The Quick 10: 10 Leaders Under the Influence

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If we heard reports of George W. Bush or Barack Obama waking up and having a martini before going about their daily routines, there would definitely be an uproar. But not too long ago, it wasn't uncommon for world leaders to drink throughout the day, and it wasn't that long ago that opium was considered a cure-all medicine. Now that we're more fully aware of how those things can mess with your brain, it seems astonishing that these people were running the world while under the influence of hallucinogens or alcohol. This post was inspired by a great podcast, by the way - Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. If you're interested in stuff like this, be sure to check it out.

1. Despite the image of youth and vitality he portrayed, JFK actually had a lot of health problems, including asthma, Addison's disease, back problems and severe allergies. To treat all of his problems, he was using any number of painkillers and opiate-based medicine. A doctor nicknamed "Dr. Feelgood" gave him shots that included vitamins, steroids, and amphetamines. He was taking so many shots in such large doses that legitimate doctors told him he needed to back off of the stuff. During both the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, he was on steroids, painkillers, anti-spasmodics, antibiotics, antihistamines and an anti-psychotic drug. This cocktail of drugs often left him feeling groggy or unfocused, so he would take anti-anxiety medicine to try to counter all of that.

2. Winston Churchill liked to drink "“ that was no secret. He woke up drinking, in fact, and was known to keep a drink within reach throughout the entire day. However, he also popped pills like they were candy. He named his pills majors, minors, reds, greens, and "Lord Morans," after his physician who prescribed them. He also took stimulants for the same reason JFK later did: to appear youthful and vigorous.

eden3. Churchill's successor, Anthony Eden, liked his fair share of pills as well. He had chronic gall bladder problems, which is why he carried a box of medicine with him at all times, including a healthy supply of morphine. He also got hooked on Benzedrine and has even acknowledged that fact himself.
4. Stalin is another one who was probably an alcoholic.

When the Germans attacked the Russians in 1941, Stalin pretty much disappeared off the face of the map for a week. One theory is that he was pretty much out on a bender that entire week. And a firsthand account says that he was able to drink a "khanty" "“ a buffalo horn used as a glass that could easily hold three or four bottles of wine "“ with no problem whatsoever.

5. Hitler reportedly took doctor-administrated amphetamine shots for the last several years of his life. Then he took barbiturates to come down. His doctor, Theodore Morell, meticulously recorded each of 73 medications he gave to Hitler, including sedatives, hormones, laxatives, narcotics, methamphetamine and cortisone.

alex6. Some historians speculate that Alexander the Great's decision to burn Persepolis to the ground was alcohol-fueled. Alexander loved to drink, despite being scornful of his father's drinking problem. The story is that Alexander, his men and some courtesans were celebrating their victories with copious amounts of alcohol when one of the courtesans gave a drunken speech about how Persepolis should be burned to the ground "“ the Persians burned Athens when they conquered it, so it would be only fair, she said. In their drunken revelry, everyone thought this sounded like a great idea (I think most of us have thought an idea was fabulous when under the influence, only to sober up and realize how stupid it was) and proceeded to do just that. Some historians think this was calculated, but the argument against it includes the fact that when Alexander's troops saw the city burning (they were camped out beyond city limits), they thought it was accidental and came running to help. If it was premeditated, Alexander probably would have informed his troops that it was about to happen.

7. Herman Göring, Hitler's designated successor, was a morphine addict. In fact, in the "˜20s, he was placed in a mental asylum because he was such a violent drug addict. But by the time he was a big cheese with the Nazis, he would shoot himself up before staff meetings and then fall asleep mid-meeting. By the end of the war, most of the people around him thought he was pretty incompetent.

8. It's speculated that Napoleon's performance at Waterloo was so awful because he was heavily under the influence. Reports say that on the day of the battle, he was sluggish, indecisive and slow, probably due to the fact that he was in pain the night before and took a dose of opium. This was a time when opium was commonly used as a medicine for a wide variety of ailments, so it really wouldn't have been thought of twice.

9. If the name James Wilkinson doesn't ring a bell, it's probably because history hasn't been kind to him. He led an invasion of Canada during the War of 1812, but he was so soused on alcohol and hopped up on opium that his directions were terrible, misleading and confusing. An army of 180 Canadians managed to fend off Wilkinson's force of more than 4,000.

10. Lyndon B. Johnson may or may not have been an alcoholic, but he certainly had alcohol-related bouts of rage. One Air Force One Steward recalls that Johnson threw a drink on the floor after declaring it too weak: his preference was three-quarters of a glass of scotch and one-quarter soda water. George Reedy, Johnson's press secretary, said he would drink scotch after scotch for days on end, and then abruptly just stop for months.

January 12, 2009 - 10:53am
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