Hunter S. Thompson once observed, quite astutely, that “Myths and legends die hard in America” and that people “love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality.”[1]

He was absolutely right, yet that didn’t stop him from propagating myths and legends about himself, nor has it stopped generations of fans from perpetuating these, turning him into a nearly mythical figure himself, whose life and work is shrouded in myriad stories too fantastical to be true.

But not all of the myths about Hunter S. Thompson were started by him, of course, and one of the most famous was kicked off – accidentally, I should say – by an early biographer, E. Jean Carroll.

In Carroll’s controversial 1993 biography, Hunter: The Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S. Thompson, she gave a run-down of Thompson’s daily routine, filled – as one might expect – with cocaine, booze, and cigarettes. That Thompson enjoyed drink, drugs, and cigarettes is hardly a falsehood, as his fondness for these things is well documented, but Carroll’s account of his consumption was always meant to be taken in jest.

In her biography, she made the odd choice to alternate fictional and factual chapters. I say odd, of course, because this is a bizarre way to approach a biography… but those who are familiar with Thompson’s Gonzo writing may appreciate that she was satirising and paying homage to her subject, who almost always blended the real and the imagined in his own writing.

The result was a quirky and original effort at piecing together Thompson’s chaotic life. She combined a wonderful oral biography with bizarre passages about her apparent fantasies of sex with Dr. Thompson. Most readers were less than impressed, and despite the value inherent in her research, the book remains an acquired taste and therefore rather difficult to acquire.

In the first chapter of her book, which was one of the fictional chapters, she described his daily routine thusly:

  • 3:00 p.m. rise
  • 3:05 Chivas Regal with the morning papers, Dunhills
  • 3:45 cocaine 3:50 another glass of Chivas, Dunhill
  • 4:05 first cup of coffee, Dunhill
  • 4:15 cocaine
  • 4:16 orange juice, Dunhill
  • 4:30 cocaine
  • 4:54 cocaine
  • 5:05 cocaine
  • 5:11 coffee, Dunhills
  • 5:30 more ice in the Chivas
  • 5:45 cocaine, etc., etc.
  • 6:00 grass to take the edge off the day
  • 7:05 Woody Creek Tavern for lunch-Heineken, two margaritas, coleslaw, a taco salad, a double order of fried onion rings, carrot cake, ice cream, a bean fritter, Dunhills, another Heineken, cocaine, and for the ride home, a snow cone (a glass of shredded ice over which is poured three or four jig­gers of Chivas)
  • 9:00 starts snorting cocaine seriously
  • 10:00 drops acid
  • 11:00 Chartreuse, cocaine, grass
  • 11:30 cocaine, etc, etc.
  • 12:00 midnight, Hunter S. Thompson is ready to write
  • 12:05-6:00 a.m. Chartreuse, cocaine, grass, Chivas, coffee, Heineken, clove cigarettes, grapefruit, Dunhills, orange juice, gin, continuous pornographic movies.
  • 6:00 the hot tub-champagne, Dove Bars, fettuccine Alfredo
  • 8:00 Halcyon
  • 8:20 sleep

It was pure comedy – a send-up of Thompson’s legendary excess – and so Carroll never expected anyone to believe this. For this part of the book’s dual narrative, she writes from the perspective of her own Gonzo alter ego, Laeticia “Tishy” Snap, who is being held captive in Hunter’s cesspool, wearing only a pair of the author’s boxer shorts. She states his alleged daily routine only to make the point that Thompson should be dead already. If it was not clear enough that this was pure fiction, the schedule is followed by Thompson having a Republican speechwriter snort cocaine off his erect penis.

hunter s. thompson's daily routine - e jean carroll biography
You can see the daily routine on pages 7-8. Put in context, it is plain that this is all fiction.

Thompson’s life was undoubtedly filled with anarchy and debauchery, with no small quantity of drugs and alcohol imbibed, but how anyone could lack the common sense to understand that this routine was fake is beyond me. Yet, like so many butchered quotes from Thompson’s books, this has spread far and wide on the internet. It pops up every six or twelve months, bandied around by unquestioning social media users and even editors and journalists who should know better. Mental Floss, the Independent, and Open Culture have all reported it as the gospel Gonzo truth, while this video of Joe Rogan reading it has gotten nearly 4 million views:

It seems that myths and legends die hard not just because of the extra dimension they provide, but because of the clicks and ad revenue they generate. I personally spoke with and even convinced the editors of [one of the above-mentioned publications] that this story was 100% B.S. but they still refused to amend or remove it because it was so popular. The lie, it seems, was more profitable than the reality.

But who is to blame for all this? If we trace the story back far enough, we find that it was first reported by the Associated Press in March, 1993. For nearly three decades, journalists, bloggers, “influencers,” podcasters, and fans have blindly repeated this silly story without ever bothering to check its origins. At the very least, those editors and journalists should have known better…

Perhaps this is just the natural legacy of Thompson’s Gonzo journalism. He did, after all, specialise in fusing fact and fiction, finding it hilarious to subtly insert hallucinatory or mischievous tales into his writing, but he always tried to do it in such a way that it was obvious to the reader what was real and what was made up. E. Jean Carroll did the same thing, informing her readers upfront that half the chapters in the book were fictional and half were biographical.

Perhaps greed and ignorance have prevailed, or perhaps neither Thompson’s nor Carroll’s work was suited to this era of misinformation. Hunter’s daily routine is now just another silly myth that stands between him and the respect he deserves as a writer. Fifty years after his heyday, he is still viewed as a literary clown. He is not taken seriously as an author and it is partly due to nonsense like this, elevating the “drugs, guns, and madness” schtick that appeals to college kids and dissuades anyone from regarding him as a true artist, which is precisely what he was.

high white notes
Read more about Hunter Thompson and his Gonzo journalism in High White Notes.

[1] Hunter, Hunter S., The Great Shark Hunt, (Simon & Schuster, 2003) p.406.