The 10 Most Successful Drunks In History

Photo: Westend61 (Getty)

Having once been an ethical journalist, though I’m mostly recovered, I still find it necessary to let you know that at the time of this writing, I’m completely hammered. But as a method writer, I had no choice. And as Hemingway — the Big Papa of all the successful drunks out there — once may or may not have said: “Write drunk; edit sober.” That’s why I have an editor, whom I now owe a drink. But thanks to such difficult research, the sentences below should successfully regale these most triumphant drunks. They all helped shape this world, which, coincidentally, requires heavy drinking to properly enjoy.

Ernest Hemingway
most successful drunks in history, ernest hemingway
Whether Hemingway said as much about editing or not, it’s well known that his spare, concise writing — the exact opposite of what a drunk might sound like — was greatly aided by many bottles of booze (up to three a day) including wine at meals, by some reports. He was such a great drunk writer, someone even wrote an entire book about it. All justly deserved, of course; you have to really know what you’re doing to create a concoction as imaginative and effective as the champagne and absinthe cocktail Hemingway dreamed up. But you have to be one of the greats to perfectly name it “Death in the Afternoon.”

most successful drunks in history, socrates
Without Socrates, the whole Western Philosophy party might never have happened. And the big gadfly/barfly of that scene was ‘ol So-crates himself, who could drink every other dress-wearing philosopher under the table and never appear to be any worse for wear. But after drinking and bullshitting so much, he finally realized that he knew absolutely nothing. This led to the discovery that knowing as much meant he knew even more than the rest of the big swinging Athenians. Maybe that’s why he got served with one very stiff final drink of hemlock.

Ulysses S. Grant
most successful drunks in history, ulysses s grant
In 1854, Grant was asked to resign from the Army because of his binge drinking ways. Fortunately, they had the good sense to let him back in, as Grant’s success on the Civil War battlefield was vital to this nation not being any more f–ked up than it already was. Unfortunately, many times, heavy boozing absolutely requires heavy cigar smoking. Which causes cancer. Which kills you dead, even if you’re a great general. But hey, when an appreciative citizenry sends you 10,000 boxes of stogies to say thanks for beating back those Rebs, a gentleman smokes them.

Winston Churchill
most successful drunks in history, winston churchill
Many a royal Brit has been born with a gin and tonic in hand, including the Queen Mother herself, but only one of them sat down with Stalin and Roosevelt to divvy up the free world as we know it. Who knows how much those three partied at Yalta, but Churchill reportedly kept himself good and lubricated most days and nights. He liked to begin the day, whilst still in bed mind you, with a “tipple” of Johnny Red and water. Or a “Papa Cocktail,” as his kids used to call them. And that was just one of Winnie’s go-to adult beverages. But who can blame him for drinking for sustenance? It’s not easy coming up with pithy quotes about alcohol all day long.

Alexander the Great
most successful drunks in history, alexander the great
What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done in a drunken rage? Well, Alexander apparently took over the world during his. That’s certainly exaggerating a bit, but it’s at least one scholar’s take that Alex did a lot of boozing along the way, and possibly died of “an acute fever, possibly malaria, aggravated by alcohol.” After being properly schooled by Aristotle — who learned from Plato, who learned from that old drunk Socrates — Alexander went on a conquering streak the likes of which the world had never seen, and everyone knows that optimal conquering requires feasting, which requires much praising of Dionysus. This generally culminates in orgies. Damn, I gotta do more conquering.

Joseph McCarthy
most successful drunks in history, joseph mccarthy
Sure he’s a historic asshole — as far as assholes in history go, they don’t get much bigger than Drunky Joe — but there’s no questioning he was successful. You don’t get an “ism” associate with your name without being good at your job. And nobody rooted out commies quite like him. Drunky Joe eventually got rooted right out of the Senate, which pretty much led to him drinking himself to death at the age of 48 due to acute hepatitis from years of alcoholism. Proving yet again that the bottle always wins.

Frank Sinatra
most successful drunks in history, frank sinatra
Sinatra and his always-tipsy cronies made damn fine money playing up their heavy drinking ways, and God bless them if they didn’t just make being a drunk cool again in the process. But even though Sinatra was a functioning alcoholic most of the time, he did have the artistic strength to go cold turkey in the weeks leading up to important recording sessions. Still, Ol’ Blue Eyes did it his drunken way most of the time. According to his fourth and final wife, Barbara: “Our friends often formed a private pact to stay up with Frank in shifts over several days, so that no one person had to carouse with him night after night in what he called the American Olympic Drinking Team.” If that doesn’t make you patriotic, then excuse me while I tell old Drunky Joe on you.

most successful drunks in history, cleopatra
Like many men of her time, she drank her fair share. But when you’re the exalted Queen Cleopatra VII, Pharaoh of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, then you have to stand out, so she also bathed in wine. Plus, it was supposedly good for her skin. Though she may not be as successful as some of the other pro drinkers on this list, having screwed up ruling enough to become the last pharaoh of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, she is the only person on this list we want to think about bathing in wine.

Oprah Winfrey
most successful drunks in history, oprah winfrey
Actually, there’s no evidence that Oprah drinks heavily at all, but I just wanted to see if any of you drunks were paying attention. Oh, and for the record, I would like to think about Oprah bathing in wine.

Andre the Giant
most successful drunks in history, andre the giant
Let’s face it, a lot of us need a little alcohol to function properly. But Andre needed a lot. Like a whole lot. Like more alcohol per year than most countries can produce. It’s well-documented that he was a stud drinker, but this list is as much about being successful outside the bar than in it. If WWF World Heavyweight Champion plus WWF Tag Team Champion plus WWE Hall of Fame inductee doesn’t add up to success, then color me sober.

Ben Franklin
most successful drunks in history, ben franklin
I’m not saying freedom wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for booze but… wait, yes… yes I am. FREEDOM! Anyway, many of our Founding Fathers were daily drinkers, as was rote for the times since bacteria in the water supply could have killed off Zika. It was actually safer to drink anything fermented or distilled. But Franklin romanticized drinking better than any other man who signed the Declaration of Independence, so he gets the honor of being listed on this magnum opus. Long before Homer Simpson spoke so eloquently about the many-splendid glories of booze, Franklin summed it up best: “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”