Chances are, you have been drunk before. You might even have a few entertaining stories about the time you got wasted and did something crazy, like rode a bicycle through a bar or danced with a dog or ate a policeman, and that earned you some small measure of notoriety. And so you feel mildly famous for your drunken dog-bicycle-cannibal antics.
But what if you got blackout smashed and in the morning it turned out you had redefined American literature forever, or conquered the Mediterranean? In that case, you might find yourself on this list of famous drinkers, and you also should probably call in sick because you are likely to have a crazy bad hangover.
ANDRE THE GIANT
Like many young men from rural France, Andre Rene Roussimoff set off to Paris at the age of 18 in search of a life of excitement and wonder. Unlike most people who go to Paris to reinvent themselves, however, Andre wasn’t looking to be the next great poet, philosopher, filmmaker, or cook — he was looking for a place where he could get paid for being huge.
Andre, who was afflicted with gigantism, which made him too big to fit in the school bus by the age of twelve, decided that wrestling was the best place for a man who would eventually grow to 7’5” and 600 pounds. After sweeping the European pro wrestling circuit, he made his American debut in 1973 as Andre The Giant, an immovable, unthrowable monster-man and an immediate crowd favorite.
His gigantism served him in another purpose as well, as his enormous size allowed him to drink unbelievable amounts — on one occasion, he was recorded to have drank 119 cans of beer over the course of six hours, or roughly one beer every three minutes, and when asked how much he had to drink before getting drunk he responded, “It usually takes two liters of vodka just to make me feel warm inside.” Don’t try that at home, kids!
Heeey, pally! While everyone in the Rat Pack was a serious boozer, Dean Martin was the man most likely to show up on stage with a glass of something strong in his hand and a joke on his lips. Born Dino Crocetti of Steubenville, Ohio, Martin was just another better-than-average East Coast crooner until he befriended manic Jewish comedian Jerry Lewis — the beginning of a legendary musical comedy team that brought the two of them to Hollywood to film a series of decent but formulaic movies.
Spending most of your time with Jerry Lewis would drive anyone to drink, but while Martin perfected a public image of a man who was always half-sloshed (his custom license plate read DRUNKY), close friends recall that he had incredible control over his drinking and rarely got as hammered as he seemed to be on stage.
Dino balanced his public performance as a hard-drinking ladies' man with a remarkable dedication to his family, usually preferring to spend his evenings at home rather than making the rounds with Sinatra and the rest. Rumors that his famous tumbler carried only apple juice or water, however, are flat wrong — Phyllis Diller once said that while Martin was never drunk on stage, he was never really sober, either.
One of the 20th century’s most influential authors, Hemingway credited his success to a simple formula: “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Ernest (or “Papa” as he was known to his friends and barmates) is believed to have spent the majority of his waking hours with at least a mild buzz on, and is credited with the invention or popularization of several cocktails, such as the absinthe-and-champagne concoction “Death in the Afternoon” (named after his bullfighting novel) or the “Papa Doble” daiquiri (a double daiquiri with Maraschino instead of sugar).
As the foremost chronicler of manly man activities, Hemingway preferred liquor neat or on the rocks and/or dry, sour cocktails; the Havana-area bar La Bodeguita del Medio claims he had a fondness for their mojitos but it’s not easy to imagine him sitting down to work on a draft of "The Old Man and the Sea" while pounding down a froo-froo, minty sugar drink.
EDGAR ALLAN POE
Most people don’t think of celebrated author and spooky weirdo Edgar Allan Poe as a hardcore party dude, but the little guy put booze away by the boatload. He repeatedly attempted to join the army but kept showing up at the recruitment office drunk; when he finally sobered up enough to get into West Point, he was eventually booted out for being too hungover to go to class (although some believe this was a deliberate move on his part to be court-martialed out of the army).
His preferred poison was absinthe, a liqueur mixed with a mildly hallucinogenic herb that led to brain damage over time, making it the drink of choice for the self-destructive and also possibly explaining why Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin. Poe’s death at forty was unexplained at the time, but was chalked up to “brain congestion,” a typical euphemism for “getting fatally smashed.”
Iconic statesman and unstoppable killing machine Winston Churchill spent his entire professional life in the service of the British Empire, including serving as minister for all three branches of the military. At the time of the Battle of Britain, Churchill was facing the largest and most sophisticated military the world had ever seen, with an army, navy, and air force that were already battered and demoralized from the loss of Europe ... so if anyone could be forgiven for needing a few stiff drinks it was him.
In fact, Churchill was rarely far from some variety of booze: His workday began early with a glass of whiskey soda and a lap full of paperwork as he geared up for the day’s heavy diplomatic and strategic lifting. After getting dressed and accomplishing whatever he couldn’t do from bed, he usually met with his family for a three-course lunch, typically accompanied with champagne and brandy. Returning to his offices for more heavy-duty prime-ministering, he would knock back a few tumblers of brandy before dinner, which was accompanied by more wine, scotch and gin, then closing out the night with another whiskey soda.
