Top 10 Historical Drunks Who Changed the World

September 13, 2011
Drinking too much is a recipe for a hangover. But for these fine folks, it was a way of life. Somehow, with bottles in hand, they managed to change the world.

10. Buzz Aldrin

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He's the man the term "McCarthyism" was coined after. Joseph McCarthy made it his mission to out supposed subversive communists living in the United States during the Cold War. During his time as a U.S. Senator he made wild accusations claiming the State Department and other parts of the U.S. federal government were infested with Soviet spies and sympathizers. He dealt in fear and became the face of the dark side of the Cold War.

As he was causing hysteria and ruining people's lives, he was also ruining his own with the bottle. In a book written after his death, journalist Richard Rovere described McCarthy as follows, "He had always been a heavy drinker, and there were times in those seasons of discontent when he drank more than ever. But he was not always drunk. He went on the wagon (for him this meant beer instead of whiskey) for days and weeks at a time. The difficulty toward the end was that he couldn't hold the stuff. He went to pieces on his second or third drink. And he did not snap back quickly."

McCarthy suffered cirrhosis of the liver and was frequently hospitalized for alcoholism. His decent into the bottle was hastened when he was censured by the Senate in 1954 (a very rare and shameful occurrence). During his last two years and half years in office he literally drank himself to death. McCarthy died in 1957 at the age of 48. His cause of death was acute hepatitis caused by his alcoholism.

5. Bill Wilson

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He's the man on the $50 bill, the United States' 18th president, and he tops the list as the "biggest drinker of any U.S. president." Ulysses S. Grant is an impressive man. Before becoming President, he led the Union Army to victory as lieutenant general. Later, as president, he shepherded the United States through the Reconstruction Era. He did it all with a drink in his hand, or at the very least close by.

Grant was driven to "binge drinking" during an early stint in the army. By 1854 his "alcohol consumption so alarmed his superiors that he was asked to resign from the Army." Grant's road to redemption came with the Civil War. He re-enlisted in the army and ended up leading it to victory. It is said that during the war he would sit back and drink whiskey. When Abraham Lincoln was told to sack Grant because of his drinking, Lincoln responded by asking what brand of whiskey Grant drank so that he could send a barrel of it to every other general. Grant's choice of liquor was Old Crow Bourbon Whiskey. Grant continued to drink throughout his presidency.