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Oscar Zeta Acosta

Oscar Zeta Acosta

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"Oscar Acosta" redirects here. For the Major League Baseball pitching coach, see Oscar Carlos Acosta

Oscar Zeta Acosta (April 8, 1935 – disappeared 1974) was an American attorney
Lawyer
A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political...

, politician
Politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

, minor novelist and Chicano Movement
Chicano Movement
The Chicano Movement of the 1960s, also called the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, also known as El Movimiento, is an extension of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement which began in the 1940s with the stated goal of achieving Mexican American empowerment.-Origins:The Chicano Movement...

 activist, perhaps best known for his friendship with the American author Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter Stockton Thompson was an American journalist and author who wrote The Rum Diary , Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 .He is credited as the creator of Gonzo journalism, a style of reporting where reporters involve themselves in the action to...

, who characterized him as his Samoan Attorney, Dr. Gonzo, in his acclaimed novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Life and career


Acosta was born in El Paso, Texas
El Paso, Texas
El Paso, is a city in and the county seat of El Paso County, Texas, United States, and lies in far West Texas. In the 2010 census, the city had a population of 649,121. It is the sixth largest city in Texas and the 19th largest city in the United States...

, and raised in a small San Joaquin Valley
San Joaquin Valley
The San Joaquin Valley is the area of the Central Valley of California that lies south of the Sacramento – San Joaquin River Delta in Stockton...

 rural town named Riverbank, California
Riverbank, California
Riverbank is a city in Stanislaus County, California, United States. The population was 22,678 at the 2010 census, up from 15,826 at the 2000 census...

 near Modesto, California
Modesto, California
Modesto is a city in, and is the county seat of, Stanislaus County, California. With a population of approximately 201,165 at the 2010 census, Modesto ranks as the 18th largest city in the state of California....

. Acosta's father was drafted during World War II, so he had to take care of the family. At times, Acosta felt like an outsider and he presented his feelings of alienation, mistrust, and dislocation in his works.

After finishing high school, Acosta joined the U.S. Air Force. Following his discharge, Acosta worked his way through Modesto Junior College
Modesto Junior College
The Modesto Junior College is a community college located in Central Valley's Modesto, California.-Accreditation:Modesto Junior College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. In January 2008, the Western Association Colleges and Schools notified the college that it had...

; becoming the first member of his family to do so. He attended night classes at San Francisco Law School
San Francisco Law School
San Francisco Law School is a private, non-profit law school in San Francisco, California. Founded in 1909, the law school became non-profit in 1941 and moved to its present location in 1968...

 and passed the California Bar exam in 1966. In 1967, Acosta began working as an antipoverty attorney for the East Legal Aid
Legal aid
Legal aid is the provision of assistance to people otherwise unable to afford legal representation and access to the court system. Legal aid is regarded as central in providing access to justice by ensuring equality before the law, the right to counsel and the right to a fair trial.A number of...

 Society in Oakland, California
Oakland, California
Oakland is a major West Coast port city on San Francisco Bay in the U.S. state of California. It is the eighth-largest city in the state with a 2010 population of 390,724...

.

In 1968 Acosta moved to East Los Angeles and joined the Chicano Movement
Chicano Movement
The Chicano Movement of the 1960s, also called the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, also known as El Movimiento, is an extension of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement which began in the 1940s with the stated goal of achieving Mexican American empowerment.-Origins:The Chicano Movement...

 as an activist attorney, defending Chicano
Chicano
The terms "Chicano" and "Chicana" are used in reference to U.S. citizens of Mexican descent. However, those terms have a wide range of meanings in various parts of the world. The term began to be widely used during the Chicano Movement, mainly among Mexican Americans, especially in the movement's...

 groups and activists, such as the S.O.S., Brown Berets
Brown Berets
The Brown Berets is a Chicano nationalist activist group of young Mexican Americans that emerged during the Chicano Movement in the late 1960s and remains active to the present day. The group was seen as part of the Third Movement for Liberation. The Brown Berets focus on community organizing...

 member Carlos Filafasofa, and other underserved members of the East L.A. barrio. His controversial defense earned him the ire of the LAPD
Los Angeles Police Department
The Los Angeles Police Department is the police department of the city of Los Angeles, California. With just under 10,000 officers and more than 3,000 civilian staff, covering an area of with a population of more than 4.1 million people, it is the third largest local law enforcement agency in...

