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Top 10 Historical Drunks Who Changed the World

by ncoles   September 13, 2011 at 7:00AM  |  Views: 71,170
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 reached dizzying heights at the second man to walk on the moon, however on earth he battled his own demons with alcohol. In 1976 he told an audience that he had been an alcoholic leading up to the famed Apollo 11 flight in 1969. He says he quit drinking just two days before the historic flight to the moon.

Aldrin's drinking problem was exacerbated when he landed back on earth and left NASA. He says his life no longer contained structure and direction, so he filled the void with alcohol. His battle with the bottle contributed to the break-up of his 21-year marriage and caused a further downward spiral of alcoholism and depression. Aldrin hit rock bottom in 1978, entered rehab, and has been sober ever since. He is a proponent of AA and talks candidly about his alcohol-fueled years in the hope of helping others.

9. Vincent Van Gogh

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The legendary Dutch Post-Impressionist was a tortured man who forever changed art. He was also known to be a notorious drinker. His drink of choice was absinthe, a powerful liquor nicknamed "the green fairy" that was said to cause hallucinations. It was Van Gogh who popularized this infamous drink. Today, his name is a brand of absinthe.

Van Gogh suffered from bouts of debilitating anxiety and mental illness. The artist believed that his drinking was causing him to go insane. He once wrote to his brother saying alcohol "was one of the great causes of my madness." Van Gogh killed himself in 1890.

8. Betty Ford

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In her 1987 autobiography Betty Ford wrote, "I liked alcohol. It made me feel warm." The former First Lady battled alcoholism for much of her adult life, including her time living in the White House. Ford said drinking took away her "tension and pain." It was not until a family intervention in 1978 that she was forced to confront her problems.

After she got sober, she took the extraordinary step of going public with her alcoholism and drug use. In doing this she became a role model for people around the world who suffered from various addictions. In 1982 she opened the Betty Ford Center, a center for treatment of alcohol abuse and other drug addictions.

7. Ernest Hemingway

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Ernest Hemingway is an American icon and the embodiment of the tormented writer. His ways with words forever changed literature and his sense of adventure endeared him to the public. Wherever Hemingway went, so did a bottle of booze. Alcohol was indeed the one constant throughout his life.

As a young man living in Paris he frequently went on "alcoholic sprees" with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. His work ethos was: "Write drunk; edit sober." And boy did he drink. According to his biographer Kenneth Lynn, he would regularly drink "two or three bottles of liquor a day, as well as wine with meals." The question is when did this guy have time to edit?

Hemingway liked all types of liquor. He was known to consume absinthe, whiskey, vodka, wine, gin, tequila, and champagne in copious amounts. Hemingway was a big fan of a daiquiri and is responsible for making the mojito world famous. Hemingway ended his life with a shotgun in 1961. He was 62 years old.

6. Joseph McCarthy

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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.