In 1966, Hunter S. Thompson launched his career with the publication of Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The book was the result of Thompson living with the bikers for a year. He drank with them, hung out with them and witnessed both their comradery and their brutality. “I was no longer sure whether I was doing research on the Hell’s Angels or being slowly absorbed by them,” he wrote. He was ultimately seduced by their outlaw mystique and particularly by their passion for motorcycles.
In the video clip above, taken from the documentary Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Depp reads excerpts from the famed Edge Speech in Hell’s Angels about the joys and terrors of riding a bike recklessly at night.
There was no helmets on those nights, no speed limit, and no cooling it down on the curves. The momentary freedom of the park was like the one unlucky drink that shoves a wavering alcoholic off the wagon.
Thompson’s flirtation with the Hell’s Angels ended abruptly when he called out a biker named Junkie George for engaging in domestic abuse. “Only a punk beats his wife,” he quipped. Junkie took umbrage and proceeded to beat him senseless.
The book, when it came out, similarly didn’t impress the Angels. In the clip below, which aired on Canadian TV, an Angel confronts a surprisingly quiet and twitchy Thompson before a studio audience.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.