Rick James was right: cocaine is a helluva drug. Then again, so are mushrooms, MDMA, LSD, alcohol, and good old reefer. Over the past 20 years, I’ve indulged in my fair share of recreational self-medication. I’m lucky and not predisposed to addiction. If you don’t have an addictive personality, then drugs can be f*cking amazing.
Psilocybin opens the mind and lets it heal, THC calms the soul and nerves, MDMA (molly) makes you all about the love. Alcohol is fun. There’s a reason cocaine has tainted 90% of the bills in circulation in the United States. And the effects from the designer drug depicted in the new film, Urge, which leads to a rather insane drug-fueled bacchanalia… well, those look incredible.
The 20th century’s war on drugs turned out to be a farcical and tragic experiment. We blew more coke, smoked more weed, and dropped more acid than ever. Luckily, today the war on drugs is giving way to a more progressive mindset, in which we can study what these drugs actually are, and maybe find some benefits. Did you know that Molly is getting approved for couples’ therapy?
While the experts busy themselves with that, let’s look back on some of the craziest, most drug and alcohol fueled melees had by people who just wanted to party, man.
Dock Ellis’ No-No
Dock Ellis was a character. He’d show up to practice with hair curlers in his hair. He didn’t shy away from hitting batters whenever he could. He voiced his opinions about racism in America and the MLB without hesitation. He was a larger than life athlete. And the man liked to get high. Not just regular high. Really, really high. So high that Ellis once said that pitching a game sober was the scariest moment of his life.
Back in the 1970s, steroids were fairly uncommon. What was common were uppers like Dexamyl and Benzedrine. It seems like 90% of baseball players in that era were high as f*ck on amphetamines, or speed. It kinda puts the whole steroid epidemic in perspective. Then again, cocaine was the preferred drug of choice for baseball players in the 1980s. I mean something has to get you through nine god-awful boring innings, right? And can we really expect our athletes to stand around for three to four hours at a time with some light running once or twice a day without a little chemical assistance?
Dock Ellis took it one step further. On a misty day in June of 1970, Dock stepped onto the mound and pitched a no hitter against the San Diego Padres while high on Dexamyl, Benzedrine, and LSD. He’d been getting some r-n-r in L.A. with an old friend and dropping acid, as you do. Then he lost a day, again, as you do. He’d already dropped some more acid when he was informed he was due to pitch that day. Dock high-tailed it down to San Diego. He scored some Bennies from a female fan who sat near the dugout with a golden bag full of pills. I guess those are what they call the good ol’ days, assuming you loved speed. The cocktail of drugs in Dock’s system gave him a focus. He claims not to even have seen the batters, just the calls from the catcher. That focus waned when he actually pitched. He threw balls into the dirt, into the stands, and into batters. He dodged fly balls fearing for his life. He even made a tag on first. But no one got a hit on him.
Not bad for someone as high as a Georgia pine. But, then again, just about everyone was probably high on amphetamines that day.
Hunter S. Thompson’s Writing Day
To say Hunter S. Thompson is a legend would be giving the word “legend” too much credit. The man transcended our insistence on labeling everything. He lived a life as close to the razor’s edge as one could get. Until he got metaphorically cut and, spoiler alert, committed suicide. It was a fitting euthanasia. The man loved guns. It’s amazing his heart didn’t explode a long time before that.
We are the lucky few that can look back on his work and say “I remember when…” I doubt he’d appreciate half the sh*t that’s written about him, much less the countless arid portrayals of his character in the medium of moving pictures. Though, there are one or two decent renderings of the Gonzo bedlamite out there. No medium will ever be able to convey the depth of his real oeuvre — inebriation.
To truly capture Thompson’s delirium, you’d have to embrace madness yourself. His daily routine for writing is the residue of his legend for the cubical-shackled masses who fawn at legend. He’d wake from a coma like slumber at 3 in the afternoon and proceed to consume cocaine, cigarettes and scotch for three-straight hours…with a side of OJ and coffee. By 6 p.m., a little grass was needed to “take the edge off the day.” After an exercise in gluttony at the Woody Creek Tavern, the scribe would spend the next five hours indulging in LSD, Chartreuse, marijuana and cocaine. By midnight, he’d be ready to birth the assemblage of words that made him so apotheosized. After six hours blessing the world with his prose, Hunter would finish his day with Dove Bars, Fettuccine Alfredo and champagne. By 8 a.m. he’d be back in bed for his six hours of coma like slumber.