, who considered the "Brown Pride" movement more dangerous than the Black Panthers. He was often followed and harassed by the LAPD.

In 1970, Acosta ran for sheriff of Los Angeles County
Los Angeles County, California
Los Angeles County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of 2010 U.S. Census, the county had a population of 9,818,605, making it the most populous county in the United States. Los Angeles County alone is more populous than 42 individual U.S. states...

 against Peter J. Pitchess
Peter J. Pitchess
Peter J. Pitchess was the 28th Sheriff of Los Angeles County, California. He was originally from Salt Lake City, Utah....

, and received more than 100,000 votes. During the campaign, he spent a couple of days in jail for contempt of court
Contempt of court
Contempt of court is a court order which, in the context of a court trial or hearing, declares a person or organization to have disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court's authority...

, and vowed that if he were elected, he would do away with the Sheriff's Department as it was then constituted. Acosta, known for loud ties and a flowered attaché case with a Chicano Power sticker, didn't come close to Sheriff Pitchess' 1,300,000 votes but did beat Everett Holladay, Monterey Park Chief of Police.

His first novel, Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo
Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo
Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo is the first novel by Oscar Zeta Acosta and it focuses on his own self-discovery in a fictionalized manner...

, was published in 1972, followed in 1973 by The Revolt of the Cockroach People
The Revolt of the Cockroach People
The Revolt of the Cockroach People is a novel by Oscar Zeta Acosta. The novel is a semi-autobiographical fictionalized account of the August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium, a mass protest of the Vietnam War. In addition to political protest, the characters engage in insurrection against religious,...

, a fictionalized version of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium
Chicano Moratorium
The Chicano Moratorium, formally known as the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, was a movement of Chicano anti-war activists that built a broad-based coalition of Mexican-American groups to organize opposition to the Vietnam War...

.

In the summer of 1967 Acosta met gonzo journalist
Gonzo journalism
Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism that is written without claims of objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative. The word "gonzo" is believed to be first used in 1970 to describe an article by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the style...

 Hunter S. Thompson, who would in 1971 write an article on Acosta and the injustice in the barrios of East L.A. for Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone is a US-based magazine devoted to music, liberal politics, and popular culture that is published every two weeks. Rolling Stone was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner and music critic Ralph J...

 magazine titled "Strange Rumblings in Aztlan
Strange Rumblings in Aztlan
"Strange Rumblings in Aztlan" is an article published in Rolling Stone #81, dated April 29, 1971, and written by Hunter S. Thompson.The article takes its title from the name Aztlán, referring to the "conquered territories" of Mexico that came under United States control after the Mexican-American War...

". This article also discusses the murder of Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California, since 1881. It was the second-largest metropolitan newspaper in circulation in the United States in 2008 and the fourth most widely distributed newspaper in the country....

 columnist Rubén Salazar
Ruben Salazar
Rubén Salazar was a Mexican-American journalist killed by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War on August 29, 1970 in East Los Angeles, California. During the 1970s, his killing was often cited as a symbol of unjust treatment of...

. When working on the article, Thompson and Acosta decided a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Nevada and is also the county seat of Clark County, Nevada. Las Vegas is an internationally renowned major resort city for gambling, shopping, and fine dining. The city bills itself as The Entertainment Capital of the World, and is famous...

 was in order, so that Salazar and the racial injustice of L.A. could be discussed openly. A write-up of the trip has now been immortalized by the book and movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

As Hunter Thompson wrote in "The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat", the legal department of the publishers of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas stated that they could not publish the book unless clearance were given by Acosta, due to the obvious references to the attorney. When written for permission, Acosta refused - on the grounds that he did not want to be referred to as a "300-pound Samoan
Samoans
The Samoan people are a Polynesian ethnic group of the Samoan Islands, sharing genetics, language, history and culture. Due to colonialism, the home islands are politically and geographically divided between the country of Samoa, official name Independent State of Samoa ; and American Samoa, an...

". He did, however, understand that having this reference substituted by his name would mean the book could not be published on time, so he promised clearance provided that his name and picture would appear on the dustjacket.

