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.
In Thompson's writings
Duke is the main character and narrator of many of Thompson's stories, novels, and articles, often taking part in the events of Thompson's life in Thompson's place. He is portrayed as a cynical, eccentric hedonist whose daily life is a near-perpetual state of intoxication on whatever drugs happen to be available, ranging from cannabis to amyl nitrite to adrenochrome in an attempt to keep the spirit of the 1960s, a time which he spoke of romantically in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, alive within himself even as the rest of the country forgets it and what it represented. He usually obtains and consumes these substances in the company of his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, a half-crazed 300 pound Samoan, whose drug-induced frenzies give even Duke pause. Thompson based Gonzo on friend 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 name is the one that appears on several essays that were published in newspapers and magazines, including the "Police Chief", an article published by Scanlan's Monthly (June 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 about it. 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.
Thompson is quoted in the documentary film Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision, "I'm never sure which one people want me to be [Thompson or Duke], 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."
Portrayals in other media
The Duke character has been portrayed in three films:
- The 1980 film Where the Buffalo Roam, in which he is portrayed by Bill Murray
- The 1998 film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in which he was portrayed by Johnny Depp.
- The 2011 film Rango, Raoul makes a cameo, voiced by Johnny Depp
Though it is not clear when the tapes themselves were transferred, the name Raoul Duke starts appearing, in general along with that of Matt Vernon, under the transfer credits for some of the early tapes for the Grateful Dead starting with studio sessions from an unknown date in June 1966 and then from a concert in Vancouver, British Columbia in late July 1966.
Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury character Uncle Duke is based on Thompson's Raoul Duke. Although the Doonesbury character is usually referred to only as "Duke", various other names for him have appeared over the years, including having the first name "Raoul".
Raoul Duke continues to be listed on Rolling Stone's masthead as the editor of the magazine's fictional sports desk in homage to Thompson.
- Nash, Paul. "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas", Close-UpFilm.com. Accessed October 16, 2008. "Depp expertly delivers the quintessential counter-culture anti-hero Raoul Duke, expertly taking on the tics and gestures of Thompson (he spent four months with the Good Doctor at his fortified compound shooting guns and making bombs)".
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Part 1 of the original version as first published in Rolling Stone, Nov. 11, 1971.
- "Fear and Loathing at 25 – Thompson reflects on the addictive properties of professional journalism" by P.J. O'ROURKE, Rolling Stone, Posted Nov 28, 1996,