“Hunter S. Thompson, audience clash in Page chaos” (1972) by Dan Hull

The Page auditorium at Duke University in North Carolina
Hunter S. Thompson (1937 –2005) was the founder of gonzo journalism in the United States.


“Is there any coherence in this thing? I feel like I’m in a fucking slaughterhouse in Chicago early in the morning.”

In a pathetic attempt to slide something coherent through his staccato mumble, Gonzo journalist Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was met last night at Page Auditorium with a bevy of jeers, curses, and a request by the Duke University Union to leave the stage. According to Union spokespersons, it was expected that the slightly inebriated Thompson would drive away the audience if his talk turned out particularly monotonous. Frustrated by the dialogue between the disjointed speaker and the belligerent audience, some did leave while others, many of whom were as well-oiled as Thompson, remained until the journalist was escorted off the stage. Beer and joints Beer cans and an occasional joint passed among the rows of the auditorium as Thompson, forty minutes late and looking more like a lanky tourist than a radical journalist, poked across the stage to the podium. Slouching there, Thompson began: “I have no speech, nothing to say. I feel like a piece of meat,” referring to his marketing by his lecture agency. Having tossed aside the index cards on which were written questions from the audience, Thompson received few serious oral questions from the audience.

Thompson was known for his subjective and confrontational style,

“What I’d really like to be in is an argument,” he said. When a baby cried Thompson mumbled, “That’s the most coherent fucking thing I’ve heard all night.” In most cases, serious questions and Thompson’s responses to them were inaudible or incoherent. Visibly put off by the belligerent Duke audience whom he repeatedly referred to as “beer hippies,” Thompson was most relaxed and clear when talking about Richard Nixon. “Nobody’s beaten him as bad as he deserves,” Thompson emphasized. “And nobody really comprehends how evil he is. The real horror of it all is that he reflects the rot in all of us.” “Hell, we elected him. The bastard won by the greatest majority since George Washington.” Thompson then urged the audience to “go out and vote.” Maintaining that the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago “kicked off an era,” Thompson recalled somewhat disjointedly that before going there he took along his motorcycle helmet left over from his Hell’s Angels days. (In the sixties he rode with the Angels in order to research a book on the group). “After I got there, I found out why I had brought it with me,” he said. During the forty minute encounter (he was asked to leave at about 9:30), Thompson commented briefly on other subjects. The 1976 Democratic Presidential candidate: “Mondale.” Terry Sanford’s possibly candidacy: “I hope not.” Gary Hart, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Colorado “He’ll win, but he’s a sell-out.” England: “A coal mine in the Atlantic. Next to a potato farm.” When asked a serious but largely inaudible question concerning the rise of consumer politics, Thompson yanked the shotgun-style microphone around the podium attempting to focus it in the direction of the questioner, a good 25 yards away. “Violence is always sort of a self-satisfying thing,” he added. It was at this point, reportedly, that the Union people began to seriously considered pulling Thompson from the stage. Asked by someone whether the Rockefeller family was encouraging “canabalism in South America,” an incredulous Thompson tossed up the remainder of his Wild Turkey onto the velvet curtain behind him, and scattered the rest of his unused index cards. Amidst jeering and confusion, Union program advisor Linda Simmons escorted Thompson off stage. Afterwards Thompson talked for an hour with about 100 students in the garden behind Page Auditorium. Post mortems on Thompson’s abbreviated Duke debut varied. One rather inebriated disciple was overheard saying, “I thought it was great. anyway. Just great.” But another student remarked, “I’m totally embarrassed—for everyone.” A third student commented, “This was fantastic—guerrilla theater, theater of the absurd—all in one night. Good times at Duke.”

Hunter S. Thompson with George McGovern in 1972. Image source: wikipedia


The text is taken from the Duke Yearbook, and is considered public domain.

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