ACOSTA DOCUMENTARY WILL PRESENT PROOF, FAMILY SAYS
By David Pratt
“One of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”—Hunter S. Thompson, Rolling Stone 12/15/1977
October 15, 1973, The Playboy Forum:
Your November issue, “On The Scene” section on Mr. Hunter S. Thompson as the creator of Gonzo Journalism, which you say he both created and named… Well, sir, I beg to take issue with you. And with anyone else who says that. In point in fact, Doctor Duke and I — the world famous Dr. Gonzo — together we both, hand in hand, sought out the teachings and curative powers of the world famous Savage Henry, the Scag Baron of Las Vegas, and in point of fact the term and methodology of reporting crucial events under fire and drugs, which are of course essential to any good writing in this age of confusion — all this I say came from out of the mouth of our teacher who is also known by the name of Owl. These matters I point out not as a threat of legalities or etcetera but simply to inform you and to invite serious discussion on the subject.
Yours very truly,
Oscar Zeta Acosta
P.S. The guacamole and XX he got from me.
* * * * * * *
Oscar Zeta Acosta is probably best known as the character based on the Chicano author, lawyer and activist in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Dr. Gonzo, Raoul Duke’s “300 pound Samoan” attorney. But family members of the long-missing and presumed dead Acosta say he played a much larger role in Thompson’s most popular work.
Acosta’s younger sister, Annie, insists that her brother was co-author of the landmark “Savage Journey to the heart of the American Dream,” a gonzo tale of that dream’s failure and the protagonists’ drugged debauchery in Las Vegas that was first published in Rolling Stone in 1971 and cemented Hunter Thompson’s fame as a counter culture literary hero. Annie Acosta said an upcoming documentary on Oscar Acosta will present evidence he didn’t write it alone.
“Zeta was living with me in Los Angeles while writing his own two books, The Autobiography of A Brown Buffalo and The Revolt of The Cockroach People,” she wrote in an email to GonzoToday. “Additionally, I am privy to conversations, arguments etc. over the publication and writing of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas.” She added that Thompson “offered him reparation but Zeta refused”
“I have evidence and it will be elaborated in the up-coming documentary, which will be out within a year and a half,” Annie Acosta said.
“There are many people who already know the situation we are discussing,” she replied when asked for specifics on exactly how much input or which sections of the book Oscar may have contributed. “People will have to wait for the documentary for any further evidence of this issue.”
The debate over Acosta’s contribution to Fear & Loathing has gone on for years. Some have speculated that Hunter was inspired by or outright lifted passages from Acosta’s letters (similar to the Jack Kerouac/Neal Cassady question). Others have wondered how heavily he might have relied in writing the book on the hours of taped conversation of the Vegas trip or other time spent with Acosta. No recordings or letters are known to have surfaced to support either of these suppositions. Carlos Morton’s “Brown Buffalo” play features scenes where Acosta claims to have invented gonzo and where he is dictating parts of Fear & Loathing to Hunter as he types..
Thompson told the LA Times in 1998 that “he was inspired by his adventures with Acosta to take his writing to a new level.”
“Oscar had that kind of natural weird spirit,” the Times quoted Thompson. “There aren’t that many of us in the world, and we recognize each other. His writing was just an extension of that.”
As Hunter Thompson wrote in his 1977 article on Acosta’s disappearance, “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat,” the legal department at Fear and Loathing’s publisher refused to release the book without clearance from Acosta, due to it’s references to the attorney in incriminating circumstances. Acosta refused on the grounds that he did not want to be referred to as a “300-pound Samoan.” He also asked for co-authorship. When the story originally appeared in Rolling Stone it was attributed to Raoul Duke, the narrator of the “Savage Journey.”
“I must clarify something that has come up, there were two people on that trip to Vegas, and my uncle and Hunter co-wrote it together,” said Annie’s daughter Stephanie, who administers a Facebook page honoring Acosta.
