Everyone loves a drink or two, or five, or the pleasurable company of another person, but what of those who get really addicted? It is often claimed that those who indulge in the stuff, contribute nothing to society. With heavy boozing and constant hangovers, it is something that should be seen as an embarrassment rather than an accolade. But, with recent claims insisting that a variety of addictions actually make you better at your job, it is no surprise to see so many famous faces throughout history often suffering for their art. That’s right, with drugs sometimes used to enhance creativity, and alcohol wielded as a way for many to escape, many artists and writers alike have found this behavior more beneficial. Seen as something of a help rather than a hindrance, alcohol especially has often been associated with an innovative and inventive mind, helping to get those creative juices flowing by relaxing one’s personal state. Even coming in with a few health benefits to back up the claim, red wine for example can prevent heart disease, the idea of getting completely and utterly smashed can be extremely tempting to many.
Churning out a number of famous drunks throughout history, life has seen a long list of famous alcoholics. Those who make drinking look easy, famed for being able to drink anybody under the table. So, to celebrate and frown upon, here are the top 15 famous drunks throughout history.
15. Ernest Hemingway
Well known boozehound and all around Mr. Nice Guy, Ernest Hemingway was one of the most inspirational writers to have ever come out of the USA. Author of classics such as For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway was as famous for his boozing as he was for his writing. However, when questioned on his obvious drinking problem, Hemingway would often vehemently deny it, once quoted as saying, “Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one”.
A keen traveler, Hemingway moved to Cuba, when his love for the glamorous cocktail grew. Known for fondly enjoying a double daiquiri or two, Hemingway also indulged in a number of martinis and, a Cuban favorite, mojitos. Before his sad and untimely death in 1961, it was even said that the now famous ‘Bloody Mary’, was invented by Hemingway himself, or at least attributed to him.
14. Vincent van Gogh
Another fan of the anise flavored beverage known as absinthe, Vincent Van Gogh was said to have drunk the potent liquor on a regular basis. Rumored to cause hallucinations and delirium, the ‘green fairy’ was a common drink among artists of the time, with Van Gogh being no exception. Aside from being a famed alcoholic, it is said that the artist likely suffered from severe mental illness (theories vary from depression to schizophrenia to bipolar disorder). With his diet known to comprise mostly, if not only, coffee, cigarettes and booze, Van Gogh also suffered from lead poisoning and a number of other health issues, making life extremely difficult for the struggling artist. Succumbing to a gun shot wound at only 37, there has been a continuous debate over whether it was suicide or just a fatal accident. Whatever the case, Van Gogh will go down in history as one of the maddest, yet most talented artists this world has ever seen.
13. Stephen King
One of the most prolific authors of the modern era, Stephen King has sold more than 350 million copies of his works worldwide. However, with life often imitating art, many of King’s characters are written as having problems with alcohol, with the most obvious being that of Jack Torrance in The Shining. Thankfully not as severe, King didn’t try and murder his whole family, he did however admit that he had a problem. With both of his most successful books written while under the influence, King feared that he wouldn’t be able to write a decent book while sober. He smoked up to two packs of cigarettes per day, was constantly drinking, and eventually began taking cocaine, calling it his ‘on’ switch.
He claims to have hit rock bottom when he was asked to leave his son’s little league game due to his drinking beer from a brown paper bag. This is when King’s wife staged an intervention beginning with her dumping a trash bag full of beer cans, cigarette butts, cocaine baggies, various pills, and even bottles of mouthwash on to his desk. After a hard battle, King recovered, continuing to write some of the best novels of the 21st century.
12. Lord Byron
Hailed as one of the best poets this world has ever seen, George Gordon Byron was a man of many talents. As one of the leading figures of the Romantic Movement in the 17th and 18th century, Lord Byron, as he was more commonly known, was widely celebrated among his peers. Described as one of the most flamboyant and entertaining men of the time, Byron had a number of sexual affairs, with both men and women.
He was also quite the drinker; Byron enjoyed a drink or two, especially if it involved drinking from his famous drinking cup, which was creepily made from the skull of a human head. Untroubled by his drinking, Byron was often heard cementing his own lifestyle with a number of quotes, with “Man, being reasonable, must get drunk; the best of life is but intoxication”, his most famous. Confessing to writing a number of poems while under the influence of gin and other distilled spirits, Byron wasn’t in the least bit bothered, continuing to live life the way he wanted right up until his bitter end.
11. The Queen Mother
Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, mother to the current Queen of England, Elizabeth II, was also the wife of the late King George VI, recently portrayed as the stammering Royal in The King’s Speech. Loved by the British public, the Queen Mother became somewhat of a national icon, leading her family through a number of high-profile appearances.
