A few Hollywood substance abusers. PT 1.


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John Barrymore

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.


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Richard Burton

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.


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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.


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Robert Cummings

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.

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Max Jacobson, the infamous

‘Dr Feelgood’

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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.



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David Hasselhoff

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.


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William Holden

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.


  1. I read a biography of Peter Lawford years ago, after his death, and he was also a terrible, terrible alcoholic and addict. According to the book I read, Lawford died, with blood coming out of every orifice of his body, of alcoholism. Recently I read a Wikipedia bio for Lawford and there was no mention of his substance abuse. I can only assume the influence of the Kennedy children must be why his public biography has been scrubbed so thoroughly.

    • Most Hollywood biographies are ‘scrubbed’, or at least they were when the studios ran things. Anyone writing any denegrating material about any big star was automatically labelled a ‘muck-raker’. Today, however, things have changed a little. Of course, there are still fans who believe every fairy-tale biography they ever read, probably because many tend to prefer the dream over the reality. I have no time whatsoever for Peter Lawford. Neither did his contemporaries. He was a drunk, a drug addict, and a welsher. His often repeated tale of Marilyn Monroe supposedly ringing him to say ‘Goodbye’ and to ‘Take care of yourself ’cause you’re a good guy’, I do not buy for a second. He was NOT a good guy and was almost certainly involved in her murder. Note, I said ‘murder’, not suicide.

      • I doubt Peter Lawford was involved in Marilyn’s death, for one simple reason. When Elizabeth Taylor went into rehab, she called Peter Lawford and asked him to go with her. He didn’t. Instead, he sold the story of her going into rehab for $12000 to a tabloid. There was no money to bury him – he was evicted from the cemetery. Are you trying to tell me that if he knew anything about Marilyn’s death, with all those people dead and not able to be sued, he wouldn’t have told a story for an absolute fortune?

        • Lawford told his biographer (Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets), that he called Fred Otash and got him to go to Marilyn’s place and to finish the ‘clean-up’ job Peter had started. THe intention was to remove ANYTHING that linked the Kennedys to her.

  2. Your comments about Bacall&Bogie: I’m sure he doted on his “Baby.”
    She said, “he was completely devoted to me.” I think each found
    it difficult to live w/ the other. V. Thompson’s few pgs. online talk
    about meeting w/ HB; 3,4mos. into his new marriage. ‘LB is pretentious, opportunistic; regrets the marriage.’ He and Thompson
    pick up where they left off. It is within same time range that Bacall
    in her bk, said she didn’t know if they were going to make it. She
    wasn’t used to that kind of drinking. I think when people rush into
    something, they dismiss early signs of what’s to come.

    Jason Robards: The resemblance to Bogie that I see is in dark
    complexion, rather than features. Remembered seeing, Bacall and Keith
    Richards, of R.Stones. Article, w/ pic. “People” mag? She told him he
    looks like Bogart. Similar complexion; moody face, dark hair and eyes. Years younger, He looks like hell now!

    • Bacall was asked about Thompson – she thinks the whole thing was made up trash. She said to the interviewer, “If it was true, it would have gone against every single thing Bogie believed in.” When something comes out after someone dies, you have to take it with a grain of salt. The dead can’t sue, and neither can their families. If it was so true, it would have come out before then.

  3. Lili Damita’s comment; Flynn, thrill seeker, etc., who also needed
    solitude, to think, and write.

    Studio moguls. Wives’ opinions of famous husbands: A. Page, JL Warner
    I’m sure studios were private as hell re. info. Wife may make “good” comment about famous husband; part of who he is; doesn’t necessarily
    mean adoration, or denial of less favorable qualities.

    This subject brought to my mind, interviews of Bacall shown after her death. I knew little about her and HB, but I was now curious.
    She described “Bogie” as “perfect”, incapable of telling a lie,
    totally honest, believer in 10 commandments, and probably other
    traits that I can’t remember. In written interviews, her assessment
    was different. “He had plenty of faults. Marriage wasn’t like studio said it was, or like we did it on screen. It wasn’t perfect, but it was real, and I’ve never been able to replicate it.”
    That’s pretty damn honest and one can come to their own conclusions.

    • Interesting about Bacall, Sheila. I have no doubt that being married to Bogie would not have been a bed of roses all the time. The guy simply drank too much. But I am equally sure he doted on her just the same. After years of brawling with Mayo Methot, it must have made a pleasant change for him. Surprisingly, she went and married another drinker in Jason Robards. I still think she fell for him because of his striking resemblance to Bogie.

  4. I came upon quotes by, and about Errol Flynn:
    Lili Damita “He was a cross between Marco Polo and Greta Garbo.”

    Jack L. Warner! “He was the most charismatic and tragic
    of all men.” {Seems odd about Warner, but Ann Page, wife,
    described him as very sensitive; didn’t like to show it.]

    • I am not sure what Lili meant by that description, Sheila – ‘an adventurer who needed to be alone?’ Who knows? As for Jack Warner, the studio moguls only ever divulged details about their private lives that they wanted divulged, so it is most difficult to get a handle on them, especially now that they are no longer with us. Wives’ opinions of famous husbands are always suspect, in my opinion. They tend to either detest them or adore them. No middle ground.

    • In all honesty, I almost fell into the ‘Lilli’ trap myself. Fortunately, I have a ‘thing’ about checking the spelling of actors’ names, probably because my own name is miss-spelt day after day – ‘Royal’ or ‘Royale’, instead of ‘Royle’. At least the differences between Australian and American spelling do not apply to names, or I would really be in trouble. My Aussie readers often zap me about my American spelling in my books, but I deliberately use American spelling because my biggest market is in the USA.

  5. I read a bio. of Barrymore, pub. ’65? One of the more depressing
    story’s, however, early are two funny incidents: Barrymore and
    father were touring a school for the boy. In the gym, John did a
    handstand, and out of his pockets came: brass knuckles, flask, and
    cigarettes. [This was probably a religious prep school.] The man
    conducting tour was alarmed, but thought the school could help the boy. Another occasion; Barrymore was very late in returning to school
    one evening, and was greeted w/ angry words, ‘You’re going straight
    to perdition! “Oh, said John, “I thought I was going back to
    New York.’
    I read that both brothers were really interested painting and drawing.
    Flynn certainly looked terribl, bloated, etc. Do you know about his
    son Sean? If not, check him out; led a different sort of life as a
    photographic journalist. He was in Vietnam, captured in Cambodia,
    and if I remember correctly, finally declared dead. He and John
    Steinbeck 3rd were together. J.S. returned to states and sobered up.
    Flynn’s mother was Lily Damita, who spent much trying to find her son.

    Vietnam; captured in Cambodia, and, if


    • Barrymore really was a sensational alcoholic alright, Sheila. Funny stories. Thank you. I just finished writing something about Errol, Lili and Sean Flynn. It should be in the site before the end of November. Poor Lili. She sure loved her boy. It appears pretty certain now that he was shot by Cambodians the same day he went missing. It took 14 years of searching before Lili finally conceded that he must be dead.

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