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The Quick 10: 10 Famous People and Their Drug Habits

New book recommendation! Assuming you've already pre-ordered the mental_floss History of the World, that is. It's called Genius and Heroin by Michael Largo, the same guy who wrote Final Exits. Genius is full of stories about famous people and their famous vices - including, but not limited to, heroin.

freud1. Sigmund Freud - cocaine. At first, his interest was purely medical. He wrote papers about the feelings associated with the substance, saying that it provided exhilaration and euphoria just minutes after partaking. Freud's buddy, Ernest von Fleischl, had a pretty bad morphine habit, so to help him kick it, Freud prescribed cocaine as a "safe" alternative. Fleischl became addicted, of course, and was soon spending more than $10,000 per month on the drug. Proving himself to be a good scholar but perhaps not a great friend, Freud recorded his friend's increasingly negative side effects. In 1891, von Fleischl became the first person in history (that we know of) to die of a speedball when he mixed heroin and cocaine. But back to Freud. Though he considered himself a casual user, a three-year period in the mid-1880s produced such a huge body of work on the topic that it's easy to assume he was using pretty regularly.

2. Andy Warhol - Obetrol. Obetrol marketed today as Adderall, a fairly common drug used to treat ADHD. But Andy popped them in true Valley-of-the-Dolls-style. The difference between Adderall and Obetrol seems to be time options - Adderall is made and sold in immediate-release tablets and time-release tablets, but Obetrol comes only in an immediate release option.

3. Miles Davis - Heroin. Miles was hooked on heroin for about four years, but managed to kick the habit because he was inspired by boxer Sugar Ray Robinson's dedication.

4. Balzac - Caffeine.

There are many people (myself included) who get headaches without their morning cup of java (or five). But that's absolute child's play compared to Balzac. He commonly write for 48 hours nonstop, aided by cup after cup of coffee. He drank so much caffeine that it enlarged his left heart ventricle, which possibility contributed to his death. These days, that kind of addiction is called caffeinism. It can result in lots of not-fun effects, including nervousness, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, heart palpitations, ulcers, esophagitis, muscle twitching, and respiratory alkalosis. 

carroll5. Lewis Carroll - Opium. Well, at the time it was called Laudanum, and lots of people took it for minor ailments such as headaches. It's no surprise that lots of people got addicted to it, including Lewis Carroll (AKA Charles Dodgson). He suffered terribly from migraines, and some people thought he took it because it relaxed him and helped ease his stutter. Whatever the reason, he was hooked. Carroll also liked to partake in magic mushrooms and weed, too, but you already knew that. Come on, look at Alice in Wonderland.

6. Edith Piaf - everything. Poor Edith Piaf. In 1951, she was in a car accident that left her with a broken arm and two broken ribs. She had two more car crashes afterward, and all of the resulting medication may have done more harm than good: she got hooked on morphine and various pills, in addition to alcohol. She refused to stop performing, though, and pushed herself to carry on with the show no matter what. She even spit up blood while singing at the Waldorf Astoria.

7. Did you guys know Faulkner was a drunk? And so was Fitzgerald? And Hemingway? And Dylan Thomas? And Poe? And Sinclair Lewis? Yeah, of course you did. Seems like alcohol was the drug of choice for a lots of writers. Not just men, either - Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay were also known for their love of the drink.

callas8. Maria Callas - Quaaludes. At the height of her career, Callas abruptly lost an extreme amount of weight. It's rumored that she got hooked on Quaaludes because they helped keep the pounds off, but she always said her weight loss was due to a sensible diet.

9. Truman Capote - Lots of drugs. Capote had a pretty serious alcohol habit during one point in his life, but managed to kick it by taking up drugs. When he died of liver disease, he had barbiturates, Valium, anti-seizure medication, and painkillers in his system.