Whether this was a part of his persona con Gonzo is up for your own speculation. It is, however, an observation of an outsider and not the self-aggrandizing proclamation of a man obsessed with his own image. One thing I know to be true: The capability of keeping up the hardest party with the hardest partiers comes from daily perseverance. No one can just start snorting cocaine for hours on end and still be coherent. You have to carefully craft that faculty.
Ken Kesey and the Merry Band of Pranksters
“I’m tired of waiting for an echo. I want to be a lightening rod.” — Ken Kesey
Late in the 1950s, Ken Kesey took part in a clinical trial of LSD-25 while working at the Menlo Park Veteran’s Hospital in California. The testing was under the umbrella of the now-infamous CIA operation Project MKULTRA. This was a moment that would change the course of lifestyle and history in the United States. This act of CIA tinkering would lead to the Beat generation’s last gasps of breath as the hippie movement rose from its ashes. Ken Kesey absorbed a great deal while working at Menlo Park. His mind was opened to what he considered true freedom and understanding of the world and America’s place within it. It inspired Kesey to write his seminal tome, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The windfall Kesey earned from Cuckoo’s Nest allowed him to set up an experiment. He would bring LSD to the masses. He gathered his closest friends, a jar full of LSD and fistfuls of amphetamines, and they all piled into a psychedelic bus called “Further.” In 1964, they drove east to New York for the World’s Fair. The Merry Band of Pranksters included beat generation icon Neal Cassady, author Ken Babbs, Jerry Garcia’s eventual wife Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia, author Tom Wolfe, band The Warlocks, and many, many others. They drove high. They preached high. They tried to make films high. They shared their LSD, amphetamines, and marijuana across America. They are credited with single-handedly ushering in what we now consider the ’60s. All while high AF on LSD and speed.
The ideals of Kesey and his Merry Band of Pranksters were rooted in Americana. The idea of freedom to explore, experience and love were the talismanical driving force of their movement. During the famous bus adventure, someone tipped some paint into a stream. They decided to dip a shirt in and invented tie-die because only someone that high could invent something that garish. It was during this time that they partnered up with the Hell’s Angels and introduced them to LSD. Hunter S. Thompson was a fan.
After the bus journey, Kesey and his cohorts started the Acid Tests where they’d gave out free LSD and The Warlocks jammed. Soon, The Warlocks changed their name to the Grateful Dead and started bringing Jefferson Airplane on to jam with them. Newly enlightened people with long hair and silly shirts would gyrate to the music as the LSD, amphetamines, and marijuana took them to new heights. The ’60s were truly born of the Merry Band of Pranksters.
Duff McKagen’s Pancreas
Not every story of drug-laced carnality ends pretty. More often than not, they end bloody and bowed. Duff McKagen’s pancreas knows of what I speak. Duff started out in the proto-grunge scene of 1980s Seattle. He got out before the heroin started really taking hold and ended up on the streets of L.A. Within a week, he’d met a dude named Slash. The rest is rock history.
If Guns N’ Roses were known for one thing in the ’80s, it was the fact that they partied harder than any other band on the planet. Their first album was a musical representation of five guys living life as close to the edge as possible in Los Angeles. They had to live that life for their art. Or so they told themselves. Guns rocketed to stardom in a very short amount of time between 1986 and 1987 and Duff couldn’t deal. He’d been getting panic attacks since he was a teenager and his newly minted fame only added fuel to that fire. His prescription? A gallon of vodka a day. When someone ingests that much alcohol on the reg, they aren’t going to make sound life decisions. Duff started taking various drugs…for years. It all caught up with Duff in 1994. He tried tapering off by supplementing his daily gallon of vodka with 10 daily bottles of wine. Shockingly, that didn’t work.
