Dr. Gonzo, played by Benicio Del Toro in the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas film, is actually a pseudonym used to disguise the identify of attorney, and radical Chicano Movement activist, Oscar Zeta Acosta (above right, next to me). In both the book and the movie, Oscar is referred to as my “300-pound Samoan” attorney, when in reality he is actually a slightly skinnier Chicano. I had originally met Oscar while writing an article about the Los Angeles Chicano community’s reaction to the death of a prominent Mexican American journalist, Rubén Salazar, who was killed by L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy, Tom Wilson during a non-violent march/rally. Oscar became a prime contributor and central figure to the article.
The inspiration for the Las Vegas trip actually came about because of a wish to get away from the racial tensions in Los Angeles. At the time, it was difficult for a white journalist such as myself to publicly associate with a Chicano. Oscar wanted to go somewhere where we could discuss the case openly without the fear of police retaliation or public backlash. Taking into consideration both of our reputations for “partying” and drug use, and the crazy atmosphere of Las Vegas, I guess the result of our trip was inevitable. Oscar eventually disappeared in May of 1974 while traveling in Mexico. In his last reported conversation, he told his son over the phone that he was “about to board a boat full of white snow.” We can’t be sure what happened to him but by now it’s pretty safe to say he’s not coming back.
Rest in Peace Oscar,
“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.”
— Rolling Stone, December 15, 1977