25 Famous People Who Drank Themselves to Death

Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Alcohol can make good times better and help endure bad times. But regular excessive drinking takes a serious toll, as evidenced by the thousands of alcohol-related deaths annually.

Unlike illicit drugs, alcohol is deeply ingrained in celebrations and events. Still, years of heavy alcohol use killed numerous celebrities across fields, from jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke to “Great Gatsby” author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

To compile a list of famous people who died from the effects of alcohol, 24/7 Tempo consulted numerous lists published by addiction- or alcoholism-related sites, then verified death dates and diagnoses from obituaries appearing in the New York Times and elsewhere. 

We included only figures whose deaths are considered to have been directly caused by, or due to conditions severely exacerbated by, excessive alcohol use. We did not include heavy drinkers or alcoholics for whom alcohol was only one of several contributing factors, nor the many noted personalities, especially (though not exclusively) in the music industry, who died from combinations of alcohol with other drugs, whether recreational or prescribed.

Nearly all met their demise from long-term alcohol damage. The lone accidental death was 1950s screen idol William Holden, who fatally hit his head after slipping while intoxicated. (He lived long enough to evolve into one of the greatest jazz musicians of the 20th century.)

Others succumbed to alcohol-related conditions like cirrhosis of the liver, cardiovascular events, or internal bleeding. The author of “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald, died of an alcohol-induced heart condition. Jazz singer Billie Holiday died from health problems related to alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver, or scarring of the liver.

Even abstaining can be deadly for habitual drinkers. Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky died from extreme alcohol withdrawal delirium involving seizures and hallucinations.

While alcohol can also lead to poor decision making and lack of motor coordination, only one person on this list died from an alcohol-related accident – 1950s screen idol William Holden was killed while intoxicated when he slipped and smashed his head into the sharp edge of a bedside table, dying from blood loss caused by the wound. (Read about these 37 violent celebrity deaths.)

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Daniel Webster
> Known as: Famed 19th-century lawyer, Congressman, and Secretary of State
> Died on: Oct. 24, 1852
> Age at death: 70
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced cirrhosis and subdural hematoma

Source: Mathew Brady / Wikimedia Commons

Franklin Pierce
> Known as: 14th President of the United States
> Died on: Oct. 8, 1869
> Age at death: 64
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced cirrhosis

Source: royaloperahouse / Flickr

Modest Mussorgsky
> Known as: Esteemed Russian romantic-era composer (“Night on Bald Mountain”)
> Died on: March 28, 1881
> Age at death: 42
> Cause of death: Delirium tremens caused by alcohol withdrawal

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)
> Known as: Famed short story writer (“The Gift of the Magi”)
> Died on: June 5, 1910
> Age at death: 47
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced cirrhosis

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Bix Beiderbecke
> Known as: Influential 1920s jazz cornetist and composer
> Died on: Aug. 6, 1931
> Age at death: 28
> Cause of death: Lobar pneumonia exacerbated by longtime alcoholism

Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

F. Scott Fitzgerald
> Known as: One of the greatest novelists of the 20th century (“The Great Gatsby,” etc.)
> Died on: Dec. 21, 1940
> Age at death: 44
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced coronary arteriosclerosis

Source: Hulton Archive / Moviepix via Getty Images

W.C. Fields
> Known as: Legendary ’30s and ’40s actor and comedian
> Died on: Dec. 25, 1946
> Age at death: 66
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced gastric hemorrhage

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Sinclair Lewis
> Known as: Nobel Prize-winning author and playwright (“Babbitt”)
> Died on: Jan. 10, 1951
> Age at death: 65
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced heart attack

Source: Hulton Archive / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Dylan Thomas
> Known as: Acclaimed Welsh poet and writer (“Under Milk Wood”)
> Died on: Nov. 9, 1953
> Age at death: 39
> Cause of death: Severe lung infection and bronchopneumonia exacerbated by alcohol abuse

Source: Getty Images / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Joseph McCarthy
> Known as: U.S. Senator from Wisconsin; anti-communist demagogue
> Died on: May 2, 1957
> Age at death: 48
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced hepatitis

Source: library_of_congress / Flickr

Lester Young
> Known as: Highly regarded and influential jazz tenor saxophonist
> Died on: March 15, 1959
> Age at death: 49
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced internal bleeding

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Billie Holiday
> Known as: The greatest, most influential jazz singer of the 20th century
> Died on: July 17, 1959
> Age at death: 44
> Cause of death: Pulmonary edema and heart failure, exacerbated by alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver

Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Brendan Behan
> Known as: Author, poet, playwright, and political activist; considered one of the great Irish writers of all time
> Died on: March 20, 1964
> Age at death: 41
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced complications of diabetes

Source: National Archives / Wikimedia Commons

Jack Kerouac
> Known as: Quintessential Beat Generation novelist and poet (“On the Road”)
> Died on: Oct. 21, 1969
> Age at death: 47
> Cause of death: Cirrhosis-induced esophageal hemorrhage linked to lifelong alcohol abuse

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Clyde McPhatter
> Known as: Influential R&B and rock’n’roll singer; founder of The Drifters
> Died on: June 13, 1972
> Age at death: 39
> Cause of death: Liver, heart, and kidney disease linked to alcohol abuse

Source: Graphic House / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Veronica Lake
> Known as: Glamorous actress in 1940s comedies and film noirs
> Died on: July 7, 1973
> Age at death: 50
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced cirrhosis and hepatitis

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

John Bonham
> Known as: Influential Led Zeppelin co-founder and drummer
> Died on: Sept. 25, 1980
> Age at death: 32
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced pulmonary aspiration

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Moviepix via Getty Images

William Holden
> Known as: Academy Award-winning Hollywood leading man; named one of classical Hollywood’s 25 greatest male stars
> Died on: Nov. 12, 1981
> Age at death: 63
> Cause of death: Blood loss from laceration suffered from a fall while inebriated

Source: Norman Potter / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Richard Burton
> Known as: Famed Shakespearean actor turned box-office star; two-time husband to Elizabeth Taylor
> Died on: Aug. 5, 1984
> Age at death: 58
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced intracerebral hemorrhage

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Alexander Godunov
> Known as: Russian ballet star and actor
> Died on: May 18, 1995
> Age at death: 45
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced hepatitis

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Townes Van Zandt
> Known as: Influential Texas singer-songwriter
> Died on: Jan. 1, 1997
> Age at death: 52
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced cardiac arrhythmia

Source: Joe Bangay / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

George Best
> Known as: British soccer star; considered one of the best players of all time
> Died on: Nov. 25, 2005
> Age at death: 59
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced lung infection and multiple organ failure

Source: Roger Kisby / Getty Images

Amy Winehouse
> Known as: Record-breaking English soul and R&B singer
> Died on: July 23, 2011
> Age at death: 27
> Cause of death: Accidental alcohol overdose

Source: Rick Diamond / Getty Images

David Cassidy
> Known as: Actor, singer, teen idol
> Died on: Nov. 21, 2017
> Age at death: 67
> Cause of death: Alcohol-induced liver and kidney failure

Source: Kristian Dowling / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Verne Troyer
> Known as: Comedian and actor (Mini-Me in the Austin Powers films)
> Died on: April 21, 2018
> Age at death: 49
> Cause of death: Suicide by alcohol poisoning

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