Disappearance


In 1974, Acosta disappeared while traveling in Mexico. His son, Marco Acosta, believes that he was the last person to talk to his father. In May 1974, Acosta telephoned his son, telling him that he was "about to board a boat full of white snow." Marco is later quoted in reference to his father's disappearance: "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."

According to Thompson's obituary of Acosta, titled "Fear and Loathing in the Graveyard of the Weird: The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat", Acosta was a powerful attorney and preacher but suffered from an addiction to amphetamines as well as a predilection for LSD-25. The obituary alternates from vitriolic to touching, but on the whole conveys the sense that Acosta was a man who felt he was doomed to martyrdom and destined to be a messiah, but was brought down by his inability to be either. The article was Thompson's response to rumors that Acosta was alive somewhere around Miami.

Quotes about Acosta



Motion pictures


Acosta has been twice portrayed in major motion pictures:

The 1980 film Where the Buffalo Roam
Where the Buffalo Roam
Where the Buffalo Roam is a 1980 American semi-biographical comedy film which loosely depicts Hunter S. Thompson's rise to fame in the 1970s and his relationship with Chicano attorney and activist Oscar Zeta Acosta. Art Linson directed the picture, while Bill Murray portrayed the author and Peter...

 loosely depicts Acosta's life and his relationship with Hunter S. Thompson, and takes its name from Thompson's obituary to Acosta "The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat", which in turn is a reference to Acosta's book Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo
Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo
Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo is the first novel by Oscar Zeta Acosta and it focuses on his own self-discovery in a fictionalized manner...

. Peter Boyle
Peter Boyle
Peter Lawrence Boyle, Jr. was an American actor, best known for his role as Frank Barone on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, and as a comical monster in Mel Brooks' film spoof Young Frankenstein ....

 portrayed Acosta, who is referred to in the film as "Carl Lazlo, Esquire." Bill Murray
Bill Murray
William James "Bill" Murray is an American actor and comedian. He first gained national exposure on Saturday Night Live in which he earned an Emmy Award and later went on to star in a number of critically and commercially successful comedic films, including Caddyshack , Ghostbusters , and...

 portrayed Thompson.

The 1998 film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (film)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a 1998 American drama film directed by Terry Gilliam, starring Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke and Benicio del Toro as Dr. Gonzo. It was adapted from Hunter S. Thompson's 1971 novel of the same name....

 is an adaptation of Thompson's novel of the same name, which is an account of Thompson and Acosta's trip to Las Vegas in 1971. Benicio del Toro
Benicio del Toro
Benicio Monserrate Rafael del Toro Sánchez is a Puerto Rican and Spanish actor and film producer. He won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a BAFTA Award for his role as Javier Rodríguez in Traffic . He is also known for his roles as Fred Fenster in The Usual...

 portrays Acosta, referred to in the film and novel as "Dr. Gonzo", while Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp
John Christopher "Johnny" Depp II is an American actor, producer and musician. He has won the Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor. Depp rose to prominence on the 1980s television series 21 Jump Street, becoming a teen idol...

 portrayed Thompson (under the alias of Raoul Duke
Raoul Duke
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....

).

Further reading

  • Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo
    Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo
    Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo is the first novel by Oscar Zeta Acosta and it focuses on his own self-discovery in a fictionalized manner...

     (1972), ISBN 0-679-72213-0 (Random House)
  • The Revolt of the Cockroach People
    The Revolt of the Cockroach People
    The Revolt of the Cockroach People is a novel by Oscar Zeta Acosta. The novel is a semi-autobiographical fictionalized account of the August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium, a mass protest of the Vietnam War. In addition to political protest, the characters engage in insurrection against religious,...

      (1973), ISBN 0-679-72212-2 (Knopf)
  • Oscar "Zeta" Acosta: the uncollected works. (1996) (Arte Público Press)
  • The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time
    The Great Shark Hunt
    The Great Shark Hunt is a book by Hunter S. Thompson. Originally published in 1979 as Gonzo Papers, Vol. 1: The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time, the book is a roughly 600-page collection of Thompson's essays from 1956 to the end of the 1970s, following the rise of the author's...

    . Hunter S. Thompson (1979), Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-345-37482-7

External links