10. Humphry Davy - Nitrous Oxide. Davy was an important chemist of the 1800s, which explains how he had access to the nitrous. He once inhaled five pints of the gas, promptly fell to the floor and remained blacked out for nearly three hours. He kept trying it, though - you know, for scientific purposes. Davy decided nitrous was better than alcohol because there was no hangover. It's evident from his papers when the addiction truly began - his writing becomes filled with poetic descriptions of the stuff, such as when he suggested that nitrous must be the air in heaven.

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13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Bad Lieutenant can be accused of many things, but one charge you can't level against it is false advertising. Harvey Keitel's title character, whose name is never given, is indeed a bad, bad lieutenant: corrupt, sleazy, drug-addled, irresponsible, and lascivious, all while he's on the job. (Imagine what his weekends must be like!)

Abel Ferrara's nightmarish character study was controversial when it was released 25 years ago today, and rated NC-17 for its graphic nudity (including a famous glimpse at Lil’ Harvey), unsettling sexual violence, and frank depiction of drug use. The film packs a wallop, no doubt. Here's some behind-the-scenes info to help you cope with it.

1. THE PLACID WOMAN WHO HELPS THE LIEUTENANT FREEBASE HEROIN WROTE THE MOVIE.

That's Zoë Tamerlis Lund, who starred in Abel Ferrara's revenge-exploitation thriller Ms. 45 (1981) more than a decade earlier, when she was 17 years old. She and Ferrara are credited together for writing Bad Lieutenant, though she always insisted that wasn't the case. "I wrote this alone," she said. "Abel is a wonderful director, but he's not a screenwriter. She said elsewhere that she "wrote every word of that screenplay," though everyone agrees the finished movie included a lot of improvisation. Lund was a fascinating, tragic character herself—a musical prodigy who became an enthusiastic and unapologetic user of heroin before switching to cocaine in the mid-1990s. She died of heart failure in 1999 at age 37.

2. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN WAS SUPPOSED TO STAR IN IT.

Christopher Walken had starred in Ferrara's previous film, King of New York (1990), and was set to play the lead in Bad Lieutenant before pulling out at almost the last minute. Ferrara was shocked. "[Walken] says, 'You know, I don't think I'm right for it.' Which is, you know, a fine thing to say, unless it's three weeks from when you're supposed to start shooting," Ferrara said. "It definitely caught me by surprise. It put me in terminal shock, actually." Harvey Keitel replaced him (though not without difficulty; see below), and the film's editor, Anthony Redman, thought Keitel was a better choice anyway. "Chris is too elegant for the part," he said. "Harvey is not elegant." 

3. HARVEY KEITEL'S INITIAL REACTION TO THE SCRIPT WAS NOT PROMISING.

"When we gave [Keitel] the script the first time, he read about five pages and threw it in the garbage," Ferrara said. Keitel's recollection was a little more diplomatic. As he told Roger Ebert, "I read a certain amount of pages and I put it down. I said, 'There's no way I'm gonna make this movie.' And then I asked myself, 'How often am I a lead in a movie? Read it, maybe I can salvage something from it …' When I read the part about the nun, I understood why Abel wanted to make it."

4. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY.


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

"It was always, in my mind, a comedy," Ferrara said. He cited the scene where the Lieutenant pulls the teenage girls over as a specific example of how Christopher Walken would have played it, and how Harvey Keitel changed it. "The lieutenant was going to end up dancing in the streets with the girls as the sun came up. They'd be wearing his gun belt and hat, and they'd have the radio on, you know what I mean? But oh my God, Harvey, he turned it into this whole other thing." Boy, did he. 

5. THAT SCENE WITH THE TEENAGE GIRLS HAD A REAL-LIFE ELEMENT THAT MADE IT EVEN CREEPIER.

One of the young women was Keitel's nanny. Ferrara: "I said, 'You sure you want to do this with your babysitter?' He says, 'Yeah, I want to try something.'"

