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Five Literary Figures You Didn't Know Had Serious Drug Addictions

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.



While some literary figures like Coleridge are almost celebrated for their drug addictions, there are a handful that you'd be surprised to know were or are pretty serious addicts.
While some literary figures like Coleridge are almost celebrated for their drug addictions, there are a handful that you'd be surprised to know were or are pretty serious addicts. Here are just five:

1. Stephen King: The master of horror has demons of his own. In his memoir, On Writing, King talks about the multiple addictions that fueled his impressive output of novels (over fifty by now). He talks about when in 1986 his wife staged an intervention by pouring out the contents of a trashcan he kept near his writing table. The contents included, "...cocaine in gram bottles, cocaine in plastic baggies, coke spoons caked with snot and blood, Valium, Xanax, bottles of Robitussin cough syrup and NyQuil, even bottles of mouthwash." He goes on to say that he was so wasted at the time that he doesn't even remember writing Cujo.

2. George Carlin: The comedian and author didn't exactly hide his drug use but not many people know that he was a serious addict and that his relationship with drugs was well beyond recreational. Johnny Carson banned him from The Tonight Show in the 70s because he would often show up too high to even make sense. Carlin suffered his first drug-related heart attack at the age of 41. Though he eased up on the harder drugs, he still abused alcohol and had a serious Vicodin habit that sent him into rehab in 2004. All of the surgeries he had afterwards couldn't do much to repair his thoroughly damaged heart and he died in 2008.

3. Elizabeth Barrett Browning: When she was a young teenager, Browning suffered from terrible pain in her back and neck. At the time, the painkiller of choice was opium, and since Browning had this pain for the rest of her life, she also continued to take incredible amounts of opium. By the time she was in her twenties, she was already hopelessly addicted and because she had started using at such a young age, her resistance to the drug grew to such a point that she had to continually use the drug throughout the day and it became as much a part of her regular activities as drinking water. All of her work was done while under the influence of heavy doses of morphine.

4. Norman Mailer: A brilliant novelist and also an unbalanced and unabashed chauvinist, Mailer is well known for winning two Pulitzer Prizes and being one of the best known American writers. What is not as well known is his over the top alcoholism and drug use. What made his use especially dangerous was that Mailer was already a troubled man with a violent temper and anger issues. When drunk or stoned (which he invariably was at almost any time) he could become especially harmful to others. He also famously punched Gore Vidal in the face and stabbed one of his six wives. How he managed to live to 84 (when he finally passed away from renal failure) remains a medical mystery.

5. Philip K. Dick: One of the most popular science fiction writers in the world whose books have been made into countless blockbuster movies (Total Recall, Blade Runner, Minority Report), he was also one of the most schizophrenically delusional writers ever due to his dependence on amphetamines. He used everything from prescription drugs to crustal meth in copious amounts and even opened up his house as a drug addicts' commune. Though he is more famous for futuristic works such as A Scanner Darkly, he is less known for the brief prior of time when he was convinced he was possessed by the spirit of the prophet Elijah. When his house was broken into, he decided that he was in fact the individual who broke into his own house after being brainwashed by the government. He died after two consecutive strokes in 54.