in 1970, Hunter S. Thompson met Ralph Steadman, a
Welsh artist looking for work in America. The two
were brought together through Scanlan's
magazine which had hired them to do a story about
the Kentucky Derby. Steadman's art became an essential
part of Thompson's work, and their unique partnership
culminated in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
"He's had my drawings around the wall to write
to," says Steadman. "That's how necessary
I have been to his career, would you believe it? He
won't acknowledge that ever, that's the only thing.
Or if he does, it's begrudgingly." A book of
Steadman's drawings, Gonzo the Art,
is scheduled to appear this fall. When we asked about
his favorite adventure with Hunter, Steadman recounted
the following story.
and I never got proper journalistic accreditation
to go anywhere. Nobody was giving us passes to go
in here or there. We always had to somehow talk our
way in. We were total mavericks. We went to the America's
Cup, Rhode Island, in late 1970. The Gretel
and The Intrepid were the two boats
fighting it out—Australia versus America. It's
a long, boring race unless you're into yachting. But
these guys were serious seamen.
hate boats and was getting seasick all the time, and
Hunter gave me one of his pills which turned out to
be psilocybin, a hallucinogenic. And Hunter had the
idea that we had to do something, the two of us, to
make a story, because there really was no story. Also,
Scanlan's, the magazine that had sent
us there as our second assignment—the first
being the Kentucky Derby—was going bust. It
had gone through three quarters of a million dollars
of borrowed money in nine months, which doesn't seem
like much now maybe, but it was a hell of a lot then.
drug was taking effect, and I was quite happy to do
whatever Hunter suggested, and he said, 'There's a
couple of spray cans here, Ralph. There's red and
there's black. You're the artist. What are you going
to do with them?'
our idea was to take a little dinghy from the sloop
we'd hired. We'd had a rock band on board, but they
had long since left by the time we got to this stage.
They'd been on board for about four days, and it was
mayhem then. We had tried to get in and out of the
race so we could spoil it. It was a funny, terrible
thing to do, but we were journalistic vandals trying
to make a story out of being mischievous.
now our idea was to get in between the two racing
boats, The Gretel and The Intrepid,
in the moonlight. The drugs began to take hold, and
I could see streaks of red in the water—weird
flashes like the moon makes, but they had turned red
in the water. The moon was crystal clear—white—and
it was making jagged things in the water, like jack
knives. And I had these two spray cans and I was going
to write 'Fuck the Pope' so that in the morning nobody
would know the words were there until the boats came
out into the harbor and suddenly everyone could read
was the idea. That was a story.
you know how when you shake spray cans they go click,
click, click, click, click, click? Somebody heard
us and Hunter said, 'We've got to flee, Ralph! We've
got to flee! My God, there are pigs everywhere! We've
got to flee now! We've got to go! Otherwise there'll
be machine guns and all sorts of things happening!
Anything will be coming any minute now. My God, we've
got to go!'
he pulled on the oars in the dinghy and they came
out of the oarlocks and he fell back in the boat,
and there was all sorts of cursing because nobody
expected to see anybody there. Hunter was on his back,
and he said, 'Oh, we're just looking at the boats,
just looking at the boats.' And I had two spray cans
in my hands.
we got back to the boat with our little dinghy, there
was an alert around that something weird was going
took a flare gun, and he said, 'We failed, Ralph.
We failed. It's hopeless. The story's over. We're
finished.' And he shot these three flares up into
the air in the harbor, and they came down on other
people's yachts and set fire to things. The harbor
police were well taken care of looking after these
yachts with fires on them. People were screaming and
screeching and running about, and I was in a raging
state by this time. I was gibbering, and Hunter was
saying, 'That's good, Ralph. Keep going, keep going.'
He was writing down what I was saying.
we hitched a lift from a passing small boat to get
to the shore again with what was left of our baggage.
Some of my clothes had been taken, but I had my passport
and my ticket home. That's really what I was clutching.
It's a very strange kind of self-preservation. Hunter
always says he never leaves home without a return
was gibbering and in a hell of a mess. By this time
it was getting light and we found a coffee shop, and
Hunter was making frantic calls to Aspen to make sure
they knew he was on his way back from Boston to register
for the Freak Power vote in Aspen in 1970 which he
damned near won. That was for sheriff. He wanted to
rename Aspen Fat City and break up all the roads with
jack hammers and put down turf. That was his idea.
And any drug worth taking shouldn't be paid for, that
was another idea. It would have been a hell of a reign.
I got on a plane back to New York. I had managed to
keep my shoes, but I had no socks. I was a bit decrepit
by this time. I was palpitating enormously. I couldn't
sit down. At the time, they didn't have such serious
security measures on airplanes, so I stood up the
whole way. I couldn't close my eyes, because when
I did I saw purple pulsating flesh in front of my
eyes. It was a pretty hideous thing. So I had a bad
time with him generally in the early days. In fact,
I had a bad time with him most times. But it's always
been fun for some peculiar reason. It's a perverse
kind of fun."