Long Gone Gonzo: The Friendship of President Jimmy Carter & Hunter S. Thompson

By James Calemine

Hunter S. Thomspon and President Jimmy Carter first crossed paths in 1974 at the University of Georgia for a speech Carter delivered on Law Day. The relationship developed, and the two remained friends until Thompson’s death in 2005. To this day, the Jimmy Carter Library displays a piece by Thompson in their art collection.

Thompson later wrote this about Carter’s Law Day address at the University of Georgia on May 4, 1974: “I have never heard a sustained piece of political oratory that impressed me any more than the speech Jimmy Carter made on that Saturday afternoon.” Two years later, Carter began his presidential campaign. Bob Dylan (who Carter quoted in his Law Day speech), the Allman Brothers Band, Rolling Stone magazine and Thompson played integral roles in Carter’s eventual election.

After the Law Day speech, Thompson and Carter began corresponding. On February 5, 1975, Carter wrote this to Thompson from Plains, Georgia, (where President Carter still resides): “We’ll contact your friend Dixon. Maybe I’ll see you while campaigning, unless you’ve graduated to favorites & are traveling with Scoop. Everything looks good so far. It’s a great country & I am enjoying the campaign & intend to win. Come see us.”

By November 1975, Thompson made a joke about running for president (Thompson ran for Sheriff in Pitkin County, Colorado, during 1970), which inspired Carter to send Thompson a letter on Nov. 17: “When I heard you had announced I started to withdraw. However, with the faint hope that you may still be interested in the higher office of sheriff, I’m going to stick around & try to fill the vacuum you may leave.”

By 1976, Carter ascended on the Rock & Roll vote…

Thompson made some friends and enemies when he wrote Fear And Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ‘72. However, Thompson knew how to operate in the bowels of American politics. Thompson hit the campaign trail in 1976 for Rolling Stone.

Thompson’s article on Jimmy Carter–”Fear And Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘76: Third Rate Romance, Low Rent Rendezvous” ran in the June 3, 1976, issue of Rolling Stone. Thompson wrote, “My problem with this campaign began not quite two years ago when I flew down to Georgia with Teddy Kennedy, and ran into Jimmy Carter.”

Thompson provided an eerie glimpse into political journalism: “One of the most difficult problems for a journalist covering a presidential campaign is getting to know the candidate well enough to make confident judgements about them, because it is just about impossible for a journalist to establish a personal relationship with any candidate who has already made the big leap from “long shot” to “serious contender”.

Thompson went on to write: “I have known Carter for more than two years and I have probably spent more private, human time with him than any other journalist on the ‘76 campaign trail.” Thompson drank Wild Turkey at the Governor’s Mansion in Atlanta back in 1974.

Thompson elaborated: “But it was almost a year before the ‘76 New Hampshire primary when I talked to Carter at his home in Plains, and I came away from that weekend with six hours of taped conversation with him on subjects ranging all the way from the Allman Brothers, stock car racing and our strongly conflicting views on the use of undercover agents in law enforcement, to nuclear submarines, the war in Vietnam and the treachery of Richard Nixon.”

On June 29, 1976, Thompson wrote this to Carter describing the strange journalistic position he was in. “For a variety of strange reasons that neither one of us really encouraged, I now feel saddled with a personal stake (with regard to my own judgement & credibility) in your candidacy, your views, and in the success or failure of what I’ve been telling people for the past two years is the very likely prospect of your presidency.”

When Carter became President, Thompson wrote: “This is the first time I have ever backed a winner in national politics, except in 1960 when I couldn’t vote, and now I am stuck with Carter: And he with me. Selah.”

Thompson said in this televised interview Carter was one of the three meanest men he ever met; the other two being Muhammad Ali and Hells Angels president Sonny Barger. “But, I admire that in him. He’ll (Carter) eat your shoulder right off.” Thompson went on to write about Reagan, both Bush presidents and even ate lunch will Bill Clinton at a Little Rock, AR, eatery called Doe’s during 1992. But, those are all other stories…

 Both Carter and Thompson bought the ticket, and took the ride…

www.jamescalemine.com

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