This Documentary Chronicles the Life of Oscar Acosta, the Real-Life Dr. Gonzo from ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’

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Zeta Ran for Sheriff of Los Angeles County in 1970

Oscar Zeta Acosta and Hunter S. Thompson during Thompson’s campaign bid to run for Aspen, Colorado sheriff, 1970. Courtesy of Bob Krueger/PBS

Hoping to bring attention to police brutality (how things change, right?) in the Los Angeles Police Department, Acosta ran for sheriff in 1970. His platform? Disbanding with the Sheriff Department as it existed. He knew he wouldn’t win, but he hoped his candidacy (which did garner him close to 100,000 votes) would raise awareness to the ways minority groups were being targeted by the Sheriff’s department.

Oscar Acosta Threatened to Sue Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta, 1971. Courtesy of City Projects, LLC/PBS

Thompson may have immortalized his trip to Vegas with Acosta in Fear and Loathing, but the fact that the novelist had turned him into a laughable caricature called Dr. Gonzo (a 300-pound Samoan lawyer) irked Acosta. This was a perfect example of a white writer cannibalizing the work and life of a brown friend and stripping him of the specificity that characterized him.

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