A list of the bizarre activities undertaken by legendary writer Hunter S. Thompson could probably stretch into the hundreds of thousands. So for this article we’ve selected ones that stand out as strange even by his standards. And since we’re talking about the man who wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and invented gonzo journalism, they are very, very weird indeed. So, enjoy, but remember—buy the ticket, you take the ride.
10 He Shot Up His Neighbor’s House
In 1985, a multi-millionaire called Floyd Watkins moved to Woody Creek, in Aspen, Colorado. He bought Beaver Run Ranch, just a few miles from Owl Creek—which just happened to be the ranch of one Hunter S. Thompson. It wasn’t long before the two men were at each other’s throats. Watkins, who’d made millions running a debt-collecting firm, immediately began surrounding his property with concrete walls and chain link fences, pouring tonnes of concrete, redirecting streams to create artificial trout farms (to the annoyance of his neighbors downstream), and demanding that the county’s dirt roads be paved with concrete just so that dust wouldn’t find its way into his home. When his requests for the roads to be paved were denied, he boasted that he was rich and powerful enough to have every member of the county board fired and replaced if they didn’t do what he said. As if to prove just how powerful he was, Watkins even imported Bengal tigers to deter trespassers.
Watkins’ supervillain-esque levels of control freakery didn’t endear him to the residents of Woody Creek. He was almost immediately bombarded with threatening phone-calls, vandalism, and unflattering graffiti (ranging from foul language to a sign declaring his house “Fat Loyd’s Trout Farm”). How much of this was the work of Thompson we’ll never know, but Watkins did blame Hunter for at least one of the incidents—the mysterious poisoning of his expensive trout.
Things came to a head when Watkins chased down a resident of Woody Creek, warning them that he intended to hire professional gunmen to patrol his property and that if anyone messed with him he could get rid of them without ever being implicated. Thompson must have heard about this and taken exception, because that night, as a heavily armed Watkins camped out in his car, his gaudy mansion was lit up by gunfire. Someone fired scores of bullets from a shotgun, automatic rifle, and finally a pistol in the direction of Beaver Run Ranch, pausing only to reload or switch weapons.
According to Wilson, he chased the perpetrator in his car at high speed and when they pulled over it was Thompson, completely unapologetic about the shooting—it had been a warning against further ecologically destructive development. Later, Thompson’s excuse for the shooting was that he had been attacked by a rabid porcupine and had fired at it (with pistol, shotgun, and automatic rifle) in self-defense. When Thompson was ordered to present his automatic rifle to the police it had been destroyed in such a way as to make ballistic tests useless. No charges were brought.
9 He Went Looking For Pygmies Instead Of Watching The Ali Fight
In 1974, Thompson and his illustrator, Ralph Steadman, were dispatched to Zaire to cover the Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. It was one of the weirdest events in sporting history—hosted by an eccentric African dictator, covered by the world’s top journalists, and pretty much impossible to get tickets for. Of course, Hunter and Steadman had their tickets provided by Rolling Stone—as well as their travel, expenses, and accommodation. But instead of attending the fight, Hunter gave away his tickets (or, according to Steadman, sold them for weed) and set off into the jungle to search for the wanted Nazi war criminal Martin Bormann and to find pygmies, in order to ask if it was possible for them to eaten by cobras. Whether he met pygmies is unclear, but he did meet some locals who he bought ivory from. He also told them he was George Foreman’s doctor…Dr. Bormann.
After the fight was over, the famous writers George Plimpton and Norman Mailer arrived back at their hotel to find Thompson floating naked in the hotel pool, high as a kite and drunk on Wild Turkey. He didn’t even know who’d won. And this wasn’t even the end of the debacle. When Thompson and Steadman arrived back in the US, Hunter’s ivory was confiscated by customs. Rather than simply paying the fees (he had no idea they were only around $60) Hunter charged past airport security, jumped over a desk, grabbed the tusks and ran for it, with airport security hot on his heels.
8 He Set The America’s Cup On Fire
Another of the bizarre situations Thompson involved Ralph Steadman in involved a regatta, a million dollar yacht, some anti-papal graffiti, a flare gun, and a terrible fire. In a precursor to the same sort of gonzo journalism that created Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson decided to cover the America’s Cup (a prestigious boat race), dragging Steadman along to illustrate the adventure. After hiring a sloop so they could get in on the action and better cover the race, Steadman noticed that Thompson was guzzling pills—which he claimed were for seasickness. Inexplicably not knowing any better, Steadman took one of the pills himself, before realizing they were actually hallucinogenic psilocybin. Pretty soon Steadman, who was now seeing invisible red-eyed dogs, suggested that it would be funny to spray-paint “F*** THE POPE” on the side of one of the yachts.
Pretty soon the two of them were on a dinghy, trying their best to spray graffiti onto an expensive yacht. When a security guard turned up and asked them what the heck they were doing, Thompson panicked and the two made a clumsy getaway, retreating to the sloop. At this point Steadman was starting to freak out as the psilocybin wore off and he realized what he’d almost done. Things soon got worse as Hunter produced a flare gun and fired two shots—the second of which hit a wooden yacht, setting it on fire. The whole docks burst into panic as people rushed about battling the spreading flames and searching for the people who’d set off the flares. Hunter and Steadman ended up being rescued by a fishing boat and spent the morning in a cafe listening to people rave about the maniacs setting boats on fire.