Steadman’s drawing of Hunter S. Thompson’s car beset by huge bats illustrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in 1971.
“One day in 1970 Ralph Steadman was out on a boat, covering the America’s Cup yacht race and feeling seasick. The illustrator’s companion on the waters off Rhode Island was the journalist Hunter S Thompson. ‘Hunter was popping pills the whole time, and he was perfectly all right. I’d never had anything before. I said, ‘What are those things you keep eating?’ He said, ‘Well, they’re pills, Ralph.’ ‘What sort of pills?’ ‘Well, they’re psilocybin.’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘It just helps me through the day.’ ‘Would it be any good for seasickness?’ I said. …” Thompson, whom Steadman had met a few months earlier, at the Kentucky Derby, presented him with two cans of spray paint, one black and one red. They came up with an idea to graffiti one of the impossibly expensive yachts in the race. Now high on psilocybin, Steadman and Thompson debated what to write on its side. … In any case, Steadman says, the rattle of the spray can alerted a guard, who stopped them. Thompson panicked and shot off a flare – which then set another boat on fire. ‘He was quite easy to be around,’ Steadman says of the original gonzo journalist. Thompson’s first piece of gonzo journalism came out of that horseracing trip to Louisville: the landmark article ‘The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved’. … Steadman trails off. They also covered Muhammad Ali’s boxing match against George Foreman in Zaire in 1974, although their Rumble in the Jungle piece was never published. (In one account of their time there Thompson gave away their tickets to the fight; in another the tickets disintegrated in his pocket after he jumped into a swimming pool into which he had emptied a large bag of marijuana.) Steadman’s drawings, which created a visual style to accompany Thompson’s words, were made famous by his assignments with the writer, and spawned countless copycats. Steadman’s work for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson’s best-known work – and, in fact, an assignment he didn’t accompany Thompson on – became iconic. Steadman’s illustrations continue to permeate popular culture. … Steadman has a knack of balancing brutality with humour. There is as much clarity in his work as there is chaos, but it is all distinctively his. He created an aesthetic. …”
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