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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  1. Kristofor says . . . | July 22, 2011 / 3:15 pm

    Gonzo journalism needs to be revived. Fascinating stuff.

  2. Rosa says . . . | July 22, 2011 / 4:26 pm

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

  3. William C. Coon says . . . | April 10, 2012 / 12:00 am

    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.

  4. Aaron says . . . | June 14, 2012 / 10:59 pm

    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???

  5. Art says . . . | August 3, 2013 / 12:47 am

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

  6. OldGrandDad114 says . . . | December 19, 2013 / 6:01 am

    Skip Workman.

  7. Dave says . . . | February 24, 2014 / 4:11 pm

    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.

  8. Gao Ping Pong says . . . | September 24, 2014 / 9:05 am

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

  9. Swine Hoore says . . . | October 21, 2014 / 6:12 pm

    Hunter S Thompson was an American Hero

  10. cbm says . . . | October 25, 2014 / 10:49 pm

    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.

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