CONTENT WARNING: this article contains some mild language, crude humor, and alcohol.
History is saturated with the exploits of highly intoxicated individuals. And while there are countless stories of completely hammered world leaders stumbling into the history books, it’s not usually something that you’d find in a high school text book. Vincent Van Gogh was an absinthe addict, Buzz Aldrin was probably tipsy on the moon (joking), and Benjamin Franklin once said that “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Here are some of the highlights: The drunkest of the drunk…
“Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough.” – Mark Twain
10. Ögedei Khan (1186-1241)
Ögedei, son of Genghis Khan, was a disappointment. Granted, he never stood a chance: taking over the family business from one of the world’s greatest conquerors. He was always destined to live in his father’s shadow, but his alcoholism didn’t really help his image. Ogedei mostly rode on the wave of his father’s success. Although he did manage to hold the Mongolian Empire together, he also made quite a few mistakes during his 12 year rule.
His greatest challenge: staying sober.
Unfortunately there was no 12 step program for another several hundred years.
Ogedei’s drinking got so bad that his brother, Chagatai, ordered an official to keep an eye on the drunk Khan. It didn’t help. After being pressured into cutting back on his excessive alcoholic intake (even by Mongolian standards), he conceded and agreed to reduce the number of cups he drank a day.
Miraculously he managed to keep his word, well sorta.
You see, he actually did reduce the number of cups he drank a day, but he also switched to a XXL Super Gulp-size pitcher.
After partying it up all night with Abd-ur-Rahman, the Khan’s liver gave up for good. Following his death, the position shifted between his brothers over the next couple decades before his nephew, Kublai Khan inherited the Mongol Empire.
9. Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Ludwig Van Beethoven was without a doubt one of the greatest composers to ever live. He was also a drunken @$!#&%*.
Sure he’s a classical music legend, a pioneer whose symphonies will echo through the ages, but for the people who knew him personally, Beethoven was notoriously antisocial, completely paranoid and consistently rude. None of which was helped by his frequent visits to the local tavern – at all hours of the day.
Between creating some of the most beautiful compositions this side of the Milky Way, the German composer was a life-long womanizer who was hated by all his servants and frantically moved 71 times. As he aged, his erratic behavior and mood swings became worse as he began to lose his hearing. He went completely deaf after composing his 9th Symphony in 1824, ending his career and leaving him nothing left to do but to booze it up.
He died a few years later from what many assume were liver complications. (I’m sensing a theme here)
8. President James Buchanan (1791-1868)
There are a dozen American Presidents who could make this list: Chester A. Arthur, Martin Van Buren and Franklin Pierce to name a few. (Hell, Andrew Johnson was sworn in drunk!)
That said, James Buchanan could probably drink all those guys under the table – in a row.
Buchanan didn’t do much with his presidency other than drink. In fact, he’s often blamed for the American Civil War that followed his stint as Prez, probably because he was too busy getting $#!%-faced. Buchanan reportedly got furious upon discovering that the White House was stocked with a limited supply of small champagne bottles. Every single night, he drank cognac and a couple other bottles of… something with a high alcohol content. Every Sunday, like clockwork, he would head to the local distillery and pick himself up a 10 GALLON jug of whiskey!
The crazy thing is, that he supposedly didn’t show any signs of intoxication in public. That said, the years of hard drinking definitely took a toll on his body: his immune system was so jacked up that he got gout not once, but twice!
(Read more about Presidential Fails here!)
7. Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE)
Alexander III of Macedon was many things: conqueror, visionary, male model. But there’s one thing ancient scholars tended to look over – he was a raging alcoholic! Just like his father, Philip, Alexander often had an over-flowing whine goblet in hand. Some historians even argue that many of his most brave and cunning moves were actually the result of a stupidly drunk imbecile who just got insanely lucky.
One time, at one of Alexander’s keggers, he had a drinking contest with his soldiers. When all was said and done, 42 people had died of alcohol poisoning!
