I felt like I’d been shot out of a cannon and straight into somebody else’s movie. I was, after all, the undisputed heavyweight Gonzo champion of the world — and this giggling yoyo in the bed across from me was no longer the champion of anything.

    Then, Hunter revealed his pocket aces, “a spectacularly hideous full-head, real-hair, 75 dollar movie-style red devil mask.”

    His eyes lit up like he’s just seen the one toy he’s wanted all his life, and he almost came out of the bed after me. He laughed wildly and jabbed at himself in the mirror. ‘Yes indeed!’ he chuckled. ‘They thought I was crazy before, but they ain’t seen nothing yet. He had decided one day a long time ago not long after his twenty-first birthday that he was not only going to be King of the World on his own turf but Crown Prince on everybody else’s…

    He came, he saw, and if he didn’t entirely conquer — he came as close as anybody we are likely to see in the lifetime of this doomed generation.

    Thompson was one of the few who ever truly met the champ; he saw Ali's craziness and used it to his advantage.