Strange Rumblings: The Prickly but Productive Friendship Between Hunter Thompson and Oscar Acosta – lareviewofbooks

THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is almost upon us, and a critical reconsideration of Hunter S. Thompson’s comic novel is already under way. The Gonzo classic hinged on two drug-fueled weekends in Las Vegas and served as a freeform epitaph for the 1960s. But if the counterculture was faltering during the Nixon era, Thompson was hitting his stride. In November 1971, Rolling Stone ran the Las Vegas story in two long articles; Random House published the book version in 1972 and helped make Thompson a cultural icon. In 1996, Modern Library issued its own edition, and a film version appeared two years after that. Together, they put Thompson in exalted literary company and drew millions of new fans who didn’t read books.

Some of the recent critical conversation has revolved around Oscar Acosta, who accompanied Thompson on both trips to Las Vegas. The two men met in Aspen but lit out for Nevada from Los Angeles. Acosta had been involved in the Chicano Movement and was defending its local leaders in court. At the same time, he was an aspiring novelist who sought and received literary advice from Thompson. As the Las Vegas material shaped up, however, tensions surfaced between the two men. Specifically, Acosta was irked that Thompson converted his character into Dr. Gonzo, a 300-pound Samoan attorney.

But the attention generated by Thompson’s work allowed Acosta to place his own fiction; Rolling Stone’s book division quickly published two autobiographical novels. Sales were sluggish, and Acosta’s personal problems intensified. Following his disappearance and presumed death in 1974, Thompson wrote a lengthy eulogy in Rolling Stone. Later, he also contributed the introduction to the paperback editions of Acosta’s novels, which are still in print.

As Abby Aguirre notes in her recent New Yorker piece, some critics

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