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How F. Scott Fitzgerald’s addiction became the archetype of an alcoholic artist

Apr 10, 2017

The Great Gatsby, an American classic, was published on this day in 1925.

The book sells half a million copies each year, totaling over 25 million copies sold since it was published. It’s been made into a movie five times. But author F. Scott Fitzgerald went to his grave thinking it was a flop.

University of Michigan medical historian and PBS contributor Dr. Howard Markel spoke with Stateside about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life, and his struggle with alcohol.

“If you want a case history of alcoholism, and what it can do, and the progressive path, untreated, to death,” Markel said, “you could not find a better case than Fitzgerald.”

Fitzgerald died young of a heart attack at age 44. He had been drinking heavily since his time at Princeton as an undergraduate. His father had been an alcoholic, as had other members of his family. Markel said Fitzgerald’s insecurity, traumatic marriage, and his ability to get drunk easily fueled his problems.

When Fitzgerald was in Hollywood working as a scriptwriter, he instructed his secretary to drive his sack of empty gin bottles away from his house so his neighbors wouldn’t know how much he drank.

Markel said Fitzgerald tried to quit often, unsuccessfully. In periods of sobriety, he drank 30-40 bottles of Coca-Cola a day.

When he died, The Great Gatsby was out of print. But in the 1950s a popular biography revived interest in his work, and “thank goodness, we all read him now,” Markel said.

Listen to the full interview above.

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