“He was never mentioned in the publication for several reasons,” said Stephanie. “One, he disappeared. Two, he had threats of being disbarred.”
Oscar Acosta finally agreed to give clearance provided that his name and picture appeared on the book’s dustjacket.
Phillip Rodriguez is directing and producing the Zeta documentary, which will focus on Acosta’s political activities involving Chicano rights; his relationship to Thompson and Fear & Loathing; and Acosta’s mysterious disappearance in 1974.
Rodriguez’s former film work includes a 2013 independent investigation into the life and controversial death of journalist Ruben Salazar, the first Mexican-American news columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Salazar died in a bar after being hit with a tear gas canister fired into the building by an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War on August 29, 1970. Rodriguez’s film concluded that, despite many conspiracy theories, his death was accidental. Salazar was the first Mexican-American journalist from mainstream media to cover the Chicano community and its rising political awareness in the late 1960s. Many at the time, including Acosta, considered his death an intentional murder.
Salazar’s death, the Moratorium and Oscar Acosta’s involvement in it were also the subject of a 1971 Rolling Stone article by Hunter Thompson, “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan.”
When Hunter got the call to cover the Mint 400 in Las Vegas for Playboy, he saw an opportunity to get Acosta away from the center of the political activity in L.A.
“I dragged Oscar away while he was working on the ‘Biltmore Six’ trial because we couldn’t talk in that war zone,” Thompson told the L.A. Times. “So I said, ‘Let’s get the hell out of town.’ ”
The Biltmore case involved Chicano demonstrators who disrupted a speech by then-California Governor Ronald Reagan at a Department of Education banquet on April 24, 1969, in the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The demonstrators attempted to drown out Reagan’s speech with shouting, stomping, and clapping. During all this a fire broke out in a linen closet on the tenth floor. A grand jury indicted ten people—six for arson, burglary, malicious destruction, and conspiracy to commit felonies. Three of the six were defendants from an earlier case: the East L.A. Thirteen in which 13 Chicano activists were indicted in 1968 on conspiracy to disrupt the schools after a walkout by teachers and community members who were protesting educational inequality.
Two of the Biltmore Six had been previously indicted for that walk-out and now faced harsh, possibly life, sentences. As the lead defense attorney for the Biltmore Six, Acosta argued that Mexican-American citizens, particularly those with clear Spanish surnames, had been excluded from participating in the Los Angeles County grand jury. Oscar would twice be jailed for contempt of court before the Biltmore Six finally walked free after several years.
Oscar Acosta was born in 1935 in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Riverbank, California, on the “Mexican side” of the river across from the wealthy white ranchers. He joined the U.S. Air Force and then spent some time as a missionary in Panama before returning to California. Acosta worked his way through Modesto Junior College and studied creative writing at San Francisco State University. He eventually got his law degree from San Francisco Law School and worked at the East Oakland Legal Aid Society for a short time. Acosta and Hunter Thompson met in Colorado in 1967, beginning a long if tumultuous friendship. The two began exchanging letters soon after meeting, a correspondence that continued for years.
In 1968 Acosta moved to L.A. where he became involved with La Raza, a Chicana movement led by Mexican-American students and academics, supported by many working class people, who were ready to confront the “White Establishment” and assert their rights as American Citizens.
As a lawyer for La Raza, Acosta became so infamous that he had an LAPD detail assigned to watch him. He was found in contempt of court on many occasions as he defended Chicano groups and activists, such as the Chicano 13 of the East L.A. walkouts, Rodolfo Gonzales, members of the Brown Berets, and other residents of the East L.A. barrio. In the case of the East L.A. 13, he subpoenaed every member of the Los Angeles County grand jury to prove a pattern of discrimination against Mexican Americans.
Local law enforcement and the FBI also linked Acosta to a shadowy organization called the Chicano Liberation Front that claimed responsibility for numerous bombings in southern and northern California. Hunter Thompson wrote about Acosta setting fires to judges’ front lawns at night.
