What do William Burroughs, Ayn Rand, James Baldwin, Jim Carroll, and Louisa May Alcott have in common? They all enjoyed substances, whether alcohol, amphetamines, or absinthe (or all of the above).
LIFE Magazine has put together a slideshow collecting portraits of some of history’s most notorious literary dabblers in all varieties of substances (and some of the photos are even for sale, for those who like to hang drunken authors on their walls).
We love our literary addicts, don’t we? It’s almost a shame the tradition is dying. I certainly don’t want to be an advocate for addiction, but there’s something a bit dismaying about the image of contemporary writers at 24 Hour Fitness, keeping a calorie count on the elliptical, dallying over organic salads afterward, turning down a second glass of wine at the weekend’s dinner party.
There’s a magnificent photo of Dorothy Parker (one of my favorite artistes of the drunken barb), as she bangs away at a typewriter, her eyes and jowels all full of the bags of a weary, joyous life of revelry and damnation–and then there’s a wonderful view of the countryside behind her, a man who looks like Rock Hudson lounging in the next room. But she’s writing, writing and writing and writing.
James Baldwin’s eyes pop out in the livliest, most electrified way.
Jean Cocteau is being lifted to heaven (or taking a roundabout way to hell).
You’ve gotta live, right? Or you’ve gotta die to write.
Consider thes quotes–which might be more magnificent (or downright disturbing) than the photos:
You just got to see that junk is just another nine-to-five gig in the end, only the hours are a bit more inclined toward shadows. — Basketball Diaries
I’m Catholic and I can’t commit suicide, but I plan to drink myself to death.”
— Jack Kerouac
To smoke opium is to get out of the train while it is still moving.
— Jean Cocteau
Drinking is an emotional thing. It joggles you out of everyday life, out of everything being the same. It yanks you out of your body and your mind and throws you against the wall. I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you’re allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. It’s like killing yourself, and then you’re reborn. I guess I’ve lived about ten or fifteen thousand lives now.”
I’m an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I’m homosexual. I’m a genius.
Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off.
We’ll leave the drinking right there. With all of the clothes off. Drama shall ensue.
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