Top 5 Drinkers of the 20th Century

1. Winston Churchill

Having drunk enough brandy and port during the war to float the Royal Navy, Churchill takes top spot, not for his famous quip, “And you, madam, are ugly.  But I shall be sober in the morning,” in reply to MP Bessie Braddock’s accusation that he was drunk, but for going off the bottle for a year in order to win a bet.

2. WC Fields

Everyone likes a funny drunk and WC Fields takes the cake.  An unrepentant boozer, who wouldn’t drink water, “because fish fuck in it,” Untamed remembers him for his sound advice, “I like to keep a bottle of stimulant handy in case I see a snake, which I also keep handy.”

3. Peter O’Toole

With a private life that overshadowed the giant characters he played on stage and screen, Peter O’Toole was a drunkard’s drunk.  Whether it was punching out French counts in Paris or setting a new speed drinking record, O’Toole was your man.  The light that burns twice and bright fades twice as fast and O’Toole lost his pancreas to booze.  “We were silly and young and drunken and jumping up and down and making complete clowns of ourselves.  But I did quite enjoy the days when one went for a beer in Paris and woke up in Corsica,” he once said.

4. Shane MacGowan

Ireland has produced enough legendary drinkers to fill a book but the singer for the recently reformed Pogues deserves a special mention.  Introduced to booze and smokes at age five by his aunt, who extracted a promised that he wouldn’t worship the devil in return, MacGowan became one of the world’s most important and poetic songwriters while working on becoming one of the drinking world’s icons.  And the secret of his success?  “The most important thing to remember about drunks is that drunks are far more intelligent than non-drunks. They spend a lot of time talking in pubs, unlike workaholics who concentrate on their careers and ambitions, who never develop their higher spiritual values, who never explore the insides of their head like a drunk does.”  MacGowan’s our favourite because he used to come to Thailand and write songs about Pattaya and Singha beer.

5. Charles Bukowski

Not a drinker to emulate, the notoriously sleazy author of Women and All the Assholes in the World and Mine liked to boast that he’d drank more hard liquor in his life than most men had drank water.  A career at the post office and other dead-end jobs is enough to drive anyone to drink but this brew-hound wrote about going on week-long benders at the bottom of LA’s barrel.  Making a name for himself as a poet and novelist late in life, he was rewarded after the hard yards by spending his last years careening around LA with Sean Penn and Madonna for company.  Although he was known as a vomiter, it was leukaemia that got him in the end.  Last year, a cinematic version of his novel Factotum starred Matt Dillon as the wandering dipsomaniac, Henry Chinaski.

Honourable Mentions

  • Boris Yeltsin: The only man to drink a nation dry.
  • Jim Thompson: Not the silk trader in Thailand, but the father of modern crime fiction.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: For a man who couldn’t hold his drink, he sure was keen on it.
  • Sam Peckinpah: Director of Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch set the standard for drinking on set.
  • Dean Martin: The king of the martini turned being drunk on camera into an art form.
  • Keith Richards: Doesn’t make it onto the list as drink is just another one of Keef’s his vices, but he rates a mention.
  • George Best: Not easy to keep out of the top five, but hitting the sauce after getting a new liver just isn’t on.

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