In 1970 Acosta ran for sheriff of Los Angeles County, receiving more than 100,000 votes — nowhere near his opponent’s 1.3 million but beating the third place candidate, Everett Holladay, Monterey Park Chief of Police. During the campaign Acosta spent a couple of days in jail for contempt of court and vowed that if he were elected he would do away with the Sheriff’s Department as it was then constituted.
He published his first semi-autobiographical novel in 1973. Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo is the story of an alienated lawyer of Mexican descent, working in an Oakland anitpoverty agency, who becomes a Chicano activist. Part of the plot involves a fictional account of the murder of Rubén Salazar. At the end of the bok the protagonist (like Acosta) adds the middle name of ‘Zeta,’ to represent pride in his culture and roots.
1973’s The Revolt of the Cockroach People is a fictionalized version of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium. the movement of anti-war activists that built a broad coalition of Mexican-American groups against the Vietnam War. Led by activists from local colleges and members of the “Brown Berets”, a group with roots in the high school student movement that staged walkouts in 1968, the coalition peaked with an August 29, 1970 march in East Los Angeles that drew 30,000 demonstrators.
Acosta’s books are now standard reading in Latino Studies programs around the country.
Acosta disappeared mysteriously in 1974 while traveling in Mazatlán, Mexico. In a 1999 interview with gettingit.com his son Marco Acosta said he was the last person to talk to his father, who told him he was “about to board a boat full of white snow.” He was never heard from again.
“The body was never found, but we surmise that probably, knowing the people he was involved with, he ended up mouthing off, getting into a fight, and getting killed,” Marco told gettingit.com. “You’re not exactly going to call the FBI and say, ‘Hey, my dad disappeared dealing drugs. Can you find him?'”
In Revolt of the Cockroach People, Oscar wrote that the protagonist was off to cross the border to “Mexico where the Feds will probably be waiting for me.” In his 1977 Rolling Stone article,”The Banshee Screams For Buffalo Meat,” Thompson wrote he believed Acosta was either murdered by drug dealers or was the victim of a political assassination. Others have speculated that Acosta overdosed or suffered a nervous breakdown. Another anecdote has Rolling Stone receiving a hospital bill for a broken arm for a patient named Oscar Acosta in 1977 but the magazine was unable to trace the bill any farther than the hospital. HIs sister said she “knows what happened” to Oscar and that she has evidence, but she would not elaborate.
Just as mysterious as Oscar’s disappearance and Annie’s proof regarding it is the alleged top-secret evidence for Acosta being the co-author of Fear & Loathing.
Will Rodriguez’s documentary present a compelling argument or is it all hearsay and supposition? Annie and Stephanie Acosta are convinced it is true. Aside from their evidence, Annie says she heard it straight from Thompson himself.
“My mom, Annie, flew to Hunter’s and asked him plain and simple, ‘I need to know if you and Oscar wrote this together?'” said Stephanie. “Hunter took a sip of whiskey and said, ‘Yes, Annie are you satisfied now? Did you get what you came for?”
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Every century there are a few individuals who are destined to lead the weak, to hold unpopular beliefs and, most important, who are willing to die for their cause. My father’s whole life was given to the fight for “the people”. —Marco Acosta
ADDENDUM: WHEN HUNTER MET OSCAR
“By the time I first met him, in the summer of 1967, he was long past what he called his “puppy love trip with The Law. ” It had gone the same way as his earlier missionary zeal, and after the one year of casework at an East Oakland “poverty law center, “he was ready to dump Holmes and Brandeis for Huey Newton and a Black Panther style of dealing with the laws and courts of America.
