Sunday, March 12, 2006


Bill Cardoso was his name, and according to the Los Angeles Times, this is what he did for history:
On a press bus in New Hampshire during the 1968 presidential campaign, writer Bill Cardoso told Hunter S. Thompson, "Don't worry, [the other reporters] are all so square they won't know what you're doing."

Cardoso was referring to the marijuana joint he had just given Thompson, a freelance journalist of some notoriety who had earned admiring reviews for a book about the Hells Angels motorcycle gang. But Cardoso could just as well have been talking about something else he shared with Thompson: a vision of journalism that he later summed up in one spectacularly apt word:


An elegant stylist whose work appeared in such publications as the Boston Globe, Rolling Stone, Ramparts and Esquire, Cardoso never achieved Thompson's fame. But he assured himself a page in journalism history when he applied that strange five-letter word to the darkly exuberant, drug-infused brand of participatory reporting and novelistic writing that Thompson perfected in such works as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," a 1972 classic of what became known as New Journalism.

Cardoso died of cardiac arrest Feb. 26 at his home in Kelseyville, about 80 miles northeast of San Francisco, said Mary Miles Ryan, his longtime companion. He was 68, a year older than Thompson was when he killed himself a year ago in a final rebellion.

He christened Thompson's brand of writing in 1970, when Thompson was anxious about a piece on the Kentucky Derby he had written for Scanlan's Monthly magazine. With his mind wasted on drugs and his deadline looming, Thompson desperately yanked the pages out of his notebook and turned those in, fully expecting that he would never be asked to write again. Instead, the editor asked for more.

When "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved" was published, congratulations poured in, including a note from Cardoso exclaiming that his buddy's work had been "pure gonzo." The adjective wasn't in any dictionary, but "gonzo journalism" was born.

"Hunter grabbed it like a hungry dog and ran with it," Ralph Steadman, the British artist who was Thompson's longtime friend and collaborator, said of the "gonzo" tag in an interview last week. Cardoso "had the right word at the right time."

"Gonzo" eventually made it into dictionaries, defined in Webster's New World Dictionary in 1979 as meaning "bizarre, unrestrained, extravagant, specifically designating a style of personal journalism so characterized."
Said an editor of Cardoso: "He could really write." Sounds like he really lived, too.

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