Biography of Famous Alcoholic and Playwright Eugene O'Neill

About the famous American playwright and alcoholic Eugene O'Neill, about his struggle with the disease.

EUGENE O'NEILL (1888-1953). American playwright, Nobel Prize winner in 1936.

Eugene O'Neill was the son of a well-known actor. He earned an early reputation as a heavy drinker, was suspended from Princeton for throwing a beer bottle through a window in college president Woodrow Wilson's house during a party, and spent the next few years in an almost successful attempt to drink himself to death. He was a habituÈ of Jimmy the Priest's, a Manhattan saloon later used as the setting for his play The Iceman Cometh, which examined the despair and delusions of alcoholism. His favorite drink, according to a contemporary, was "Benedictine by the tumblerful." He contracted tuberculosis and, while in a sanitorium, began to write.

His early plays were successful, but O'Neill was drinking heavily during the time they were produced. A theatrical colleague commented, ". . . he went on drinking bouts that lasted 2 or 3 weeks, so bad that his friends never knew if they would be able to pull him through."

O'Neill quit drinking abruptly at the age of 37. He volunteered to participate in a pre-Kinsey study of human sexuality, and the psychiatrist who conducted the study offered free therapy sessions as payment for O'Neill's services. During these sessions, the doctor told O'Neill that he drank to bury his oedipal problems. O'Neill thereupon stopped drinking for the remainder of his 65-year life.

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