Countless alcoholic writers, artists, and actors have achieved immense success. But does alcohol fuel their creativity, or would their talents shine despite their addiction?
Explore below the individual stories of 9 exceptional authors who suffered from addiction and will forever be known as the best alcoholic writers.
9. Jack Kerouac (1896 – 1940)
Famous for stories featuring characters who wander the American roads, encounter lost strangers, and struggle to find food, Jack Kerouac lived a similar life to these nomads. He was part of the beat-generation of writers, a literary movement that explored politics and culture in post-war America.
However, after his most notable book, On the Road, received great success, Kerouac turned to the bottle. Sadly, alcohol resulted in the death of Kerouac at only age 47. A character in his final novel, The Big Sur, described the following painful experience of alcoholic writers:
“There’ll come one day when the drinks won’t take effect because you’re chemically overloaded, and you’ll have to sleep it off but can’t sleep anymore because it was alcohol itself that made you sleep those last five nights, so delirium sets in — Sleeplessness, sweat, trembling, a groaning feeling of weakness where your arms are numb and useless, nightmares, (nightmares of death).”
8. Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)
Poe is known for creating beautifully unnerving characters which blur the line between reality and the supernatural. His stories remain fascinatingly dark to modern audiences – check out The Simpsons’ retelling of The Raven.
After his father left and his mother died, Poe was adopted and never saw eye-to-eye with his adopted parents. When he turned 27, he married his 13-year-old first cousin. He began drinking excessively after losing a writing job.
But much like his life and literature, his death is also a great mystery. Poe was found in a Baltimore gutter, so delirious that he could not explain how he got there, and he never regained enough consciousness to explain what had happened.
As he was dying, he called out for Reynolds, whose identity has never been confirmed. Poe was buried in an unmarked grave, and the ceremony only lasted 3 minutes.
7. Stephen King (1947- Present)
Stephen, ‘the king of horror,’ King has had all of us hiding behind sofas, trembling, or even crying with fear at some point. His books and adapted films produce physical terror in their audience. It is widely known that many of these stories were created under the influence of alcohol and drugs. He even admits that he barely remembers writing Cujo.
In his book OnWriting, King describes the struggles of being a man with sensitivities and emotions in a masculine world. He suggests that the drinking helped him navigate the reality of not being a ‘real man,’ much like Hemingway.
6. Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)
The earliest writer on our list, Marlowe, is known for influencing William Shakespeare’s writing and being one of the Elizabethan era’s most prominent playwrights.
Marlowe lived a mysterious life. He was allegedly a spy, as well as an atheist and a homosexual, the latter two crimes in Elizabethan England. As an alcoholic, he would often drink in bars, which would eventually lead to his death, but not in the way you would assume.
The most widely accepted story of his death involves a sword fight that broke out in a pub where he was drinking after there was some confusion over settling a bill. Marlowe was stabbed in the eye and died at the young age of 29.
However, there are multiple other theories on how he died, including his death was faked so he could go on to write under the pseudonym William Shakespeare and that he went on to write all the infamous plays.
5. F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
Gatsby’s extravagant parties are still emulated all over the world with 1920s flapper outfits and glittering black and gold banners. Yet in his real life, F. Scott Fitzgerald became known at his parties for starting fights, insulting guests, and blacking out. Fitzgerald often ended up in prison when drinking and was hospitalized eight times for his addiction.
Like Kerouac, he died young because of his alcohol addiction at age 44. He was part of the infamous 1920s group of writers and creatives living in Paris. These included his wife Zelda, Hemingway, and Joyce.
He writes in The Beautiful and the Dammed, “Here’s to alcohol, the rose-colored glasses of life.”
4. Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Probably America’s most famous alcoholic writer, Hemingway is known for his short stories and a simple, direct writing style.
Hemingway shared drinking sessions with famous alcoholic writers James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald whilst they were all living in Paris. It was said that Joyce would get into arguments with strangers and call on Hemmingway to beat them up.
He lived as a war journalist, FBI target, and Nobel Prize Winner and tragically took his own life with a shotgun at 61. He suffered from numerous diseases and ailments.
3. James Joyce (1882-1941)
Ulysses is one of the most famous literary works of all time, written by Irish author (with a very impressive name) James Augustine Aloysius Joyce.
Joyce admitted that drinking helped his writing feeling that the alcohol heightened his emotions. He could not write without it and even refused psychiatric help as he wanted to continue writing. He writes in Ulysses, “the sacred pint alone can unbind the tongue.”
2. Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)
Having his first drink at the age of 13, Bukowski considered the main love of his life to be alcohol. As a child, he was very shy, which was made worse by an extreme case of acne.
Like many alcoholic writers on the list, he wrote in the American post-war era, and his stories focus predominantly on the poverty experienced by ordinary Americans. His favorite topic to write about was his home in Los Angeles. However, unlike those authors, over half of his work was published posthumously.
Besides his writing, he had many jobs, including working at a pickle factory and filing letters in a post office. He quit his job at 49 and published his first book after turning 50.
Bukowski’s gravestone reads Don’t try – a pessimistic message to aspiring sobber or alcoholic writers.
1. Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
Again, a writer finding success in post-war America, Dorothy Parker was a poet, writer, and critic known for her sharp wit. She requested her gravestone read, “excuse the dirt.” Amongst many of her comedic quotes, she wrote, “I’m not a writer with a drinking problem, I’m a drinker with a writing problem.”
Her parents died when she was young, and her uncle died on the Titanic. The trauma she suffered as a child drove her to drink. Regardless, she received two academy award nominations for screenwriting and was often published in The New Yorker.
She died at age 73 after a heart attack.
Why Are There So Many Amazing Alcoholic Writers?
Everyone has come face to face with the daunting nothingness of a blank page as a student. But for an author, there are the added pressures of adoring fans, meeting deadlines, fulfilling expectations, and making a livelihood.
Perhaps alcohol does heighten creativity, as Joyce suggested, or as Bukowski implies, improves self-confidence, or perhaps it helps one navigate through a traumatic past, as is the case with Poe and Parker. If these alcoholic writers’ stories have taught us anything, it is that an author’s life can be exhilarating, stimulating, melancholic, and distressing all at once.