famous Absinthe Drinkers
No other liquor, except cognac, perhaps, has a constellation of famous drinkers that Absinthe has had, from the early days when licensing laws were relaxed in France to the present. Such laws resulted in a proliferation of new cabarets and cafés in the 1860's, and it was estimated than 30,000 existed just in Paris by 1869, capital of the world in the Belle Époque and the meeting point for most renown artists, painters, writers, royalty and socialites in the 19th century.
The cafés were certainly an extremely popular place to socialize, since most of Paris' inhabitants were living in cramped apartments, often in squalor and poverty, and these cafés were used to release their problem at 5 p.m., the time that signified "l'Heure Verte" (The Green Hour) an equivalent of the present "Happy Hour", meaningful for almost every one and part of a campaign to encourage drinking and enjoyment.
In the mid 19th century, nowhere was this cafe culture more vibrant than in the Parisian district of Montmartre, the favorite haunt of the bohemian literary and artistic elite from all the world including Pablo Picasso, Julius Verne, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Edouard Manet, Vincent Van Gogh, Hilaire-Germain Edgar Degas, Paul Marie Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, and Ernest Hemingway and many others that featured Absinthe prominently in their works, artists celebrated not just for their work, but also for their often outrageously bohemian lifestyles.
One of best known establishments in Paris was the "Brasserie des Martyrs", a particular favorite of Charles Baudelaire, and also the "Cafe du Rat Mort", popular by its novice and experienced writers by day and lesbians hangout at night. However, the most famous of all them was the "Chat Noir", founded in 1881 by Theodore Salis, an unsuccessful painter, and a place where it was easy to find Erik Satie playing the piano and Alfred Jarry as a regular, the same as the remarkable poet and inventor Charles Cross who had the reputation to have drunken 20 Absinthes a night.
Absinthe also had fanatics amongst the Parisian theatres. As reference, an original program from the fabled Moulin Rouge dated in 1894, shows Absinthe on the pricelist, and a letter from the playwright Armand d'Artois proposing a new play called "La Verte". Degas' painting "L'Absinthe" pictures two forlorn-looking cafe patrons staring out beyond their milky-green Absinthe drinks and Manet took this even further by daring to paint a true drunkard with Absinthe, titled "The Absinthe Drinker".
The most famous of all Absinthe drinkers of the Belle Époque was Vincent van Gogh, who painted many of his works in ochre's and pale greens, the colors of Absinthe. Coincidentally, many of these paintings also depict the bar in which he used to drink, and himself with glasses of Absinthe. Van Gogh was throughout his life an outcast and a depressive man who suffered from epileptic fits and bouts of psychotic attacks.
It is known that he also drank a lot of Absinthe while living in Arles with Paul Gauguin, and was prone to deeply eccentric behavior, including painting outside at night with candles hooked to his hat. He was sent to a sanatorium in 1888 after he was forced out by a petition from people in his town who were frightened by his bizarre ways. Although van Gogh never acted violently, excepting when he sliced off his own ear during a psychotic fit, but this anecdote was used later as part of the anti-Absinthe propaganda.
Contemporary drinkers include famous celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and musicians including Eminem, Trent Reznor, and Marilyn Manson. In fact Johnny Depp declared, "I hated cocaine but I used to like Absinthe, which is like marijuana; drink too much and you suddenly realize why Van Gogh cut off his ear."