When the doctor did an ultrasound on Duff’s pancreas, it was the size of a football. It had ruptured and was leaking fluids that were giving him third-degree burns inside his body. He was given morphine for the pain. It had no effect. He literally begged the doctor to just kill him.
After surgery, Duff spent weeks in the hospital recovering. Once he finally recovered, he went back to school and studied economics at Seattle University. And now he rocks sober with a much smaller pancreas. The lesson here, kids, is don’t drink like Duff unless you’ve lived like Hunter.
Andre the Giant Drank…A Lot.
Andre the Giant was a hell of a guy. His eating and drinking endeavors almost outshine his sportsmanship in the wrestling ring. Andre lived with a condition called acromegaly, or more commonly gigantism. His extra weight strained his muscular and skeletal system. Andre had a disdain for pharmaceuticals, and doctors were flummoxed trying to figure out an appropriate dosage. So Andre self-medicated with alcohol…amazing amounts of alcohol.
Andre’s cocktail of choice was The American. To make The American, you will first need a beer pitcher. You will then fill said beer pitcher to the brim with a slug of every hard liquor you have on hand. Serve. Andre’s co-star in The Princess Bride, Cary Elwes, likened the taste to that of jet fuel. Andre drank several of these a night. Keep in mind this was a 7-foot-4, 550-pound man. But still. Holy sh*t. Hogan should have gotten a belt for just being able to lift Andre off the ground.
Andre was known for his conviviality and kind nature. He was also known for drinking 100 beers in a sitting. One. Hundred. His personal record for one night was 156. Whichever city the WWF was touring, he’d be the first to the bar and always the last to leave. A bottle of brandy before dinner was a staple followed by maybe a dozen bottles of wine, and then a post-dinner bottle on cognac. Bottles! Andre also drank before battles in the ring. He’s reported to have drunk 16 bottles of plum wine before entering the ring for a 20-man battle royal.
Amazingly, Andre didn’t die of liver or kidney failure. He did, however, consume 7,000 calories of alcohol per day. He could drink a case of beer in 90 minutes flat. The gentle giant’s heart gave out in his sleep while in Paris for his father’s funeral in 1993. It’s amazing he lived to be 46. Luckily we were treated to nearly 20 glorious years of his ring antics in the WWF.
Jack Nicholson’s Wildest House in Hollywood
I don’t think that screengrab from The Departed up there is “acting.” That’s the look of a man who has done a lot of cocaine, had a lot of sex, and partied more than you and your friends, your children and their friends, your grandchildren and their friends ever will dream of partying combined. That’s the look of a life lived and really knowing what it all meant. That little bit of cocaine on his head are the dusty memories of countless kilos of coke, endless sheets of LSD, forests worth of marijuana, and an entire rubber plantation in Indonesia worth of prophylactics.
When Jack moved to Hollywood in the ’60s, it was the height of hippie and LSD culture. The man saw the face of Yahweh the first time he tripped. LSD would become a mainstay at his apartment as he pounded away at his typewriter working on the next great Hollywood script. Once Jack made it, he bought a house on Mulholland next door to his idol Marlon Brando. Warren Beatty bought the next house down. It became known as Bad Boy Drive.
Jack’s best buds, Harry Dean Stanton and Bruce Dern, hosted three-day-long orgies at his house. Jack had a simple rule — upstairs was the “good stuff” for his female companions and close friends, downstairs was the street grade drugs for the guests. Jack learned that Hollywood legend Errol Flynn loved cocaine. Errol would put cocaine on the tip of his penis before having sex. Jack, ever the student of drug-fueled depravity, attested that it was an amazing feeling for both parties involved.
Jack’s house parties carried on for the better part of the ’70s. People were just always at Jack’s house. It’s understandable, if someone was providing free booze and drugs for guests round the clock, I’d probably never have left, either. Jack’s drug and sex fueled decade produced the actor’s greatest work. The ’70s also netted him five Oscar nominations. Jack finally won for the film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The hippies were right. It is all connected, man.
Like these stories? See what happens when a mysterious nightclub owner (Pierce Brosnan) introduces a group of friends to a drug that you can only take one time. Get the ‘Urge’ when it hits select theaters on June 3, as well as On Demand.