The Rum Diary vs. Hunter S. Thompson
With the release of the long-awaited film version of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, we thought we’d lend a hand in separating debaucherous fact from debaucherous fiction.
In particular, we’re going to see how the rum-soaked shenanigans described in the book/film stack up against the real-life shenanigans that inspired them. We’ve teed up some of the most notable (notorious?) moments in the film below…
First, to get you in the mood, here’s one of our favorite passages, where Kemp is describing the character Moberg (played by an excellent Giovanni Ribisi in the film):
Moberg was a degenerate. He was small, with thin blond hair and a face that was pale and flabby. I have never seen a man so bent on self-destruction-not only self, but destruction of everything he could get his hands on. He was lewd and corrupt in every way. He hated the taste of rum, but he would finish a bottle in ten minutes, then vomit and fall down. He ate nothing but sweet rolls and spaghetti, which he would heave the moment he got drunk. He spent all his money on whores, and when that got dull he would take on the occasional queer, just for the strangeness of it. He would do anything for money, and this was the man we had on the police beat. Often he disappeared for days at a time. Then someone would have to track him down through the dirtiest bars in La Perla, a slum so foul that on maps of San Juan it appears as a blank space. La Perla was Moberg’s headquarters; he felt at home there, he said, and in the rest of the city – except for a few horrible bars – he was a lost soul.
Now, let’s see how Mr. Thompson and his alter ego compare:
DESTROYS MACHINERY, DRINKS LARGE QUANTITIES OF RUM
Paul Kemp: The film opens with him waking up on his first morning in Puerto Rico with a hotel refrigerator on the ground looking like it had been attacked by a maniac with a pick axe (apparently Kemp couldn’t find the lock’s key). He eventually cleans it out of 161 miniatures, and continues to imbibe straight rum through almost the entirety of the film.
Hunter S. Thompson: Before moving to Puerto Rico to work for the fledgling San Juan Star, Puerto Rico’s first English-language daily paper and the inspiration for the paper of the same name in the book/movie, he was the sports editor for the Middletown Record, in New York. He was promptly fired after a few months for kicking in and destroying a candy machine that had eaten his nickel. As for rum, well, anyone familiar with Thompson knows he had a legendary ability consuming drink (and other things – see below). His friend and managing editor of the Star William Kennedy said they would stay up all night talking and drinking loads of rum, and mentioned the line “drink is the oil for unauthorized movement” came out of those sessions.
When Thompson and his then-wife Sandy Thompson later got a crew job on a boat to Bermuda, she simply states: “we had these huge five-gallon containers of rum, and we drank a lot”. Ho ho.
BRUSHES WITH PUERTO RICAN LAW ENFORCEMENT
Paul Kemp: Arrested after brawling with local hoodlums encountered in a run down bar and accidentally setting fire to the head of a police officer (see next entry), Kemp faced a year in the Puerto Rican jail system. He’s bailed out and kept out of prison by a slick hustler-developer (played with handsome relish by Aaron Eckheart in the film).
Hunter S. Thompson: Hunter and some friends skipped out on a bar bill at a beachfront bar near where he lived, and a fight erupted ending with Thompson and a few others being arrested. Thompson commented on it in this letter circa 1960, “This letter is written in the midst of making plans for an immediate departure for Spain. The Puerto Ricans want to put me in jail for a year – breach of peace and resisting arrest. No dice, Jack. They’ll have to run me down like a black convict.”
GIVING THIS NEW THING CALLED “LSD” A TRY.
Paul Kemp: In the film he sat around with his roommate and co-worker Bob Sala one night, drinking and placing drops of a liquid drug the government had created directly in their eyes, which provoked some fear-inducing hallucinations.
Hunter S. Thompson: Again, Thompson’s love and inhuman tolerance for mind-bobbling substance abuse is as legendary as the man himself. But he was also careful with it, as Depp himself describes in a recent article: “I was of the mind where I knew the wrong thing to do was to try to keep up with Hunter in any capacity. There was one time when I wanted to do some hallucinogens with him, and it was lysergic acid [diethylamide] 25, and he actually stopped me. He just said, ‘Look, man, it’s very powerful, and it’s a two-day commitment. Are you ready for that?’ I said, ‘I’m not so sure. Maybe, maybe not.’ And he said, ‘I suggest that you wait.’”.
Then again, he would also just dive in, for good or ill, ready to “take the ride” as it were. His friend Gene McGarr recalled this cheery moment when Hunter was still living on Perry street in Greenwich Village in 1959: “He tried to get me into Adrenalin – shots of Adrenalin. I don’t know where he got the stuff from. He once stuck a hypodermic full of Adrenalin into his ankle, and by accident he hit an artery and a needlelike thickness of blood just hit the wall of the room.”
AN AFFINITY FOR SPEWING FIRE. LIKE, ACTUAL FIRE.
Paul Kemp: Takes a swig from a jug of crudely made 470 proof alcohol and blows a fireball at some local thugs and a cop chasing him in a car through the slums of San Juan.
Hunter S. Thompson: Sitting in Jann Wenner’s 1976 New York City home, HST exhaled a searing fireball at Jann mid-discussion courtesy of a mouthful of lighter fluid. Annie Leibovitz captured the magic.
KEEPS THE BRUTES IN CHECK
Paul Kemp: The film ends with an epilogue
Hunter S. Thompson: A letter from 1958: “I know I’m right, but I sometimes wonder how important it is to be right – instead of comfortable….the difficulty is not in the question, I think, but in the person who answers it. There are so few people who are strong – or lucky – enough to be right in this lunatic world, and many of the best ones never live to find out.”
Raise a glass, gentlemen.
- — Daniel McCarthy