Alexander’s most tragic moment in life was when he killed his best friend, Cleitus, in a drunken rage. It’s also worth mentioning that Alexander the Great’s mysterious death may have been the result of alcohol poisoning or ingesting poisoned alcohol. Either way, his habit kicked him.
(Click here for more on Alexander the Great)
6. Emperor Wenxuan of Northern Qi (529-559)
Chinese Emperor, Gao Yang, began his reign as a benevolent ruler, with a focus on tax reform and an increased military. Unfortunately, that all changed a few years later when the Emperor went off the deep end. Yang started drinking excessively, indulging in multiple girlfriends and just being an all around jerk to everyone in the kingdom. Not saying it was the alcohol, but… it was the alcohol.
This ‘Mad Emperor’ would get so freaking drunk in fact, that he didn’t even recognize the Empress, his own wife! One time, she scolded him for drinking too much, so he threatened to marry her off to a barbarian. This did not go over well as you can probably imagine (hell hath no fury and all that). She became so furious that he cowered in fear. Worried that he’d be exiled to the imperial dog house, Gao Yang got on his hands and knees in an attempt to appease her and make her smile. Instead, he drunkenly knocked her out of her chair.
Upon sobering up the next morning, he realized what he’d done and attempted to throw himself into a fire, only to be saved at the last minute by his forgiving wife. He swore to never drink again… 10 days later he fell off the wagon into a giant vat of wine and became far worse than ever before.
You see, Gao was a mean drunk with no consequences for his actions – which led him to killing multiple people in his court in his increasingly frequent drunken rages. It became so bad at one point that his Prime Minister, Yan Yin, started gathering prisoners for cannon fodder.
It didn’t stop there though. This one time he asked a woman in the street what she thought of the Emperor. She was honest and told him that “He is so crazy that he really cannot be considered a Son of Heaven.” The Emperor nodded and then had her beheaded. Another time he had an affair with Consort Xue’s sister, whom he then murdered during an argument. He brandished her severed head before his officials at brunch the next day.
As fate would have it, the Mad Emperor soon died of liver poisoning from his years of consistent binge-drinking. Not a single person shed a tear at his funeral. Another cautionary tale for the history books.
5. Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)
Really this whole list could be American Presidents. That said, I would be remiss to exclude the legendary drinking habits of Ulysses S. Grant. Seriously, Buchanan and the rest are all light weights compared to this scruffy, booze-breathing Civil War General.
Throughout the American Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant drank constantly. (Really though, considering it was the bloodiest war in American history, could you blame him?) Even during a time when most people consumed more alcohol than water, Grant gained a reputation for drinking excessively.
After the Mexican-American War, Ulysses joined a proto AA group called the Sons of Temperance, because even he recognized that he had a problem. Not that it did much good, because at his next Army post, Grant immediately resumed his usual routine of getting black-out drunk in public.
This particular habit did become problematic with his superiors, especially when he tried to sue a shop keeper for his drunken butt tripping over himself on an icey sidewalk and another incident involving a brawl over a cheap bottle of wine. After one particularly epic night of getting completely wasted, he woke up in the barracks the next morning, half dressed, still heavily intoxicated and smelled like he’d gone swimming in a distillery – which led to him getting booted out of military service.
But then the Civil War happened and the Union was kinda desperate. Even so, they were skeptical of letting Grant back into their ranks. After he begged to fight for his country, they relented and threw him in with the other losers of the 21st Illinois Infantry Regiment. Colonel Grant, against all odds and expectations, actually managed to whip the unit into shape, leading to his promotion as Brigadier General.
As he rose through the ranks, so did his less-than-stellar drinking reputation, but this time, the Army couldn’t really argue with the results. According to historian James McPherson, “In the end his predisposition to alcoholism may have made him a better general. His struggle for self-discipline enabled him to understand and discipline others.”
Despite his extreme alcoholic intake, Grant earned his place in history as a war hero in his victory against Robert E. Lee and the Confederates. Abraham Lincoln even said, “I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.”
Ulysses S. Grant later went on to become President himself, but isn’t exactly regarded as a memorable Commander-in-Chief (more on that here). He did however have a hand in piecing together the shattered remains left over from the Civil War and Andrew Johnson. He spent most of his later years on the verge of bankruptcy and chugging brewskis with his bro Mark Twain.
4. Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
If you’re a WWII buff, than there’s no doubt you’ve heard of Winston Churchill – and his love affair with brandy. The British Prime Minister took on Hitler, won a Noble Peace prize and is considered one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. He was also a larger-than-life, over-the-top drunk at all hours of the day.
Regardless of his impressive achievements, Churchill was far from perfect. He started each and every day with cocktail of water and Johnny Walker – a habit he picked up while serving in India, where the water was unsafe to drink, and that was just the beginning of the day. In 1899, he was a correspondent on the front lines of the Second Boer War in South Africa, where it’s said he packed 36 bottles of wine, 18 bottles of scotch and 6 bottles of brandy.
During WWI, as the British First Lord of Admiralty, he oversaw the disastrous Dardanelles Campaign against the Ottomans in 1916 – a failure that would weigh heavy on his heart for the remainder of his years. It prepared him for the incredible losses to come and many more years of heavy drinking.
At a royal banquet in Saudi Arabia, King Ibn Saud asked Churchill why he wouldn’t eat. His reason: there was no alcohol served. The Saudi King was confused. Churchill explained that his rule in life was to drink before, during and after each meal. William Manchester described Churchill’s habit: “it reaches its peak late in the evening after he has had two or three scotches, several glasses of champagne, at least two brandies and a highball.”
In 1942, Stalin invited Churchill to Moscow, where the two discussed what to do with those Nazi d-bags. Apparently Churchill out drank the Soviet dictator and earned his respect, leading to an alliance against the Axis Powers. Through his pump-up speeches on the radio, Winston Churchill kept the people of the UK hopeful during the German bombing raids, working with FDR to get the supplies they needed to fight back and was instrumental in leading the Allied forces to victory in World War II.
Churchill may have had more red wine than blood in his veins, but he still lived to be 90 years old!
3. Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Nobel-Prize winning author, WWI veteran and hardcore liqueur enthusiast. Throughout his adventurous life, Ernest Hemingway published 15 books, was married 4 times and survived 2 plane crashes, but it’s his notorious drinking habits that are the stuff of legend. There is a long history of writers and substance abuse: Edgar Alan Poe, Lord Byron, Mark Twain, Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl, Hunter S. Thompson, etc, BUT none of them hold a candle to Hemingway.
Hemingway, an American journalist, wasn’t much of a drinker in his early years, but that all changed after the war in Europe. (Can’t say I blame him either, considering World War One was easily one of the darkest chapters in all of human history.) When he was hospitalized in Italy, he charmed the nurses into bringing him beer. From there he made his way through the entire selection of fine Italian wines… and women. Count Emanuele Greppi took Ernest under his wing and showed him some of the ‘finer things’ in life. Which in this case meant brothels and bars, lots and lots of bars.
Hemingway once wrote, “Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares. If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” It didn’t stop there either, after returning to the states, he kept on drinking like there was no tomorrow. When prohibition happened, he just moved up to Canada and later made his way back across the Atlantic to Paris, France. Spending most of his days writing and drinking and most of his nights drinking in taverns. He even drank with famous fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini!
Prior to the Cuban Revolution, Hemingway spent much of his later years in Cuba, dealing with high blood pressure, severe depression and liver disease – none of which was particularly helped by his excessive drinking habits. Unfortunately, despite all his accomplishments, his demons got the better of him, leading to his suicide in 1961.
2. Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007)
Oh Boris, you drunkard you.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin was instrumental in the dismantlement of the Soviet Union. Despite that historical footnote, he’s better known in most circles as one of the drunkest politicians in recent history. This former Communist really knew how to party.
Yeltsin was the first democratically elected Russian leader in over a thousand years. He embraced capitalism and spearheaded numerous reforms, but his tenure was also marred by economic depression, a significant spike in crime following the collapse of the USSR and a series of international incidents that were the direct result of him getting absolutely smashed.
