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'Where Thieves and Pimps Run Free'

From the Mailbag

By

Hunter S. Thompson Dies At Age 67
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images News/Getty Images

April 25, 2002
Dear Urban Legends:

There is a famous quote attributed to Hunter S. Thompson that goes something like this:

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

I have seen this quote changed to describe many businesses from TV to film to corporate America in general. Do you guys have any idea where this quote came from or toward what business it was originally aimed? You are my only hope.

Thanks.



Dear Reader:

Fascinating, isn't it, how sardonically true those words ring in all the different contexts you mentioned? And they reek of Hunter S. Thompson, the man touted as the father of Gonzo Journalism, the man who described sports writers (whose ranks he rejoined late in life as an online columnist for ESPN) as "a rude & brainless subculture of fascist drunks," and who once said of Bill Clinton, "He may be a swine, but he's our swine."

Arguably, Thompson wasn't really a journalist — he denied it off and on himself — so much as a profane, lyrical, hyperactive critic of American culture. The New Journalism of the early '60s tipped the sacred cow of objective reporting on its ear; Gonzo Journalism — by that I mean Hunter S. Thompson — slaughtered it and tossed it on the barbie.

So, I started my research under the supposition that Thompson probably did author this bitter indictment of the music industry, a good match in both style and substance to other witticisms credited to him. When I Googled the passage I found it everywhere — usually, though not always, attributed to Thompson. However — and here's a lesson in the pitfalls of online research — out of literally hundreds of instances where the quotation was cited, only a couple of them named a published source, and those were the hardest to find.

Not to mention there are at least half a dozen variants, to wit:

  • "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

  • "The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

  • "The radio business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

  • "The corporate communications world is a cruel and shallow money trench. A long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs."

  • "Show business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long dark plastic hallway where thieves, pimps and whores run free and most good or weak men die like dogs!"

Whatever the original words and whoever may have authored them, people have clearly seen fit to freely adapt the passage for their own purposes, and others have repeated those adaptations without questioning their authenticity. The tag line, "There's also a negative side," was sometimes included, sometimes not. Other writers were occasionally cited as the author.

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