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February 26: The Great One’s Birthday

It’s Jackie Gleason’s birthday. Jackie was born on this day in 1916 in Brooklyn, and like many rough-and-tumble kids who came of age during Prohibition,  he cut his teeth on bootleg gin before he hit his teens. Once he’d made his scratch, however, he immediately switched to Scotch. “Some drink to forget, some drink to remember—me, I drink to get bagged,” he confessed, and Scotch, usually J&B, was his preferred method of getting into said bag. Not to say the Great One never strayed from his Highland mistress; he prided himself on his gin martinis, went through a serious vodka phase, drank bourbon by the case and was known to rehydrate, come morning, with pitchers of beer. But it was Scotch he sipped from a tea cup—on camera—during The Jackie Gleason Show. He laid down at least fifth a day and when asked why he needed so much, and so often, he quipped: “I don’t drink to get rid of my warts, I drink to get rid of yours.” Jackie was not above using his celebrity to get his hands on free booze: he made a point of mentioning his favorite brands on the air, knowing the distilleries would ship him at least a case as a thank you. True Story: Jackie and President Richard Nixon once met for a scotch-fueled bull session and at the end of the evening Gleason swore he could barely stagger from the room while Nixon walked out “as straight as a soldier.”

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