News From the Front

All Our Heroes Are Dead

Sift through any source of celebrity drinking quotes and you’ll find nearly every one was uttered before 1970. From then on our cultural icons have been strangely silent about the subject of alcohol, except when they’re looking for something to blame.
There was a time when all the movers and shakers in the entertainment industry not only drank, but also didn’t mind saying so. Their exploits were revealed and reveled with a wink in the gossip columns. They were the best at what they did, their artistic reputations were unimpeachable, and media dared not attack them.

Somewhere along the line, however, all that changed. The media stopped reporting and started judging. If they hinted a celebrity was drinking, they said in the tone of a prosecutor accusing a criminal, or worse — in my opinion — consoling a victim. And it wasn’t long before the celebrities picked up on the new system. Today’s entertainers undoubtedly still drink, and probably a lot, but you’d have to hold a gun to their publicist’s head before they’d admit to it in print. And if they are caught with their had in the whiskey jar, they assume the guise of the victimized knave, using booze as a universal scapegoat for their glaring personality flaws and run-ins with the law. Modern celebrities don’t fuck up anymore, the booze fucks them up.

The handful of celebrities willing to admit they actually enjoy tipping a few back, such as Hank Williams III, Shane McGowan and Kid Rock, are generally relegated to pseudo working-class outlaw personas doomed to dwell on the fringes of celebrity. Those that don’t fit the outcast mold are not the sort you’d look to for drinking cues. Half-weights like Leonardo DiCaprio who, yes, likes his vodka neat, but gets his kicks by having his limo driver park on an overpass so Leo can drop garbage on the working stiffs rushing to meet their horrible 6 a.m. shifts. Ewan MacGregor likes to pour them down, but even this self-styled enfant terrible carefully shepherds talk about his drinking bouts with carefully worded qualifications. Where Gleason said, “I drink to get bagged,” and Bogart proclaimed, “Scotch is a very important part of my life,” Ewan will admit to getting drunk then backtrack with: “It really doesn’t make you feel clever. Your acting is absolutely for shit. So I haven’t done it since.”

All our heroes are dead, to paraphrase the vigilante cop in Magnum Force. And what’s more, Without heroes we’re all plain people and don’t know how far we can go. Bernard Malamud said that and Bernie puts our dilemma in a nutshell: somewhere along the line our drunkard kings and queens were bumped off and replaced by a bunch of creepy con artists. Me, I’m going to pour a glass of Jack, put on a Sinatra CD and read some Hemingway. To paraphrase Billy Shakespeare, “Better to serve a dead king who was just, than a living one who really sucks.”

—Frank Kelly Rich

Views expressed in this magazine do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Modern Drunkard staff or publisher. In fact, I would like to take this opportunity to deny everything. Your Honor, I was never even near the place and, what’s more, those are not my trousers and those are most assuredly not my friends. They are merely a drunken and surly gang of hitchhikers I made the terrible, terrible mistake of giving a lift. I promise to be good. Really. I swear.