John Barrymore became famous for playing sympathetic drunks on film, no great stretch for him given he was a fully-fledged, dedicated alcoholic off-camera all his life. As a Shakespearian stage actor he was brilliant in his youth, able to memorize and deliver extraordinarily long speeches effortlessly and without a blemish. But as the years caught up with him, so did his drinking and it seriously damaged his brain and his ability to remember things.
On a cruise he once attempted to curb his alcoholism by locking himself in his cabin. But it was hopeless. He raided the bathroom and was soon downing mouthwash, perfume and Spirit of Camphor – anything that contained even a semblance of alcohol. As he literally staggered through the final years of his life he regularly arrived on-stage intoxicated. In one memorable performance he halted mid-speech and relieved himself in a flower-pot at the front of the stage! In the end he could not remember the simplest of dialogue, reliant on cue-cards all the time. His liver and kidneys finally gave up the ghost in 1942 when he collapsed on the Rudy Vallee Radio Show and died at 60.
Richard Burton started drinking at the age of 12. At the peak of his alcoholism he was consuming 3 bottles of vodka daily. He once threw down 21 shots of tequila before diving into the ocean in search of a shark reported in the area! At the age of just 48 his body required a complete blood transfusion to keep him alive. By then his kidneys had grown to enormous proportions and crystallized alcohol was found to be covering his spine during an operation. All this foolishness had to come to an end sooner than later. He died at 58.
Edd ‘Kookie’ Byrnes
Born in New York City, Byrnes took the surname of his maternal grandfather after his alcoholic father was found dead in a basement when Edd was just thirteen. The boy developed his physique during his teens and used it for a few years to ‘hustle’ older, well-to-do men, one of whom introduced him to fashion, culture and the acting fraternity. His Warner Brothers contract made him famous, but it cost him roles in Rio Bravo and North to Alaska, those parts falling to Ricky Nelson and Fabian respectively. By the age of thirty, however, fame had passed him by, partly because he was heavily into drugs and alcohol. Today, in his seventies, he has triumphed over those problems. Television’s first teen idol now lives quietly alone.
The career of Robert Cummings included sound performances in King’s Row (1942), Dial ‘M’ for Murder (1954) and The Carpetbaggers (1964). From 1955-59 he starred in his own NBC sitcom The Bob Cummings Show, but his life, the final 40 or so years of it anyway, was ruined by drugs. Methamphetamines to be exact. During a trip to New York City, to star in a TV production of Twelve Angry Men, he met Max Jacobson, the notorious ‘Dr Feelgood’, who convinced him to have injections to combat his feelings of lethargy. Jacobson was recommended by Bob’s friends Rosemary Clooney and her husband Jose Ferrer.
Max Jacobson, the infamous
Jacobson insisted that the injections consisted only of ‘vitamins, sheep sperm and monkey gonads’, but he deliberately failed to mention that they were substantially a dose of methamphetamines. Not only did Cummings become the good doctor’s regular patient, he eventually became the patient of Jacobson’s son Thomas back in Los Angeles. The drug dramatically altered Cummings’ personality, making him euphoric one minute and deeply depressed later and he became hopelessly addicted. Towards the end of his life, especially after Jacobson was put out of business in the seventies, Cummings injected himself and developed his own drug connections in the Bahamas. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he ended his days at the Motion Picture & Television Country House & Hospital at Woodlands Hills, California. Renal failure killed him in 1990.
Sammy Davis Jr.
Frank Sinatra was anything but a prude, but he did have certain standards regarding sex and drugs. Sammy Davis Junior violated them all. His cocaine use was totally out of control and his sexual perversion was fast becoming legendary. He was into pornography in a big way with porno stars Marilyn Chambers and Linda Lovelace often sharing his bed. In fact, he became quite obsessed with the star of Deep Throat. At times her husband would join in the orgies and it was not long before Sammy introduced his own wife, Altovise, into the foursomes. By now he was involved in bisexual activity on a regular basis. ‘I’m only living once’, he told singer Paul Anka. ‘I want to do what I want’. He somehow managed to have a relationship with Kim Novak as well, but death threats soon put an end to that. Ironically, cigarettes are still considered to be a ‘lesser’ substance abuse, yet it was probably his 4-packs a day smoking habit that brought on the throat cancer that killed him at 64.
Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr is one of those people whose addictions have not been entirely his fault. His moronic father gave him marijuana to smoke when the boy was just six years old, so there is little wonder he was heavily into drugs and alcohol at a very early age. He admits to drinking and getting high almost every night of his life for several years. He was also addicted to heroin until turning his life and career around.
Errol Flynn approaching his 50th (and last) birthday
Errol Flynn drank everything and anything he could get his hands on. The beach house he shared with David Niven at Malibu was even nicknamed ‘Cirrhosis-by-the-Sea’, exemplifying his ‘who cares?’ attitude to the ravages of drink. His short life was one of excesses – sex with both genders, alcohol in all its forms, and cocaine snorting on a regular basis. Later he also dabbled in heroin. If ever a man’s decadent life-style done him in, it was Errol Flynn. At 50 his body lost the one-sided fight. The mortician said his corpse resembled that of a 70 year-old.
Young Mel Gibson Mel these days
Mel Gibson has had a raging alcohol problem most of his life, since the age of 13 as a matter of fact. His drunken outbursts have seen him labelled as an anti-Semite, a racist, homophobe, sexist and misogynist. He blames the booze and the rather lame excuse that alcohol abuse is rampant in his family.
David Hasselhoff of Baywatch’ and ‘Knight Rider’ fame tried a novel approach to his alcoholism. He asked his daughter to film his next drunken outburst. This she duly did and the results were released on the Internet for all to see, forcing him to seriously seek professional help.
William Holden was a terrible drunk. A man of great charm and kindness when sober, his personality changed completely when he over-indulged, which was far too often. It destroyed his marriage and several relationships and it caused a car accident in which his driving resulted in the death of another human being. Eventually, it brought about his own lonely, miserable death in a hotel room in 1981. Evidently, he fell while inebriated, struck his head on a bedside table and bled to death on the floor without regaining consciousness.