Flamboyant boxing promoter Don King, a cigar in one hand, grandly waved the other in predicting a fight he hoped to bring to Honolulu would be, “the greatest ever seen here.”
A voice from the back of the hotel press conference said, “I’ll take that bet.”
The challenge came from Star-Bulletin sportswriter Jim “Pancho” Easterwood, a character as colorful as the people he wrote about here over three decades in a style all his own.
Easterwood, , died Sunday in Nashville, Tenn., where he had been hospitalized with a heart condition, his son, Kimo, said.
In his trademark black attire with dark glasses and a beard, Easterwood cut a Johnny Cash-like persona that made him a recognizable figure in stadiums and arenas around the state.
“It seemed like everywhere we’d go with him when we were young somebody knew him,” Kimo said.
He covered boxing, high school and college sports and rated Chaminade’s 1982 upset of then-No. 1 Virginia as his favorite ahead of Muhammad Ali’s airport press conference here on the way back from the “Thrilla in Manila” and the controversial Saint Louis-Farrington football game of 1967.
“Pancho was one of a kind and if we were having a beer together I would say thank goodness for that,” said former Star-Bulletin writer Dave Koga. “He was quite a character, an old-time reporter who loved his work, enjoyed his drinks, was a mentor and a loyal friend and someone who was always willing to have a laugh at his own expense.”
Koga said, “He had a distinct persona — a little disheveled, a little gruff and gravelly — and he was a fearless reporter who never backed off a story that he knew needed to be told. But he was also warm and big-hearted and a devoted father to his sons. A good reporter. A better human being.”
Former Star-Bulletin sports editor Paul Carvalho said, “If central casting was looking for someone to portray a sportswriter from the ’70s, Jim Easterwood would have been the man. After covering an event, he’d sit down at his old typewriter, light up a cigar and pound out his article with amazing speed. Only thing was, you’d have dust off the cigar ashes before sending his copy to the typesetter.”
Carvalho recalls, “He was one of a kind in many ways, not the least in that he didn’t shy away from mentioning the darker side of sports in his reporting. The “Chinatown Line” — betting on high school football games — and the dubious nature of the fight game were favorite targets of his. Which led to his ruining a perfectly good hat. When writing about an upcoming boxing match, he predicted an easy victory for a fighter, “Or I’ll eat my sombrero.” The fighter lost, and the next day there was a photo in the paper of Pancho and his sombrero, with a bite taken out of it.
Easterwood graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in Texas and worked at newspapers in Texas and Richmond, Va., before joining the Star-Bulletin in 1966.
He worked part-time for newspapers in retirement in Kentucky in the late 1980s and ’90s.
He is survived by his wife, Darlene, and sons Kurt and Kimo.
Funeral arrangements are pending.