Hunter S. Thompson’s Edgy 1990s Commercial for Apple’s Macintosh Computer: A Meditation on Power

Con­trary to what the past decade’s TV com­mer­cials may indi­cate, Apple’s adver­tis­ing hasn’t always been so tepid and gener­ic. Before the era of the much-lam­pooned “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” com­mer­cials, which starred Justin Long as the chilled out Apple com­put­er and John Hodg­man as the shame­ful­ly square PC, the com­pa­ny cul­ti­vat­ed an icon­o­clas­tic image. Who could for­get the rad­i­cal 1984 com­mer­cial where Apple slammed 1980s con­for­mi­ty, or the “Think Dif­fer­ent” cam­paign, where Jobs waxed lyri­cal about the “crazy ones, mis­fits, rebels and rule break­ers?” No sur­prise, then, that Apple decid­ed to bur­nish its rebel cre­den­tials by hir­ing none oth­er than the father of gonzo jour­nal­ism to star in one of its TV spots.

Above, you can view Hunter S. Thompson’s brief “Pow­er is” Apple com­mer­cial. The ad seems to date to some point in the 1990s; at least, that’s what the whirl­wind of cuts, odd­ly angled shots, shaky cam­er­a­work, and edgy gui­tar riffs seem to sug­gest. The commercial’s premise appears to be that Thomp­son both knows what pow­er is, and how to use it to stick it to The Man.

Pre­sum­ably, sim­ply hav­ing Thomp­son in the ad gave Apple enough coun­ter­cul­tur­al cachet, since he nev­er men­tions either the com­pa­ny or its prod­uct. This may have been the result of pre­vi­ous griev­ances: accord­ing to leg­end, the jour­nal­ist had received a Mac from the edi­tors of the San Fran­cis­co Exam­in­er in the mid-1980s, in hopes that the gad­get would help him trans­mit his peren­ni­al­ly late copy to the paper on time. Despite its many fea­tures, how­ev­er, the Mac couldn’t stand up to Thompson’s tem­per (he was known to lose his cool when deal­ing with elec­tron­ics). In a fit of rage, Thomp­son blew the machine to smithereens with his shot­gun, and sent the remains to his edi­tors. Pow­er, indeed.

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Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman, or read more of his writ­ing at the Huff­in­g­ton Post.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hunter S. Thompson’s Har­row­ing, Chem­i­cal-Filled Dai­ly Rou­tine

Hunter S. Thomp­son Calls Tech Sup­port, Unleash­es a Tirade Full of Fear and Loathing (NSFW)

John­ny Depp Reads Let­ters from Hunter S. Thomp­son (NSFW)

Hunter S. Thomp­son Remem­bers Jim­my Carter’s Cap­ti­vat­ing Bob Dylan Speech (1974)

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  • John Dullaghan says:

    I am the copy writer who wrote this spot – although, in actu­al­i­ty, Thomp­son wrote it him­self. This was part of our “Pow­er” cam­paign for Mac­in­tosh, which ran on MTV and fea­tured oth­er notable folks such as George Clin­ton, Oliv­er Stone and Spike Lee. You’re right, the spot dates to 1995.

    Thomp­son came on the set, already drunk, with the aid of a walk­ing cane. In pho­tographs he looked hearty and healthy, but in real life his skin was pasty; he had the frag­ile look of a vet­er­an alco­holic. He was gen­er­al­ly pleas­ant, qui­et – and kept to him­self on the set. If any­thing, he seemed a bit uncom­fort­able with all the peo­ple around.

    We filmed Thomp­son for about an hour. But between his staccato/mumbling deliv­ery and the clink­ing of ice cubes in his ever-present scotch glass, we were lucky to get 30 sec­onds of usable mate­r­i­al. But – it was Hunter S. Thomp­son.

    After shoot­ing and edit­ing the spot, one of our clients at Apple learned of Thompson’s drug­gy rep­u­ta­tion, and killed the spot. It ran once at mid­night in Dubuqe or some­thing … so we could enter it in the adver­tis­ing awards shows.

    The deal on these spots was that the celebri­ties received the Mac­in­tosh of their choice. No big mon­ey – just a com­put­er. Most­ly they did it because they liked Apple, and they didn’t mind get­ting some expo­sure on MTV, which was then a hot place to be seen.

    While most of the celebri­ties request­ed a sim­ple Power­book or desk­top com­put­er, Thomp­son loaded up, demand­ing for the largest CPU, the biggest screen, a print­er and scan­ner … the most expen­sive top-of-the-line equip­ment Apple made. He ran up sev­er­al thou­sand dol­lars in hotel bills, main­ly liquor. This made him eas­i­ly the most expen­sive par­tic­i­pant in the cam­paign – and after­wards every­one felt he’d tak­en advan­tage of the sit­u­a­tion some­what …

    I don’t know if he end­ed up using any of that Apple tech­nol­o­gy; I noticed that he was still using a type­writer up until the end of his life …

    At about this time, I began film­ing a doc­u­men­tary on Charles Bukows­ki, “Bukows­ki: Born into This.” It was a fun time in my life and career.

    Thanks for fea­tur­ing this old, obscure spot. Where did you find it? Not many folks know of its exis­tence.


    John Dul­laghan

  • Moeskido says:

    Thank you for this back­ground. I love hear­ing how cam­paigns like this were planned and exe­cut­ed, espe­cial­ly if changes took place dur­ing or after­wards. Did you ever work with Ken Segall (

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