When he came booming into a bar called Daisy Duck in Aspen and announced that he was the trouble we’d all been waiting for, he was definitely into the politics of confrontation – and on all fronts: in the bars or the courts or even the streets, if necessary.” – HUNTER. S. THOMPSON “The Buffalo Screams for Banshee Meat”
FROM AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A BROWN BUFFALO
by Oscar Zeta Acosta
Bobbi introduced me to a short, stocky kid with fat boots and a kind face. There was a gentleness in Miller’s green eyes, a calmness in his voice that immediately disarmed me. I gave him back his chick [Bobbi] and never again had dirty thoughts about her. The other one was tall and on the verge of losing his hair. He wore short pants, an upside-down sailor’s cap from L.L. Bean and a holstered knife hung from his waist. he looked the other way when Bobbi introduced me to Miller and told him I’d been in Ketchum.
“This is King,” Miller said. “He’s a friend of Turk’s.”
Christ, I thought, another bike rider from Chicago! He turned, gave me a quick once-over and said, “You from San Francisco, too?”
“Nah, I’m from Riverbank.”
“I thought Turk was in San Francisco,” the short one said.
“He was the last time I saw him. Still riding his bike.”
“Riding his bike? I thought the sonofabitch had a full cast. Isn’t his leg broken?” King’s voice was on edge. He spoke rapidly. He wanted quick information.
“It was. But somehow he manages to ride.”
The tall one turned to Miller. “You know, I’ll bet that bastard was lying to me. From his letter, I thought he was all fucked up.”
“Oh, don’t worry, King. Turk’s not going to sue you . He was just kidding, I’ll bet,” Bobbi said to calm the man down.
“I’m not worried about that. He’s too strung out to even think about getting a lawyer. But he keeps writing me these long, wretched letters trying to make me feel guilty.”
“If you’re talking about his accident, he did go see a lawyer.” I said
“Oh, he did, hey? So that’s his action.” His eyes narrowed and his balding head nodded. “He’s going to play that game now.”
“King was driving the bike when Tibeau broke his leg,” Miller said to me.
“I know.” Now I remembered the freak of whom John had spoken. John Tibeau had that great fault – to those of us at JJ’s [Trader JJ – Oscar’s bar in SF] – of talking to us of Great-Men-I-Have-Known. He kept constantly on the run between New York and San Francisco, crashing every party given by famous people in order to take the good news to the other end of the table. He pestered us with names and titles and associations. But he did it well. And so, when he showed me an autographed copy of King’s book and asked me to buy him a beer while I thumbed through it, the devil was setting me up for this confrontation with the tall, baldheaded hillbilly from Tennessee.
“Tibeau told me all about the accident,” I said to him.
“Is he serious about suing me?”
“I haven’t filed the complaint. But if the insurance doesn’t cover the medicals…”
“You haven’t? What’s your interest in this?” He was clearly agitated. He motioned to Phil with his index finger to serve the four of us.
“None, really. I advised him against suing you. He assumed the risk when he let you drive his bike knowing you were plastered.”
Miller asked, “Are you a lawyer, Oscar?”
“I was until a few days ago.”
“You mean you were disbarred?” the hillbilly smiled.
“Well…I hung it up.”
“Then you were just putting me on?”
“I mean, you don’t have any Goddamn subpoena for me or anything like that?”
“Jesus, King you’re so paranoid,” Miller cut in.
“Well, Christ, how do I know? Guy walks in and tells me he’s Turk’s lawyer…from Riverbank, you say?”
I sipped my beer and let it hang for a moment. “You weren’t listening. I don’t represent Tibeau. I just gave him some advice.”
“Where the hell is Riverbank. Isn’t that down by LA?”
“Nah, it’s close to Oakdale.”
“What’s Tibeau doing down there?”
“Like I said, man, you’re not listening. I didn’t say Tibeau was down in Riverbank.”
“Yeh, King, he said he said was from Riverbank.” Miller explained.
“Jesus, somebody’s got their head twisted here. and you, you fucker,” he shouted at the bartender, “Let us have some more whiskey here.” I switched to scotch and we were silent for a minute. I warmed up and started in again. “Tibeau said you were a Hell’s Angel.”
“I hung up my license, too.”
