On November 21st, 1987, Hunter S. Thompson, the journalist and famed author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Rum Diaries, and many more, came to Brown to participate in an academic debate with G. Gordon Liddy, moderated by none other than the legendary Dean Barrett Hazeltine. Liddy, a lawyer who, among other things, directed and organized the burglary of the Democratic National Committee in 1972—a scandal that would infamously come to be known simply as “Watergate”—stood in stark contrast to the staunch liberal and psychedelically inspired writer.
The event was made possible, in part, by a student named Dan McCormack ’90, who met Thompson in his Colorado home that summer and suggested the idea. After some consideration and administrative scheduling, dates and times were set, flights were booked, and tickets were sold all leading up to a highly anticipated campus event. However, on the day of, those times were pushed back, the flights were missed and not tickets, but rather drugs—lots of drugs—were sold to and consequently consumed by the esteemed author. The Brown Daily Herald reported on the event in all of its glory, and to its credit, documented everything it could have possibly known. Looking back some 28 years later, details of the Thompson-Liddy debate were overlooked, missed and risk being forever forgotten and unheard. Thanks to an unnamed source—call him our “Deep Throat“—the full story can now be unveiled.
Thompson, Liddy and Hazeltine arrived on the stage 40 minutes later than expected, causing a ruckus of restlessness among the eager Sayles audience. Organizers of the event told students that Thompson’s plane had been delayed and that he would arrive shortly. But in truth, at that point his flight had already landed and he had comfortably locked himself into a classroom in the basement of Sayles, demanding crystal meth.
After some time, his demands were met, a feat that not even Deep Throat can explain. But neither the drugs nor the anxious students upstairs were enough to get him to the stage. Thompson was a man of business, and he refused to leave the room, even threatening one event staff member with crow bar. In a hopeless panic, his young agent called her boss, who was well seasoned in dealing with violently drug addicted celebrities. The advice: tell Thompson that his check was outside the door and that he would receive it immediately if he left the room. It worked like a charm.
Finally, Thompson and company took the stage. As per his rider, three bottles of whiskey were placed in a garbage can ice bucket on the stage next to him, for his personal use. As the BDH so eloquently reported, Thompson was a mess. So much so that the debate ended and turned into a Q-and-A due to his inability to stay on topic. In the 90 minutes he was on stage, Thompson fully consumed the three bottles of whiskey, by himself. He fell over and asked the audience about mace. He advocated for long-deceased politicians out of context. He even tried some yoga. He ended his performance by throwing the bucket of ice into the audience before leaving the stage.
But that grand departure was not enough for the acclaimed writer. The article says that legal action could have been taken due to Thompson skipping the interview with the BDH that was promised in his contract. That statement does not adequately paint the full picture of how he got out of doing the interview. According to Deep Throat, Thompson needed to get right back to the airport after the event and his driver told the reporter that he could ride with them to the airport and conduct the interview during the drive. Once the car was making its way up I-95, Thompson realized that his guest in the back seat was a reporter. He asked his driver to pull over, punched the reporter in the face and made him leave the car immediately.