Hunter S Thompson was a shallow, selfish schmuck. Now, he made some at least moderately valuable contribution to the art of letters. His first person narrative style was innovative and highly readable. His adventures and rants were often more interesting than the idiot politicians he was writing about.
Hunter Thompson's work is real fun stuff for college boys to read while they're stoned, full of rebellion, and looking for cheap laughs. The guy could really sling some words in a highly entertaining fashion. It's easy to relate to him as a crazed, gun-totin' Kentuckian character, but indulgence has its limits.
Really, his behavior was pure childish narcissm and acting out. For example, take this typical adventure recounted lovingly by Tom Wolfe in his HST obit:
When we reached the tent, the flap-keepers refused to let him enter with the whiskey. A loud argument broke out. I whispered to Hunter. "Just give me the glass and I'll hold it under my jacket and give it back to you inside." That didn't interest him in the slightest. What I failed to realize was that it was not about getting into the tent or drinking whiskey. It was the grand finale of an event, a happening aimed at turning the conventional order of things upside down. By and by we were all ejected from the premises, and Hunter couldn't have been happier. The curtain came down for the evening.
Perhaps a teenager or college student might be considered mischievously charming for behaving like this. Thompson, however, was nearly 30 years old by this time. By that point, it's just getting to be pathetic and asinine- and that was his MO right through to the end.
His basic schtick got old real fast, but it was good for a yuck. HST gets assignment to cover a presidential campaign. He checks into hotel and proceeds to see how many drugs he can take at once, while showing up and making big public displays of drunk and disorderly conduct. Throw in lots of vague, dark denunciations of "greedheads" and some apocalyptic crap about how the country's going down for the count. Voila! Genius!
Not really. Really not at all. Other than as an exercise in style, his work mostly had minimal intellectual worth. For starters, it wasn't very good as journalism. He could write well, but he didn't have any more respect for facts than he did for other people's property. He didn't feel any particular need to actually tell the truth. How much is a journalist worth who doesn't care about telling the truth? He largely ruined any journalistic worth his work might have had by simple, dumb dishonesty.