However, with her position obviously taking a toll on her, it was said that the Queen Mother would often get through at least 8 units of alcohol per day, varying from wine to vodka to a good old-fashioned pint of lager. Seen as the most ‘normal’ of the Royal family, she often displayed a number of ‘human’ attributes, a far cry from the majority of people that surrounded her. Starting the day with a cocktail, it was said she would then often indulge in a little red wine at lunch, followed by some port and some pink champagne. You name it, and she’d drink it, with the Queen Mother likely to continue on until the early hours. However, obviously not affecting her health, the Queen Mother defied all odds and lived until the age of 101, forever missed and adored by the British public.
Emperor of the Roman Empire from 54AD to 68AD, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was a force to be reckoned with, going down in history as one of the craziest, yet most feared Roman Emperors. With alcoholic emperors a common theme within this period, the Roman people were used to seeing drunks holding the throne. Known for getting wasted on a regular basis, taking to the streets and beating the homeless, Nero wasn’t the nicest guy to be around.
Obviously unable to handle his liquor, Nero was the ultimate ‘bad drunk’, believing that the drunker he got the more fabulous he would become. Famed for his drunken orgies, Nero got worse as time went on with a number of unspeakable acts drawn to his name. Growing more paranoid and violent, Nero drunkenly ordered around 5,000 Christians to be burned to death, blaming them for the great fire of Rome, which had originally been blamed on him. Committing suicide to avoid being condemned himself, Nero was clearly a man who couldn’t control his drinking habit.
9. Amy Winehouse
Loved all over the world, Amy Winehouse was one of the best new talents of the 21st century, displaying a voice so rare, that it is unlikely we will ever see anything quite like it again. Unique in her talent as well as in her appearance, Winehouse became somewhat of a national treasure among her fellow Brits.
Addicted to drugs and alcohol at an early age, Winehouse was often pictured looking gaunt, underweight, and severely ill. After quitting drugs, Winehouse seemingly struggled with letting go of her drinking habits, with her bodyguard claiming that she was intoxicated on a number of occasions that led up to her death. Succumbing to alcohol poisoning at only 27 years old, Winehouse was said to have been over 5 times the legal limit. Spawning a number of tributes from celebrities around the world, Winehouse’s death shocked many, saddened that such a gifted musician had again died at such a young age. Starting The Amy Winehouse Foundation to prevent young people from getting involved in drugs and alcohol, both Winehouse’s parents are active figures among the community.
8. Billie Holiday
Known for having one of the best voices in the biz, Billie Holiday (real name Eleanora Fagan), was a singer-songwriter during the Jazz era in the USA. Reaching commercial fame, Holiday was extremely successful. However, with drink and drugs taking their toll by the late 1940s, Holiday’s career took a tumble. Suffering from an unhappy childhood, which included an attempted rape and prostitution, Holiday often used drugs and alcohol to numb the memories, pouring out her troubles in her music.
Due to the excessive amount of alcohol, and eventual heroin use, her voice was weakening and Holiday began to get sick. Often pictured with a drink in her hand, Holiday’s addiction finally caught up with her when she died from cirrhosis of the liver in 1959. Amy Winehouse often cited Holiday as an inspiration, and sadly, the two stars shared a talent as well as an addiction, both leaving behind legacies 50 years apart.
7. Boris Yeltsin
Legendary Russian politician and full-blown alcoholic Boris Yeltsin, served as the Russian President during the majority of the 90s. Popular at first, Yeltsin was actually liked throughout most of the world, with even the USA having a small admiration for the man. Famed for public appearances that appeared to show him completely wasted. Recently recalling his love for the late President, Bill Clinton claimed that Yeltsin was once so drunk while visiting the White House, that he had found him trying to hail a cab in his underwear. From playing the drums on Kyrgyzstan’s president’s head to comparing tennis legend Björn Borg‘s face to a meatball, Yeltsin has gone down in history as the most likeable Russian president in history. However, with his antics seemingly getting the better of him, Russia swiftly fell out of love with him, and forced him to resign in 1999. Passing away due to heart disease in 2011, Yeltsin will most definitely be remembered, albeit for the wrong reasons.
6. Alexander The Great
Famed for creating one of the largest empires of the ancient world before he was 30, Alexander the Great is still considered to be the most successful military commander of all time. From Greece to as far as India, Alexander was a man on a mission, determined to conquer the world and beyond— no wonder he turned to drink. With legendary tales surrounding his love for alcohol, it is often claimed that Alexander would get so drunk that he would regularly kill his friends during drunken play fights, once stabbing his best friend with a spear. How charming.