In 1992, during a negotiation with Kyrgyzstan, the pregaming Russian President decided it was a good time to practice playing the drums with a pair of spoons… on the Kyrgyz President’s head…
Then in 1994, he tagged along as part of a Russian delegation in Berlin to oversee the dismantlement of Russian forces in East Germany. At which point the entire world witnessed the drunken antics of Boris Yeltsin on live television – footage of: Boris dancing like a crazy person, stumbling into a parade and mumbling an incomprehensible speech.
After knocking back several drinks in 1997, Boris once again made his country proud at a conference in Stockholm, by publicly ranting about how Swedish meatballs somehow look like pro tennis player, Bjorn Borg, right before nearly falling off the stage. He then started going off on an unscripted tangent about banning the worlds nuclear weapons, at which point Russian officials grabbed the mic from him.
But nothing compares to his trip to Washington DC. One late night in 1995, while he was visiting with President Bill Clinton, Yeltsin snuck past his bodyguards after a long day of binge drinking. Secret Service agents later discovered Boris, half naked on the White House lawn, attempting to hail down a cab for a 3AM pizza run.
1. Peter the Great (1682-1725)
What is it with these Russian rulers?
Peter the Great (Pyotr Alekseyevich), or as he called himself: Emperor of All Russia and Great Father of the Fatherland, is often considered one of Russia’s most beloved monarchs (unlike Ivan the Terrible). He was responsible for numerous reforms and helped bring Russia into the modern world… well the modern world of the early 18th century that is. As Czar, Peter reformed the military, improved science education, founded Saint Petersburg, made trade with Western Europe and out drank everyone in Russian history.
Peter (the Great) was one of the first and only Russian monarchs to travel across Europe on a diplomatic mission to strengthen Russia’s allegiance with its allies. This Grand Embassy was led by Peter himself in disguise, a disguise as Peter Mikhailov – an alias that fooled no one, especially considering he was slightly shorter than Shaquille O’Neal – at an insane 6 foot 8 inches – during a time when most people were 5’4″!
Throughout his European tour, Peter was a freaking rock star – throwing some of the wildest parties the world had ever seen. The vodka chugging czar even brought with him an entourage of drunken nobles and groupies known as “The All Joking, All Drunken Synod of Fools and Jesters” – an elite club dedicated to getting hammered until the early hours of the morning.
In 1698, Peter was invited to England where he studied the British Navy’s advances in ship building. During this time, Peter and his gang stayed at Sayes Court, an Elizabethan mansion. The properties owner, John Evelyn was horrified to discover the estate completely trashed! The beautifully furnished manor and historic gardens were reduced to rubble: trampled hedges, windows shattered, carpet ruined, paintings used as target practice, and a smoldering pile of 50 wooden chairs used in a bonfire.
Despite his near constant inebriation, Peter was an effective ruler, if not a bit eccentric. Among many of the changes he brought to his people, perhaps the most bizarre decision of his entire reign was instituting a beard tax?!
And he lived happily ever after…? Haha – No.
It wasn’t all fun and games for this Russian party animal. Between 2 unhappy marriages, Peter tragically lost most of his 11 kids. Some of his people considered him tyrannical and his violent temper was only made worse by his extremely excessive drinking. And then there’s his destructive relationship with his estranged son, Alexei Petrovich Romanov.
Alexei was kind of a hippie, so he and his father never really saw eye to eye. The two had a worse relationship than Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Alexei resented his father for the way he treated his mother and refused to take his place as Czar. He went into self exile to pursue his own interests. Peter became paranoid that his son was raising a rebellion against him (which he wasn’t). When Alexei returned home, Peter had him locked up, interrogated, convicted of high treason and tortured to death.
A few years later Peter “the Great” succumbed to a brutally nasty infection from gangrene in his bladder. On his deathbed Peter asked for a pen and paper. He wrote out, “Leave all to…” and then he died.
So there you have it, 10 of the drunkest dudes of history. Do you agree with this list? Let me know in the comments below! (Oh and please drink responsibly… if you’re old enough, or just don’t)
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Alexander (the Great) – Part One
Presidential Pros and Cons – Part Two
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