Mental Floss

The Quick 10: 10 Famous People and Their Drug Habits

Stacy Conradt

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.