Ralph Steadman Talks Hunter S. Thompson

This is Hunter S. Thompson writing in 1963 for the National Observer:

One of my most vivid memories of South America is that of a man with a golf club – a five-iron, if memory serves – driving golf balls off a penthouse terrace in Cali, Columbia. He was a tall Britisher, and had what the British call “a stylish pot” instead of a waistline. Beside him on a small patio table was a long gin-and-tonic, which he refilled from time to time at the nearby bar.

He had a good swing, and each of his shots carried low and long out over the city. Where they fell, neither he nor anyone else on the terrace that day had the vaguest idea. Somewhere below us, in the narrow streets that are lined by the white adobe blockhouses of the urban peasantry, a strange hail was rattling down on the roofs – golf balls, “old practice duds,” so the Britisher told me, that were “hardly worth driving away.”

The piece, entitled “Why Anti-Gringo Winds Blow South of the Border,” from The Great Shark Hunt, is brilliant journalism, and a sober example of just how talented a writer Thompson was.

I came to his writing in the early eighties.  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was my introduction to his Gonzo world, and I loved it.  Honestly, I didn’t know a writer could look at life the way Thompson did.  Such rampant debauchery and insane shenanigans.  No one would want to be with an ass like him, I thought.  But oh was it fun to read.

In the mid-eighties, he came to our school.  He was an hour late for the evening discussion.  I remember part of his demands was to have a bottle of Scotch and a glass on stage with him.  The news reporter who drove with him from the airport described how he smoked a joint on the way.  On stage, I remember Thompson as being a bit testy, a reluctant circus animal.  When he took questions, I recall wanting to ask him if he was happy.  I didn’t.  I decided it would be insulting–because it seemed obvious that he wasn’t.  Twenty years later he blew his brains out.  His final piece of writing was a suicide note:

No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.

Genius, Nixon, social convention, peyote and rum–they don’t really mix well together.  And though Thompson tried, it ultimately caught up to him, which in retrospect only makes sense.

One of his partners in crime was illustrator Ralph Steadman.  In an NPR article, “A ‘Decadent and Depraved’ Derby with Hunter S. Thompson,” Steadman tells the story about first working with the writer for an article entitled “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved.”  After a weekend of drink and drugs and getting kicked out of clubs, with Thompson macing people on the way out the door, Steadman says:

“He took me to the airport, and was like, ‘Get the hell outta here, you goddamn scumbag. Get outta here,'” he says. “I just thought I’d never hear from him again.”

So Steadman went home to London, where he had a short-lived job with the London Times — who fired him after readers complained about his disturbing cartoons.

“Then I heard from Hunter,” he says. “‘Ralph, what are you working on? Do you want to come back over here?’ I said, ‘What for? You told me to get out of here.’ ‘That was just talk, Ralph, just talk. I think I had a good time. I hope you did.’ So I said, ‘Yes, up to a point, yes, it was great.'”

For me, the article is a fine reminder of why I loved Thompson to begin with.  You can find it here.


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