The day after Hunter S. Thompson shot himself, Kentucky poet Ron Whitehead released a list of 14 things Louisville could do to honor its gone-too-son native son, including renaming a park, a road, and a library, creating a holiday in his honor, and changing the name of Louisville to "Gonzoville."
Eight years later, Cherokee Park is still Cherokee Park and Louisville is still Louisville. But one of Whitehead's suggestions—"place giant Hunter banner (Ralph Steadman art) on downtown highrise, visible from Interstate 64, near new Muhammad Ali museum, same as Muhammad Ali & Pee Wee Reese banners"—looks like it's actually going to happen.
"I've been working on this for years," says Whitehead, who met with the Louisville Downtown Development Corporation last Friday to hammer out the specifics. While Whitehead won't say just yet exactly where the banner will hang, the date of its unveiling has been set: April 5, 2014, at 2 p.m., followed by a "kickass through the roof evening concert."
Downtown Louisville currently has a few banners as part of its "Hometown Heroes" campaign. Muhammad Ali, Colonel Sanders, Louis Brandeis, Diane Sawyer, and more than half a dozen others smile down on Louisville denizens.
But Thompson's banner will not look like the others. "The other banners in town are photos," Whitehead wrote in an email. "I wanted this to be different so I asked Ralph Steadman for images. He sent me 20. we selected a Steadman portrait of Hunter that will work for general audience."
While that image is currently top secret, it's sure to be weird. Steadman draws the way Thompson wrote. Their first outing together resulted in 1970's "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved," an article so wild it inspired the Boston Globe's Bill Cardoso to coin the term "gonzo" to describe Hunter's method of reporting and writing. In that essay, Thompson described the horror of being portrayed by Steadman:
Another problem was his habit of sketching people he met in the various social situations I dragged him into--then giving them the sketches. The results were always unfortunate. I warned him several times about letting the subjects see his foul renderings, but for some perverse reason he kept doing it. Consequently, he was regarded with fear and loathing by nearly everyone who'd seen or even heard about his work. He couldn't understand it. "It's sort of a joke," he kept saying. "Why, in England it's quite normal. People don't take offense. They understand that I'm just putting them on a bit.""Fuck England," I said. "This is Middle America. These people regard what you're doing to them as a brutal, bilious insult.
The derby story closes with Thompson macing Steadman in the face, then kicking him out of his car at the airport. Looks like he'll get the last laugh by determining how future generations of Louisville residents see Thompson. Whitehead says he'll continue to post details about the banner project on his Facebook page.
Top image: Hunter Thompson in 1997. REUTERS/Christian Thompson