Today’s Corona virus was more successful at disrupting the Kentucky Derby than Gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson’s 1970 valiant attempt to do the same

The Corona virus appears, when least expected, In this case in my memories of my first “real” job now 50 years ago. “O tempora! O mores!”,as that old windbag Cicero once exclaimed.

Today, I watched as a noted epidemiologist observed that each individual’s reaction to  the pandemic is unique. You ain’t kidding bub. Enter Hunter Thompson and how his legendary infant terrible editor used all the money at his command, which briefly was a lot, to not only disrupt the Kentucky Derby but also to disrupt the next American icon on his hit list, the America’s cut.

Let’s start with Hunter Thompson, whose career exploded after we at Scanlan’s published this story written under the influence of lots of alcohol and illegal drugs.

Santayana did say, “What’s past is prologue.” His words are engraved in marble on the outside of the DC archives building which houses, in a nuclear safe container, the original of The Declaration of Independence.


ikipedia: “Hunter Stockton Thompson (July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005) was an American journalist and author, and the founder of the gonzo journalism movement. He first rose to prominence with the publication of Hell’s Angels (1967), a book for which he spent a year living and riding with the Hells Angels motorcycle gang in order to write a first-hand account of the lives and experiences of its members.”

Not that many years later, Hunter Thompson committed suicide. While Hunter was talking to his wife on the phone, he said goodbye, put a pistol to his head, and shot and killed himself.

“In 1970, he wrote an unconventional magazine feature titled “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” for Scanlan’s Monthly which both raised his profile and established him as a writer with counterculture credibility. It also set him on a path to establishing his own sub-genre of New Journalism which he called “Gonzo,” which was essentially an ongoing experiment in which the writer becomes a central figure and even a participant in the events of the narrative.”

Editor Warren Hinckle, III decided to send Hunter, who had spent a year living with the Hells Angels to see what Hunter might do when reporting on a cherished American institution. Then, Warren called illustrator Ralph Steadman in the middle of the night in London and somehow convinced Ralph to immediately fly to Kentucky to join Hunter.

Enter Ralph Steadmen, May 1970, drawing the largest horse penis I have ever seen

“It’s a mystery why artist Ralph Steadman ever got along with Hunter Thompson,” wrote Thomas Novally for the Louisville Kentucky Currier Journal in May, 2018
“During his first assignment with Thompson in Louisville during the 1970 Kentucky Derby, he would be insulted for his “nerve-rattling” appearance, critiqued for his “horrible drawings,” and even maced with “chemical billy” by the oft-psychotic writer.

“Thompson wasn’t normal, but, thankfully, neither was Steadman. 

“‘Everything was wrong with Hunter,”’ the 81-year-old Welsh artist and England resident told Courier Journal during a video interview. ‘When we first met, he looked at me and said ‘they told me you were weird.’ … I knew I couldn’t take it too seriously at all.”

“After their mint julep and Colt 45 malt liquor induced Kentucky Derby hangover finally subsided, Hunter’s infamous essay “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” was published in Scanlan’s Monthly, the only true recollection of the duo’s drunken encounter during the 96th Run for the Roses.  

But it was from that cesspool of decadence and depravity at Churchill Downs that the genre of Gonzo journalism was born and the fastest two minutes in sports started a friendship that lasted a lifetime.”

[ Joel’s note. Temporarily, I am too pooped to pop.Too old to roll. This memory wave requires me to pause as I observe that, to paraphrase wildly President Trump, the microscopic virus has altered—trashed—our county’s established traditions in a way mere mortals, e.g.dissolute Hunter Thompson, try as he did, could not. ]


Wikipedia redux: “Steadman had a long partnership with the American journalist Hunter S. Thompson, drawing pictures for several of his articles and books.[5][6] He accompanied Thompson to the Kentucky Derby for an article for the magazine Scanlan’s, to the Honolulu Marathon for the magazine Running, and illustrated both Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.”

I am back with this 1970 tale of excess and destruction now vastly surpassed by our deadly and powerful pandemic which makes postponing the Kentucky Derby child’s play.

Warren Hinckle III in a San Francisco bar 36 years after he hired me. Photo courtesy Wikipedia
 Warren Hinckle III in a San Francisco bar 36 years after he hired me. Photo courtesy Wikipedia