6. MUCH OF IT WAS FILMED GUERRILLA-STYLE.

Like many indie-minded directors of low-budget films, Ferrara didn't bother with permits most of the time. "We weren't permitted on any of this stuff," editor Anthony Redman admitted. "We just walked on and started shooting." For the scene where a strung-out Lieutenant walks through a bumpin' nightclub, they sent Keitel through an actual, functioning club during peak operating hours.

7. A GREAT DEAL OF THE DIALOGUE AND ACTION WERE MADE UP ON THE FLY.

The script was only about 65 pages at first, which would have made for about a 65-minute movie. "It left a lot of room for improvisation," producer Randy Sabusawa said, "but the ideas were pretty distilled. They were there."

Script supervisor Karen Kelsall said supervising the script was a challenge. "Abel didn't stick to a script," she said. "Abel used a script as a way to get the money to make a movie, and then the script was kind of—we called it the daily news. It changed every day. It changed in the middle of scenes." Ferrara was unapologetic about the script's brevity. "The idea of wanting 90 pages ... is ridiculous."

8. AND THERE WERE EVEN MORE IDEAS THAT THEY DIDN'T USE.

Ferrara said a scene that epitomized the movie for him—even though he never got around to filming it—was one where the Lieutenant robs an electronics store, leaves, then gets a call about a robbery at the electronics store. He responds in an official capacity (they don't recognize him), takes a statement, walks out, and throws the statement in the garbage. "And that to me is the Bad Lieutenant, you know?" Ferrara said. 

9. THE BASEBALL PLAYOFF SERIES IS FICTIONAL.

The Mets have battled the Dodgers for the National League championship once, in 1988. (The Dodgers beat 'em and went on to win the World Series.) For the narrative Ferrara wanted—the Mets coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the pennant—he had to make it up. He used footage from real Mets-Dodgers games (including Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer from a game in July 1991) and added fictional play-by-play. But the statistics were accurate: no team had ever been down by three in a best-of-seven series and then come back to win. (It's happened once since then, when the 2004 Red Sox did it.)

10. THEY HAD HELP FROM THE COP WHO SOLVED A SIMILAR CASE.

The disgusting crime at the center of the film (we won't dwell on it) was inspired by a real-life incident from 1981, which mayor Ed Koch called "the most heinous crime in the history of New York City." The street cop who solved it, Bo Dietl, advised Ferrara on the film and had an on-screen role as one of the detectives in our Lieutenant's circle of friends.

11. THEY DESECRATED THE CHURCH AS RESPECTFULLY AS THEY COULD.

Production designer Charles Lagola had his team cover the church’s altar and other surfaces with plastic wrap, then painted the graffiti and other defacements on the plastic.

12. IT WAS RATED NC-17 IN THEATERS, WITH AN R-RATED VERSION FOR HOME VIDEO.

Blockbuster and some of the other retail chains wouldn't carry NC-17 or unrated films, so sometimes studios would produce edited versions. (See also: Requiem for a Dream.) The tamer version of Bad Lieutenant was five minutes and 19 seconds shorter, with parts of the rape scene, the drug-injecting scene, and much of the car interrogation scene excised.

13. THE "SEQUEL" HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, NOR DID FERRARA APPROVE OF IT.


First Look International

Movie buffs were baffled in 2009, when Werner Herzog directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage. It sounds like a sequel (or a remake), but in fact had no connection at all to the earlier film except that both were produced by Edward R. Pressman. Herzog said he'd never seen Ferrara's movie and wanted to change the title (Pressman wouldn't let him); Ferrara, outspoken as always, initially wished fiery death on everyone involved. Ferrara and Herzog finally met at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where Herzog initiated a conversation about the whole affair and Ferrara expressed his frustration cordially. 

Additional sources:
DVD interviews with Abel Ferrara, Anthony Redman, Randy Sabusawa, and Karen Kelsall.

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Big Questions
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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Getty Images

The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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