The Quick 10: 10 Famous People and Their Drug Habits

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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, who is the same guy that wrote Final Exits. It's also a super-interesting read, if you haven't heard of it. Genius is full of stories about famous people and what they were addicted to "“ drugs, sex, work, food. It's really fascinating, and it's perfect Quick 10 Material.

I'm going to stick to drugs today"¦ ummm"¦ that didn't come out quite right.

Today's list will focus chiefly on drug addictions, but don't be surprised if there's a Quick 10 around the corner about non-drug addictions. Errol Flynn was apparently a sex fiend. Anyway. On with the list!

freud1. Sigmund Freud "“ cocaine. At first, his interest was medical. He wrote papers about the feelings associated with the substance, saying that it provided exhilaration and euphoria just minutes after taking cocaine. His buddy, Ernest von Fleischl, had a pretty bad morphine habit "“ to help him kick it, Freud prescribed cocaine and said it was a safe alternative. Fleischl became addicted, of course, and started spending more than $10,000 a month on the drug. Like any good scholar, Freud recorded his friend's increasingly negative side effects (the feeling of bugs crawling under the skin, hallucinations, etc.). In 1891, Freud's friend became the first person in history (that we know of) to die of a speedball when he mixed heroin and cocaine. But enough about him. Back to Freud. He was more or less a casual user but during a three-year period in the mid 1880s, he wrote so many papers about the drug that it's easy to assume he was using pretty regularly.

2. Andy Warhol "“ Obetrol. Obetrol isn't really uncommon "“ it's actually marketed today as Adderall. But Andy popped them like Paulie Bleecker popped Tic Tacs. 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 Sugar Ray Robinson's dedication.

4. Balzac - Caffeine.

Bad. I mean, lots of us say we're addicted to caffeine "“ I certainly get a headache if I don't get a Diet Coke or a coffee soon enough in the morning. But that's nothing compared to Balzac. It wasn't uncommon for him to write for 48 hours nonstop, aided by cup after 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. So, I'm totally reconsidering my mid-morning cup of coffee right now.

carroll5. Lewis Carroll "“ Opium. Well, at the time it was called Laudanum, and lots of people took it for tiny little ailments like 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. And he also liked to partake in magic mushrooms and weed, too. But come on, look at Alice in Wonderland. Are you surprised?

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 proved to be a bad thing: she got hooked on morphine, various pills, and 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. She used to be a zaftig woman, and then suddenly lost a ton of weight at the height of her career. It's rumored that she got hooked on Quaaludes because they helped her keep her weight down, but she always said her weight loss was due to a sensible diet (don't they always say that?).
9. Truman Capote "“ Lots of drugs. He had a pretty good alcohol habit for a while, 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. Once, he inhaled five pints of the gas, promptly fell to the floor and remained blacked out for nearly three hours. He kept trying it, though, for scientific purposes (of course). He decided it was better than alcohol, because there was no hangover afterward. You can tell when he started getting addicted, because his papers are filled with poetic descriptions of the stuff, such as when he suggested that nitrous must be the air in heaven.

October 9, 2008 - 10:26am
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