“You mean they booted you out,” Miller said.
“Are you a professional writer?” I asked.
“You got it all wrong, Oscar,” Miller said, “King’s a farmer. He raises Dobermans. Didn’t you see the jacket of his book?”
“No, I don’t read too much.”
“You probably couldn’t get it in Riverbank. The book’s in English,” the hillbilly said.
“Say, tell me,” I said, “do the Hell’s Angels really carry chains and bullwhips?”
“When they’re on a rumble they do,” he said.
“Is that what you and Turk were doing when he busted his leg?”
King gave me a thin-lipped smile and looked me straight in the eye. “No…we were out looking for greasers.”
“I take it you didn’t find any.”
Miller said, “Hell, they wouldn’t know what to do with them if they did find any. King would probably just interview them while they cut his balls off.”
“Yeh,” he nodded, “I probably would, if I had an interpreter.”
“Then you really are a professional writer?” I asked.
“He’s just a hack,” Miller said.
“Oh, come on you guys,” Bobbi said, “I think King’s a good writer.”
We all laughed. “Go ahead and laugh, you bastards! I guess I’m about as much a writer as you are a lawyer,” he said to me.
The three of them laughed at me. Miller changed sides with a smile. “Hey, man. I’ve heard of shyster lawyers, but what’s a Mexican lawyer do?”
“They slide into court on their grease,” King said with a straight face.
“Grease?” Bobbi asked. “What are you guys talking about?”
“Yeh. Grease. That’s what Mexicans use to cook gringos,” I said.
“Boy, you guys are really something else,” Bobbi said.
“They got lot of gringos in Riverbank, Oscar?” Miller asked.
“They used to. I haven’t been there in fifteen years.”
“I’ll bet the town’s just full of Mexicans now the way those bastards multiply,” the King said.
“Have you been there, King?” Miller asked.
“We don’t allow hillbillies on motorcycles,” I said.
“They’ve just got dirt roads for their burros there,” the King said.
“And lot of restaurants,” I said.
“Why’s that?” Miller assisted.
“In case we catch a gringo…we like to eat them while the blood’s still warm,” I said.
“You Aztecs still practice those native rites?” the King asked.
“Are you an Aztec?” Bobbi asked.
“For Christ sake, Bobbi, just look at him,” Miller said.
The young chick observed my entire body. “Oh, you’re putting me on . He doesn’t look like an Aztec.”
“Sure I do,” I protested. “Take a good look.”
“I thought they were all dead,” she said.
“I’m the last one. My family’s the last of the Aztecs.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said. “Besides, I thought you said you were a Mexican.”
“No, he said he was a fry cook,” the King said.
“Oh, you guys are getting smashed!” She got up and went to wait on several customers that had walked in.
We began to down the drinks with the bravado of men in a race, a challenge of the cup, a penny for each spoonful of chili. The hour was drawing near. The music blared rock and roll as we continued.
King asked me, “You just passing through? Or what?”
“Probably just the weekend. I’m waiting for a telegram.”
“You don’t by any chance know a lawyer named Pierce, do you? He’s a friend of Tibeau’s. From Richmond.”
“I’m not sure. Tibeau brought some famous people in, but I don’t know.”
“He’s the ex-mayor of Richmond,” Miller said..
“He’s about our age,” the King said. “He dropped out, too.”
“The last I heard he was on his way to Tibet,” Miller said.
“He’s going to be a monk,” the King added.
“Oh, fuck, I can’t take anymore of this!” King stood up and swallowed his drink. “Well, just see to it you’re out of town by Monday morning. I’ll see you freaks later.”
He scrambled out the door and left me alone with Miller.
“He’s a pretty good dude,” Miller said. “He’s just paranoid because all his friends come by here and get all fucked up when they’re on the run. He says it interferes with his writing.”
“Yeh, he seemed okay to me. Looks like he’s on speed.”
“God is he…By the way, are you into any dope?”