As time went on, Alexander became so obsessed with power that he was often subject to extreme bouts of paranoia, killing those that he wrongfully believed had crossed him. Renowned for his many drinking events, Alexander would often force a number of slaves into a battle of who could drink the most, and as many cultures weren’t used to drinking so much wine, many of them died, leaving ol’ Alexander to carry on drinking by himself. With alcohol attributed to his death, Alexander died at 32 years old, having gone down in history as… well, the greatest drunk man that ever lived.
5. Mel Gibson
No surprise here! Famed for his drunken antics, numerous DUIs, and offensive remarks, Mel Gibson‘s career is seemingly intact with new movie Hacksaw Ridge out later this year. With a long history of alcohol abuse, Gibson got his name in the papers for the wrong reasons on multiple occasions. Starting to drink at just 13 years old, Gibson recently came out as suffering from manic depressive episodes, attributing his addiction as the root of his personal issues. Banned from driving in 1984, Gibson tried to kick the habit a number of times, even attending AA meetings and counselling sessions.
Falling off the wagon a few years later, Gibson was arrested again for driving under the influence, leading to a racial attack on the officer who had arrested him. Issuing an apology soon after, Gibson was ordered back to rehab, however it wasn’t long before he was back on the front pages again for using the ‘n’ word during a telephone call to his ex-girlfriend. From being accused of homophobia by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to calling a female cop ‘sugar tits’, it’s hard to find a minority group that Gibson hasn’t yet offended. Despite this, Gibson still has numerous friends in the biz, with Jodie Foster and Robert Downey Jr. claiming that poor old Mel is just misunderstood. Is he?
4. Edgar Allan Poe
Probably the creepiest man in history, Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer, best known for his dark writing style. With a severe drinking habit, it is said that Poe was also partial to a little opium use, often incorporating the famous hypnotic in a number of his stories. However, it was alcohol that was his real vice, and was attributed to his eventual death at 40 years old.
Turning to the bottle due to the stress and pain of his wife’s illness, Poe was famously prone to a number of alcohol binges. Insisting that he didn’t have a problem, Poe was adamant that his addiction was manageable, turning a blind eye to it on many occasions. However, under suspicious circumstances, Poe died of alcohol poisoning, with his death surrounded with as much mystery as the majority of his novels.
3. Jack Kerouac
Known was the coolest Beat poet around, Jack Kerouac was an American novelist heavily involved in the beatnik movement of the 1960s. Considered to be one of the greats, Kerouac is famed for novels such as On the Road and The Dharma Bums. Known to enjoy a margarita or two, Kerouac also had an extensive drug problem, often writing about his epic drug binges and drunken escapades.
Drinking more and more as time continued, Kerouac often appeared intoxicated, most famously as a guest on the television show Firing Line in 1968. Acknowledging his problem, Kerouac was once quoted saying, “I’m Catholic and I can’t commit suicide, but I plan to drink myself to death”. As his body became unable to take anymore, Kerouac died after his stomach exploded due to a number of burst blood vessels. Attributed to the amount of alcohol he had drank throughout his life, Kerouac had successfully drank himself to death, just like he said he would, at only 47 years old.
2. Dean Martin
Rarely seen without a cigarette in his mouth, a drink in one hand, and a woman on the other, Dean Martin had a certain reputation to uphold. Famed for his friendships with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., the Rat Pack, as they came to be known, were often lauded as heavy drinkers and serial daters. Known as the joker of the pack, Martin would often refer to his alcoholism, once claiming, “I drink because my body craves, needs alcohol”. However, a number of people claimed that Martin was in fact sober, with his drink often topped up with apple juice just to keep up his image, the debate has often been the center of many discussions. Nevertheless, alcoholic or not, Martin indeed played the part. Whether he be blind drunk or just living up to the act, Martin’s image as the smooth-talking, whisky-drinking crooner will forever live on. Living until the grand old age of 78, the booze obviously had no effect, as he succumbed to lung cancer instead in 1995.
1. Betty Ford
First lady of the United States from 1974 to 1977, Betty Ford was the wife of then President Gerald Ford. Garnering a likeable reputation throughout her time at the White House, Ford was often praised by a number of people, receiving a number of positive comments. Famed for her support of the women’s movement during the mid 70s, Ford helped campaign for a number of notable issues, including Pro-choice, feminism and equal pay.
However, as well as raising awareness with regards to women’s rights, Ford also acknowledged her own addictions, becoming one of the first political figures to address the effects of alcoholism and her own problems with substance abuse. Beating her addiction to alcohol and a number of prescription pills, Ford established the Betty Ford Clinic, in order to help others with the same issues. Dying of natural causes in 2011, Ford will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most influential first ladies the United States has ever seen.
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