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He was born in Texas and graduated from the University of Texas in 1955. He then worked as a reporter and editor at the Houston Press.
Thompson joined Life Magazine in 1961 and became an editor and staff writer. While at Life he covered the JFK assassination and was the first writer to locate Lee Harvey Oswald's home and wife. Among his stories were coverage of the making of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles, in which he revealed the group's extensive drug use; an in-depth look at Frank Sinatra and his alleged Mafia ties; and the 40th and 50th birthdays of Elizabeth Taylor.
His book Hearts (1971) concerned the rivalry between Houston surgeons Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley at the dawn of the heart transplant era. Richie: The Ultimate Tragedy Between One Decent Man and the Son He Loved (1973) was the story of a Long Island man who killed his drug-addicted son. This was made into a TV-movie called The Death of Richie. Thompson's most successful book was Blood and Money (1976). It was based on a true story of scandal and murder. The book sold four million copies in fourteen languages. Thompson also wrote Serpentine (1979), the story of convicted murderer Charles Sobhraj. Thompson wrote one novel, Celebrity (1982), which was on the national best-seller list for six months. That novel became the basis for a five hour mini series in 1984.
Thompson received the National Headliner Award for investigative reporting. He was also the 1977 Edgar Award winner for Blood and Money.
Thompson's family believed that the liver disease that caused his death was contracted in the Far East while investigating the Charles Sobhraj saga. When he became ill, Thomas was teaching writing at the University of Southern California.
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