It’s been said that history is made by those who show up, but oftentimes history is made by those who show up drunk. Great men and women with vision, determination, and ingenuity shaped the world we live in today, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t like to cut loose and toss back a few. In fact, many of these famous figures credit their success to their boozing. So pour yourself another, raise your glass, and toast to the past.
Queen Mother Elizabeth
The Queen Mum (the Cersei Lannister to Queen Elizabeth’s King Joffrey, although neither were assholes) had a reputation for being a bit of a lush, and by “bit of a lush” we mean she was once described as “floating on a sea of booze.” Elizabeth would start drinking cocktails around noon, then have some wine with lunch, followed by port for dessert. Then around 6 p.m.—the “Magic Hour,” as she called it—she’d have a gin martini and a couple glasses of pink champagne at dinner. The Queen Mum drank so much she’s even got a cocktail named after her. All that drinking took its toll though, as Elizabeth died young at the age of 101 (probably because pickled things last a long time).
Not only did he beat the shit out of the Nazis, but he did it with a solid buzz on the entire time. Churchill’s reputation for getting sloshed was earned early. When a 25-year-old Churchill traveled to South Africa to cover the Second Boer War as a reporter he brought 36 bottles of wine, 18 bottles of scotch, and 6 bottles of brandy. During WWI, after hearing hard liquor was banned at relatively safe headquarters, Churchill chose instead to go to the front lines. Better to die drunk than live sober!
Churchill’s hard drinking may have even changed the course of history. During a 1942 meeting with Stalin he impressed the vodka-guzzling Russian dictator by holding his liquor well into the night. This set the stage for the UK-US-Russia alliance that spanked the Nazis and made sure we all have the freedom to enjoy a fine German beer with “America” on the label.
Hey, they didn’t call him ‘Buzz’ for nothing! According to his book Magnificent Desolation, Buzz had some trouble adjusting to his new-found fame back on earth. After all, what’s the second act for a guy who’s only one of two men to walk on the fucking moon? Unfortunately, Buzz’s self-medication started causing problems for him. A director once tried to get Buzz to sign on to be in a movie, but he made the mistake of meeting him at a bar. Buzz and the director ended up getting so sloshed they couldn’t sign the papers. The director set up a new meeting the next day for 5 pm, but, unlike the moon landing, Buzz wasn’t going to be the second one to show up for this one. He got to the bar more than four hours early so he was more than a little sloppy by the time the director got there. Thankfully, Buzz hasn’t had a drink since 1978, which means he was stone sober when he cold-cocked that guy for saying the moon landing was a hoax.
Alexander The Great
Alexander the Great may have dominated half of Eurasia, but he also loved dominating some wine. That’s right, the guy who conquered the known world in ten years did it blind stinking drunk—and you could barely conquer undergrad that way! Some people think Alexander’s alcoholism was a result of his hard upbringing, other people think it was due to boredom—what else was he supposed to do after conquering everything? Alexander loved to drink so much he even refused to drink water on his death bed, opting for undiluted wine instead.
If you’re not up on your 5th grade history, Magellan is remembered as the guy who came close to sailing around the entire planet (his crew made it, he didn’t). However, there was no chance he was going to be remembered as the guy who ran out of wine on his trip around the entire planet. Similar to how you might stock up on Fireball and Natty Light before a spring break trip, Magellan filled his ships with 417 wineskins (an oddly specific number) and 253 kegs of sherry. And, much like how you might spend more on liquor than lodging during spring break, Magellan spent more on alcohol than guns and ammunition for his trip, which were typically the most expensive supplies.
Mad scientist, genius, and the internet’s nerdy boyfriend, Nikola Tesla drank whiskey every single day. That is, until Prohibition forced him into the deepest, darkest, depths of sobriety. Tesla felt that the forced dry period took a toll on his health and was convinced he would have lived until 150 if it hadn’t been for those whiny tee-totalers in Washington. He actually lived until 86, which is pretty good for someone who experimented with death rays and ungrounded wires. Still, we’d probably all be jetting around in flying cars and shooting lightning from our fingertips if it wasn’t for the 18th amendment.
Vincent van Gogh
Surely you didn’t think the dude who cut off his own ear to impress a woman was sober, right? Van Gogh loved to drink and was quite fond of absinthe. That’s probably why he remarked, “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” Yeah, when you’re lit up on hallucinogenic liquor it is! He wasn’t alone though. Absinthe (or “the green fairy,” as it was known) was popular among several artists of the time, and both van Gogh and Picasso included references to it in their works (kind of like ’90s rappers and Cristal).
Mark Twain was a bourbon man and when he didn’t have his trademark cigar in his lips they were pressed against the rim of a whiskey glass. His favorite bourbon was Old Crow, which you may remember from your local dive bar’s bottom shelf. He faced some criticisms for his hard drinking, but he wasn’t a falling-down drunk (imagine the dry cleaning bill for all those white suits). He always kept his wits about him and he always had a great line ready for his haters, like: “You can’t get to old age by another man’s road. My vices protect me but they would assassinate you.” We’ll drink to that!
Ludwig van Beethoven
You may remember Ludwig van Beethoven as the guy who played the piano during the mall montage in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but he was also a famous musician, composer, and angry drunk. You can’t really blame him, you’d be drunk all the time too if you were a composer who went deaf. That would be like if Guy Fieri gained a sense of taste! Beethoven loved to drink so much, most people think that’s what killed him. On his deathbed he was told his publisher had gifted him a case of wine. He replied, “Pity, pity—too late!” which were his last recorded words.
Our smartest, funniest, horniest founding father was also one of the drunkest. Whoring boozehound and boozing whorehound, Ben Franklin loved the sauce so much he even wrote a Drinker’s Dictionary of over 200 synonyms for being drunk. It included such delightful entries as “Cherry Merry” and “Wamble Crop’d,” because that sounds slightly more charming than getting “fucking shit housed, bro.”
All images licensed from Getty because we don’t like getting sued. It’s annoying.