Hunter S. Thompson Gets Confronted by The Hell’s Angels

In 1965, the editor of The Nation asked Hunter S. Thompson to write a story about the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club, as they’re officially known. The article quickly led to a book deal, and, the next year, the Gonzo journalist published Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Reviewing the book for The New York Times, Leo Litwak wrote:

Hunter Thompson entered this terra incognita [the world of the Hell’s Angels] to become its cartographer. For almost a year, he accompanied the Hell’s Angels on their rallies. He drank at their bars, exchanged home visits, recorded their brutalities, viewed their sexual caprices, became converted to their motorcycle mystique, and was so intrigued, as he puts it, that “I was no longer sure whether I was doing research on the Hell’s Angels or being slowly absorbed by them.” At the conclusion of his year’s tenure the ambiguity of his position was ended when a group of Angels knocked him to the ground and stomped him…

Hunter Thompson has presented us with a close view of a world most of us would never dare encounter, yet one with which we should be familiar. He has brought on stage men who have lost all options and are not reconciled to the loss. They have great resources for violence which doesn’t as yet have any effective focus. Thompson suggests that these few Angels are but the vanguard of a growing army of disappropriated, disaffiliated and desperate men. There’s always the risk that somehow they may force the wrong options into being.

Hell’s Angels made Thompson’s career as a writer. But the book didn’t make the Hell’s Angels particularly happy. Just watch this Jerry Springer-esque clip that aired long ago on Canadian television, and you’ll see what I mean.

You can find this video (and the related ones mentioned below) in our collection of Cultural Icons.

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  • Kristofor says:

    Gonzo journalism needs to be revived. Fascinating stuff.

  • Rosa says:

    “To keep a woman in line you have to beat them like a rug sometimes” *applause*
    Horrifying. Absolutely horrifying.

  • Hunter S. Thompson clearly made the mistake of trying to stand up for a battered woman and got beat up for it. Sonny Barger doesn’t have even a fraction of the wit or intellect of HST but takes over the interview by not letting Hunter get a word in edge wise. It shows that HST was spot on in his synopsis of the Angels as intimidating morons. Bottom line: Sonny Barger = King of a bunch of losers; HST = insightful and gifted literary mind. Read HST’s book and not Bargers because HST gained more insight into Barger’s club in one year than Barger did in a lifetime.

  • Aaron says:

    Just finished reading the book and decided to dig deeper into the ending confrontation at which point I came across this atrosity. I am astonished at the depravity of the audience. Honestly, who the hell laughs at someones old lady being beaten like a rug. And then on top of it kicking his dog…… what? And further still, Hunter doesn’t even get his side of the story in. Upsetting to say the least. Anyway, still trying to find an accurate portrayal of Hunters side, if anyone can help in the search???

  • Art says:

    To W.C. Coon: That wasn’t Sonny Barger. His name is, as best I can here it in the introduction, ?Seth? Wortman.

  • Dave says:

    HST is like the skinny kid who hangs out with the tough kids for a week and thereby enhances his prestige with the other 99% of kids simply because he went near the tough kids. Then he self-aggrandizingly distorts what actually happened and is called a literary genius for doing so. I respect the Hell’s Angels for at least being honest moron barbarians.

    • Gao Ping Pong says:

      He was a skinny kid with amazing writing skills, who apparently had bigger balls than a lot of his contemporaries. Get over it.

  • Swine Hoore says:

    Hunter S Thompson was an American Hero

  • cbm says:

    Hunter’s book will be 50 years old in two years. I just got finished reading it for the second time in 40 years. It is as contemporary as if it were were written last week. In his life he embodied more brains guts and integrity than the whole pack of so called outlaws he describes in this book. He will be read and remembered 50 years hence. How many of these vandals that he wrote about will be remembered for anything beyond his mention of them in this book. NONE.

  • WildBoB says:

    Hunter S. Thompson is one of my hero’s. I am a print journalism major and think some of his work was, and will continue to be, the most influential ever written. I am proud to call him a fellow Kentuckian, and every year I work behind the lines, and right out in the middle of the chaos, of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby. Like Hunter, I see with the right kind of eyes, the decadence and depravity he saw so many years ago. I am grateful for the legacy he has left behind and look forward to keeping him alive by recommending absolutely as many of his works as possible to anyone who will listen. For me, he is still alive because I have yet to read “Hell’s Angels” and look for to it with great anticipation. I have heard a decent about it because of a research paper I wrote on HST life. But in due time, I hope to make my way through this interesting and unusual work. I mean, could you see great journalist like Bod Woodward, Walter Cronkite, Ted Koppel, Sam Donaldson, or even Michael Moore reporting the in depth, nitty-gritty, in your face, no holds bars, leave no stone unturned type of stories that Hunter S. Thompson churned out. No, probably not. One of the main reasons is when Hunter saw bullshit, he called it bullshit. He didn’t dance around and give is pretty PC names like everybody wanted. Bullshit was bullshit, and the people needed to wake up and smell it! (And they still do!) I respect him for this, and live this philosophy in my own life. Yea, some people don’t like it, but others respect you and praise you for it. They think it is the brave, honorable, intelligent, whitty, sharp, fully conscience and aware action to exhibit. My biggest hope is that future generations take this to heart and don’t just follow orders. Think for yourself and learn to call bullshit when you hear it, and most of all, don’t be afraid to call “bullshit!” So long all you great patriotic Americans out there and don’t let the swine get you down!!! You are always in my thoughts and I’m
    forever in your debt.

    Miss you Hunter,
    Your fellow Kentuckian,
    Kyle G. Shadoan

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