Raoul Duke

raoul duke by ralph steadman

Raoul Duke is the fictional character and antihero based on Hunter S. Thompson in his autobiographical novel ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’ The book was originally written under the name Raoul Duke. He is the main character and narrator of many of Thompson’s stories, novels, and articles, often taking part of events in Thompson’s life in Thompson’s place.

He is portrayed as a cynical, eccentric hedonist. He is in a near-perpetual state of intoxication on whatever drugs happen to be available, ranging from marijuana to amyl nitrite to adrenochrome. He usually obtains and consumes these substances in the company of his attorney, Gonzo, a half-crazed 300 pound Samoan, whose drug-induced frenzies give even Duke pause. Thompson based Gonzo on his friend the civil rights lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta.

Duke is first mentioned by Thompson in his 1966 book ‘Hell’s Angels,’ where he is described as an outlaw who does not break the law in an offensive way to society, but a way that in fact makes him more acceptable.

Duke is often characterized as being somewhat of an author surrogate, a source of quotes and opinions that Thompson would not necessarily be able to get away with himself, and actions that Thompson didn’t want to admit he had committed himself. His name, according to Thompson in interviews, was inspired by Raúl Castro (brother of Fidel Castro) and John Wayne’s nickname ‘The Duke,’ and probably originated as a pseudonym used to check into hotels, as in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’

Duke was also used so that Thompson could talk about himself – after a diving accident Thompson had to spend some time in a decompression chamber, and wrote a letter signed ‘Raoul Duke’ in which the pseudonym described the insanity of Thompson’s condition in the chamber – holding up scrawled notes to the single glass window and ordering a television set to watch coverage of the Watergate hearings. The letter appeared in Rolling Stone in August 1973.

In ‘The Great Shark Hunt’ (a large selection of articles written by Thompson) Raoul Duke’s appears on several essays that were published in newspapers and magazines, including the ‘Police Chief,’ an article published by Scanlan’s Monthly in 1970 in which Duke is apparently an ex-police chief raging at the inadequate amount of real ‘weaponry’ used by the police and advertised in the (presumably invented) Police Chief magazine. It was signed ‘Raoul Duke (Master of Weaponry).’

In ‘Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72,’ Thompson describes Raoul Duke as a sports writer friend, one of the few journalists who can truly write objectively instead of just talking. In the same section, Thompson calls journalistic objectivity ‘a pompous contradiction in terms,’ and warns the reader not to look for it under his byline.

It is thought that Raoul Duke was a manifestation of Thompson. One that constantly interfered with his hopes of a happy, secluded, normal life. Thompson is quoted in the short film ‘Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood’ as saying, ‘I’m never sure which one people want me to be, and sometimes they conflict… I am living a normal life, but beside me is this myth, growing larger and getting more and more warped. When I get invited to Universities to speak, I’m not sure who they’re inviting, Duke or Thompson… I suppose that my plans are to figure out some new identity, kill off one life and start another.’

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