Indiana Daily Student

‘Outlaw Journalist’ continues to inspire

New Hunter S. Thompson biography focuses on work of renowned journalist

Chris Pickrell
Chris Pickrell

The image of a man tripping on drugs with a cigarette holder and a shaved head is how many people remember Hunter S. Thompson, said William McKeen, University of Florida Journalism Professor and author of the recently published “Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson.”
McKeen said his new biography moves the focus away from Thompson’s reputation, to focus instead on his writings.
“I think few people could use words the way Hunter could,” McKeen said. “He wasn’t concerned with having something that was consistently great. He lived for the peaks. And the stuff that was in between, well that was just the journey.”
Famous for his crazy antics and drug-fueled lifestyle, Thompson was able to turn himself into his own best character for many of his writings. It was this ability that McKeen thinks trapped Thompson into the persona for which he is remembered.
“He came up with his own creation, persona, Duke, the Hunter figure,” McKeen said. “This drug addled, burned out, savage kind of guy. It was a brilliant creation, this persona. It was also a trap because he couldn’t break out of it.”
As a professor of journalism, McKeen said he has seen a lot of students come in and out of his classes who were inspired by Thompson. 
“The day after he killed himself, I went into my freshman journalism class and there were 322 very dejected people in there,” McKeen said.
IU Journalism student Rama Sobhani said Thompson inspired him in numerous ways.
“On my way out to Indiana from California for school, I made a detour to Woody Creek, Colo., where Hunter was from. It was a pilgrimage for me,” Sobhani said. “Hunter was the reason I decided to study journalism. I’ve read most of his books and hold the man in absolute reverence.”
McKeen said Thompson has been a great teaching tool, because he helps to point out to students that it is impossible to imitate Thompson because his style is so distinctive.
 “I tried to imitate his style initially, but you learn pretty quickly that Hunter was a unique phenomenon and you could never do it like he did,” Sobhani said. “Besides that, Hunter’s writing had the quality it did because of the lifestyle he lived and that’s even harder to duplicate.”
McKeen agreed that Thompson’s lifestyle would be difficult to match.
“He used drugs the way the rest of us eat asparagus, and I say that as a person who really enjoys asparagus,” McKeen said. “It was a part of his daily life.”
IU student Doug Evans said Thompson taught him how to be a good writer.
“He is the reason I study criminology. I think that his book ‘Hell’s Angels’ is the greatest criminological ethnographic study ever written,” Evans said. “I have learned from Dr. Thompson that the way to become a good writer is to first enjoy life, then engulf yourself in a topic.”
Thompson is well-known for his political coverage. He was infamous for digging deep into campaigns, and getting the feel of what was really going on although his story was not always accurate McKeen said.
McKeen said that Frank Mankowintz recalled Thompson’s account of the 1972 presidential campaign to be “the most truthful, but least factual account” of the entire campaign.
“Hunter once said of the government that whatever they say, the opposite must be true,” Sobhani said. “He understood the adversarial nature of the relationship between government and its citizens.”
McKeen said he will miss Thompson’s observations in the upcoming elections and political action.
“It’s so hard to get through this year without some sort of political commentary from Hunter Thompson. It’s like the loss of H.L. Minkin. It’s like, how are we going to have an election without him,” McKeen said. “Someday people will see what a great and astute political observer he was.”

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