When you meet Richard Corey of C&H Taxi in Charleston, West Virginia,
you could certainly ask him to tell you plenty of stories about working in
Or, you could ask him about his nearly 12-year career as a
Yes, a bullfighter. A well-known, internationally acclaimed, and beloved
Some forty years ago, Corey was a young man in his twenties, living in
Hollywood, California. One weekend, he traveled south to Tijuana to watch a
bullfight featuring an American matador.
The fight intrigued him. Though it wasn’t a part of America’s
mainstream culture, Corey saw something profound in the act of bullfighting,
almost on a religious level. A man against a 1,200-pound animal, both with the
ability to inflict mortal wounds. It was a battle for life itself, in its
rawest, even primordial terms.
After seeing that first fight, Corey’s mind was made up. He would
train to become a bullfighter.
Bullfighting, in some form, has existed for thousands of years. It can
be traced through the Mediterranean, to ancient Greece and Rome. Eventually, it
spread throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia before colonists took the practice
to the American colonies. Bullfighting, in cultures where it is practiced
regularly, is seen more as an art form, as opposed to a sport.
“I was born 200 years too late,” Corey said.
For Corey, it’s the ultimate art form and craft. During a bullfight,
the bullfighter, or matador, waves a cape to prod the bull to charge. As the
bull makes its passes, the matador is working to dominate the bull, eventually
killing it. The performance requires an immense amount of skill and courage. Corey
felt a deep respect and appreciation for the lethal dance itself, in the way a
talented matador could roll a bull through elegant passes. The competition is
not to kill the bull (it will be killed regardless of a matador’s performance)
but to skillfully interact with the animal and to do so more artfully than the
Though Corey impressed officials organizing bullfights throughout
Mexico, the nationalistic nature of the business kept him from earning
additional opportunities to get into the ring. Becoming impatient, Corey
decided to take his fate into his own hands. So, one day, while attending a
bullfight at a Mexico City arena, Corey jumped over the barricade and into the ring.
Using a muleta, the traditional matador’s red cape, which he had smuggled in,
he made a few passes with the bull before police removed him.
He stole the show to thunderous applause.
It was well established that a move like that warranted a seriously
rough manhandling by local police, but not if you’re Richard Corey. The crowd
enjoyed Corey’s gutsy showmanship so much, they encircled him and demanded he
be left alone.
Months later, Corey received a tip from a friend about a testing ranch
in central Mexico that bullfight organizers frequented. Corey, eager for an
opportunity to get into the ring, took a bus to a town near the ranch and
walked through the night to reach the ranch.
Upon his arrival, he was confronted by the director, who was angry
that Corey, a “gringo” with no ties to the ranch, had shown up uninvited. In
order to embarrass him, the rancher told Corey to take a pass with a volatile
testing cow no one had managed to master.
Corey made 60 passes with the animal. A promoter from Monterrey saw his
performance and was beyond impressed. He offered Corey a fight two weeks later
in Monterrey against two other fighters, one of which went on to become one of
Mexico’s top matadors.
In 1968, his career picked up steam, and he won a contract to perform
in Monterrey, a key arena in Mexican bullfighting. Awards and impressive
bullfights followed, and so did his first gorings. Still, Corey was known for
his bravery. In one fight, after taking a bull horn to the right side of his
groin, Corey refused to leave the ring until he killed his bull.
The moment is immortalized in two photos in the bullfighting history
book, “Yankees in the Afternoon,” by Lyn Sherwood, who devotes an entire
chapter to Corey. In one, Corey is flung six-feet into the air with a horn
visibly impaled through his right leg. In another, he stands grimacing in pain,
a gash in his leg, but holding his sword and looking out across the ring
moments after the goring.
His courage and drive becoming the stuff of legend, Corey later moved
to Sevilla, Spain, on a bullfighting contract where his showmanship thrilled Spanish
fans. Stadiums filled with tens of thousands at a time to see him perform. During
his 12-year career, he was gored six times and tossed by bulls hundreds of
times more. He once broke his neck after being tossed 15 feet into the air by a
bull. His clear commitment to the art form and its theatrics endeared him to
crowds, more so than any other “Yankee” that had come before him.
It was passion that drove his bullfighting career, and when that
started to fade, Corey decided to step away. His reflexes were slowing, and
more importantly, he had lost the “eye of the tiger.”
It wasn’t without reluctance from the bullfighting scene, though. Two
years after his retirement, Corey visited Mexico City, and organizers offered
him a 40-fight contract to come out of retirement. He turned it down.
“I often think about going back and making a reappearance, a farewell
tour, but it just wasn’t in the cards,” Corey said.
After his bullfighting retirement, Corey returned to West Virginia, where
he bought a small cab company after his brother couldn’t get a ride to the
airport. In the early days, he ran the dispatch service out of the phone booth at
a local bar. Today, the cab company, now known as C&H Taxi, is the longest-running
cab company in Charleston, West Virginia. Corey’s son, Jeb, now runs the daily
operation of the cab company, and is also a well-known TLPA member in his own
right and a member of the TLPA board.
Today, Corey lives a quiet life in Florida with his wife. The roar of
the crowd and the thundering of hoofs on sand are distant sounds. But the
bullfighter will always live on in Corey, a man who rose from spectator to beloved
It is an experience that is hard to define, and even harder to explain
to those who choose to see it merely as the death of an animal. As Corey points
out, Americans slaughter animals every day by the millions and think nothing of
it, and with far less honor and deference.
But bullfighting is life itself, he says, enacted on a stage for all
to see, where death is inches away with every pass, where failure can summit to
success in the blink of an eye, where there’s a sense of collective euphoria
sometimes resulting in tears. Still, history will offer the final judgement on
Corey’s bullfighting skills.
Today, there are fewer bullfights. Still, what Ernest
Hemingway once wrote remains true: “Nobody
ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters.”