Next spring Hunter S. Thompson’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky will unveil a public mural banner on a downtown building honoring him as one of their Hometown Heroes, nine years after his death. The banner will feature a portrait of HST by his friend and collaborator, Ralph Steadman, the British artist whose drawings appropriately illustrated Thompson’s work: wild, flowing, surreal, sometimes elegant, other times grotesque, and wildly funny.
Why has it taken so long? The Greater Louisville Pride Foundation’s president admitted that Thompson had “some issues with his life that didn’t really qualify for the banners.” Even so, fans, family, and friends, including Louisville poet Ron Whitehead, have been lobbying for some kind of major memorial for eight years.
Louisville’s list of native heroes is thick with athletes and seriously short on people from the arts. Come on, Louisville, don’t be like those po-dunk small towns who can only be bothered to honor natives who went on to professional sports or marriage to William Shatner.
Here is a list of all the people, institutions, and entities already declared heroes: boxing legend Muhammad Ali, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, jockey Pat Day, broadcaster Bob Edwards, NBA star Darrell Griffith, sculptor Ed Hamilton, Louisville Slugger inventor Bud Hillerich, Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung, musician Patrick Henry Hughes, The Kentucky Derby, surgeons Dr. Harold E. Kleinert and Joseph E. Kutz, New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan, whiskey distiller George Garvin Brown, University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Denny Crum, explorer Tori Murden McClure, Olympic swimmer Mary T. Meagher, Hall of Fame baseball player “Pee Wee” Reese, KFC founder Colonel Harland Sanders (I am not kidding), TV journalist Diane Sawyer, New York Giants quarterback and sports commentator Phil Simms, and welterweight boxer Rudell Stitch. It would be nice to see a banner for The Gits’ Mia Zapata someday too.
Steadman wrote to Roger Riddell of Louisville Magazine in 2012:
Who in all of Louisville is blameless that they should throw the first stone? Is there such a person in all the world who can claim such an awesome distinction? C’mon, good folks! Own up and celebrate the life of a man who wasn’t afraid to call a spade a spade… I believe that the citizens of Louisville should feel real proud to call ‘HST,’ one of their favorite sons, a true Kentucky pioneer!
Ron Whitehead produced The Hunter S. Thompson Tribute in Louisville in December 1996, where Mayor Harvey Sloane presented Thompson with the key to the city, and Governor Paul E. Patton bestowed the title of Kentucky Colonel on Thompson, as well as his pals Whitehead, Johnny Depp, and Warren Zevon. The Hometown Hero banner proves that all the upstanding people who held a grudge against him for writing “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” are probably long gone. Res ipsa loquitur.
Below, Hunter S. Thompson is confronted by an angry Hells Angel on Canadian television in the late 1960s:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Double Gonzo: Hunter S. Thompson Interviews Keith Richards