In between all these drinks, he emboldened and united the British people, managed the emergent alliance between the U.K., U.S., and Russia, supervised the day-to-day affairs of a society and military that spanned the entire world, and enjoyed a cigar or two. In short, Churchill was perhaps the most superhumanly functional alcoholic of the 20th century, an attitude he reflected in the quote, “Always remember that I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me.”
ULYSSES S. GRANT
One of the Union’s most effective generals and one of America’s least effective presidents, Ulysses Simpson Grant was rumored to get through a bottle of whiskey a night when there wasn’t anything important going on. At a time when men typically drank hard liquor at the rate of over six gallons a year, Grant’s casual drinking was so noteworthy that it was felt necessary to bring it to Lincoln’s attention.
The president’s response? “I wish some of you would tell me what brand of whiskey Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.” As a two-term president (who campaigned unsuccessfully for a third), Grant was popular but scandal-prone, and while he fought hard for African-American rights and American foreign policy, his economic policies and ridiculously corrupt associates stained the image of the early Republican party and he is generally recommended as a mediocre leader.
Although not as famous or heavy a drinker than certain other presidents on this list, Johnson’s drunkenness is notable for two particular incidents. The first was his second inauguration as vice president, which he had been mentally preparing himself for by a marathon drinking session that started the night before and was only winding down by lunch, resulting in an unusually entertaining acceptance speech more than twice as long as expected, capped by the immortal line, “I kiss this book in the face of my nation, the United States” and a drunken smooch of the ceremonial bible. Lincoln excused his veep’s behavior, saying “It has been a severe lesson for Andy, but I do not think he will do it again.”
Abe turned out to be wrong about that, but at the time he wasn’t too concerned as he was comatose and hours away from death. After Johnson was turned away from the President’s deathbed by an irate Mrs. Lincoln, he left the White House and was presumed to have gone back to his home in Kirkwood.
He was later found at his house, unconscious, still wearing his clothes from the day before, and with mud caked into his hair and clothing. A hurried cleanup and anti-hangover regimen ensured he was mostly conscious at his inauguration as president, but his brief speech was significantly less fun to listen to than his earlier performance.
Popularly considered to be the world’s worst sufferer of short man’s syndrome, the Corsican artilleryman was actually of roughly average size — the myth that he was a teeny-tiny, little-bitty man comes from a mistranslation of French measurements. His appetite for booze, on the other hand, was pretty robust: Upon his exile to Elba, the limited list of personal possessions he was allowed included some 200 bottles of delicious Courvoisier and an unknown (but apparently even larger) amount of wine.
Napoleon was quite fond of the bubbly; one of his famous bon mots (pardon my French) was, “In victory, you deserve champagne; in defeat, you need it.” Given that Napoleon’s career was marked by near-constant combat, he had reason to put away a lot of fine French fizzy wine.
CHARLES EDWARD STUART
The last of the Jacobite pretenders to the British throne, Prince Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart (or more popularly “Bonnie Prince Charlie”) had one of those problems that only princes have: Through an incredibly complicated and somewhat boring series of marriages and genealogical research, the German Hanover bloodline had kicked out his unpopular grandpa King James II and (adding insult to injury) was ceding more and more power to the sorts of merchants and intellectuals that had been such a pain in the ass for the earlier Stuart monarchs.
France had been happy to provide asylum to the Stuarts, based on longstanding French policy to always do whatever would piss off the British the most, but three generations of pretend kings lounging around, giving syphilis to all the best courtesans was getting old, so Charlie was politely asked to please attempt to invade England. He did this with gusto but no real success in 1745, a failure that ended the Jacobite cause and established him as a sort of romantic failure — which is sort of a drag to be, no matter how many fine French ho’s you subsequently attract, and his drinking (which had always been on the excessive side) reached legendary levels.
Other than a bunch of folk songs and paintings, Prince Charles’ major contribution to history ended up being his gift of his family’s secret liqueur recipe to one of his Scottish supporters — which wound up being mass-produced and sold as Drambuie.
Next: This is Why You Don't Pass Out First
ALEXANDER THE GREAT
Possibly the greatest military commander the world has ever seen, Alexander the Great conquered most of the entire known world and kept going, discovering entirely new lands and cultures and usually kicking their ass. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he might have done so while being three sheets to the wind the entire time. Popular accounts have Al drinking undiluted wine (when most Macedonians tended to water it down a bit) at virtually every meal, night and day, and occasionally during quiet points in battles.
Most infamously, Alexander got so sloshed at a party in Samarkand that he murdered one of his best friends, Cleitus the Black, a man who had personally saved his life on the battlefield. That marked the beginning of the end for Al and his overextended empire, as the once-confident ruler was racked with depression and regret, which didn’t really help his drinking problem. Eventually Alexander succumbed to a mysterious ailment, said by some to have been liver failure.