Famous Smokers Throughout History

Jeff Miller
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Through the Years

Throughout the years, there have been numerous famous people who were smokers. The list of current smokers is growing every day, but we still have many people from our past who stopped their habit. The interesting thing is that a lot of historical figures are still being looked up to. They’re admired and even imitated. But a lot have had a dark side of sorts. For example, the infamous Bonnie and Clyde went on a crime-filled spree between 1932 and 1934. They shot and killed many people.

Also, in the late 1700s, someone named Benjamin Franklin started the first volunteer fire department. It was in Philadelphia, and called The Union Fire Company. One year later, he discovered that his company was actually being a bigger risk than help. One of the firefighters was playing a game of baseball on the roof of a burning building! Franklin made a city ordinance for any volunteer fire companies to stop playing, or doing anything else, while on the job.

This is just the beginning of famous smokers throughout history.

Winston Churchill

(1874 – 1965)

Winston Churchill was an Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during WWII and a famous British politician in general.

He was famous for having a strong, tobacco-stain mustache and for his smoking. Even though some of my English friends tell me that Churchill by far the worst of the "tobacco-deprived" Prime Ministers that led the United Kingdom into the 20th and 21st century, he remains one of the most respected Prime Ministers in British history.

Between 1921 and 1940, Winston Churchill visited the United States seven times. He’d stay up to three months at a time. During the second half of his time here, he’d smoke four packs of cigarettes a day, an addiction he picked up in the military. In United States, all cigarettes sold in the early 1900s contained more than 6% nicotine, higher than the level available in modern day cigarettes. To quench his nicotine cravings, Churchill would puff at least eight ounces of a 16 oz. cigar per day! (The cigar was considered a “lifestyle cigar,” a cigar that was larger than the ones people smoked on a daily basis. Churchill couldn’t find the style here and ordered them from Cuba.)


Possibly one of the most famous smokers in history, not only did Kennedy smoke a lot, he also allegedly had tried to quit multiple times and even tried to get others to quit with him. One famous account is that he offered a woman who was crying after someone in her family died to comfort her during a flight, a cigarette. Kennedy’s smoking habit was so prevalent that it is believed he suffered from Addison’s disease, which sometimes caused bouts with leg pain and paralysis.

Fidel Castro

This is one of the world’s most famous cigar smokers and is also a heavy drinker. Castro was known for his rugged and muscled figure. In the 1950s, he was a confirmed bachelor and was said to have had more than 50 affairs with countless women. His huge consumption of alcohol and tobacco eventually gave him a severe tremor in his hands that forced him to give up cigars. But he wasn’t about to let a little thing like that slow him down: when he was in the hospital for surgery, he took a puff on a fake cigar and jokingly told his aids, “Hey, I’m getting better”.

Mark Twain

(Samuel Langhorn Clemens)

Twain was born in 1835 outside of the small town of Florida, Missouri. His parents, John Marshall and Jane Lampton, were moderately wealthy. Twain was fatherless until certain age when his father remarried a very religious and devout Christian. Twain was raised in a household dominated by society. Growing up with this desire for acceptance and embedded untruths led Twain to a life of fire and frost.

Twain’s work is highly regarded throughout the literary community. He is most distinguished for his novels like “The Prince and the Pauper,” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Twain was also a highly controversial author who did not hold back his opinions and did not shy away from the hard topics that affect the average life of the everyman. Twain’s work is still read by students of literature because he creates such a realistic picture of the human condition.

George Burns

Christian comedian George Burns was also a smoker. Being the old pro that he was, he was smart and calculated how many cigars he smoked in his lifetime. He reasoned that since he had lived for 95 years, he would smoke as many cigar-sized cigarettes as there were days in a year (365), and then figured out how much that amount would be every day. He determined that in his retirement he smoked about 5,000 cigarettes a day.

Jack Nicholson

Nicholson has been a smoker since he was 16. When he was an active smoker, Nicholson would smoke between 3 and 6 packs of cigarettes a day for over 50 years. In an interview, Nicholson didn’t seem to understand why there was a big fuss over smoking when there are so many other things in life that are dangerous.

Al Capone

Who doesn’t know the infamous Al Capone? If you’ve ever heard of Chicago, you’ve heard of Capone, who was the organized crime boss in 1920’s Chicago. He was known as a bootlegger who was also heavily involved in prostitution and gambling. Capone was one of the most feared, famous, and notorious gangsters ever to live.

Why do we have a list of famous smokers but not famous non-smokers? Because when it comes to crime, famous people who have been saddled with a bad reputation tend to be smokers. You would probably be hard-pressed to find a well-known gangster, criminal, or other bad guy who wasn’t a smoker.

Of course, this isn’t because people who are prone to criminal activity in some way really need nicotine as an extra boost to get them going. It’s more likely because people who are trying to quit smoking often cite the fear of loneliness or the inability to socialize as reasons for their behavior. “Lonely” is not a term you would associate with a gangster or criminal.

Michael Jordan

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Of all the smokers on our list, Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his own cigarettes. In recent years, the ex-bodybuilder has gained a reputation as a crazed juicer, and an advocate for healthy eating, but he still smokes. He says he uses tobacco the way a drinker uses alcohol – to relax.

Schwarzenegger is well known for his work ethic. In his bodybuilding days, he was notorious for consuming massive amounts of food and he is still known to eat copious meals. He was once asked if he thought he would have been able to achieve his level of success if he hadn’t started smoking early in his career. He said it may have taken him longer, but he would have still gotten there based on his work ethic alone.

Ron Perelman

In The Late 80's He Quit Smoking. However, In The Late 90's, After Being Fired By Morgan Stanley, He Started Lighting Up Again…

When he was the Chief Executive at Revlon in the late 80's, Ron Perelman was known as an oddball executive, known to smoke and spit, even in the boardroom. He smoked unfiltered cigarettes, and it was rumored that he even smoked on a private jet heading to a conference.

When he took over Revlon, he was known as a control freak, but when he was fired in 1990, he began to reevaluate things in his life. After a while, he finally quit smoking.

After he moved on from the whole Revlon scandal, he gained back some notoriety as a brilliant financial investor in the 90's, and in the early 2000's, he began working as a private investor again.

Rush Limbaugh

Although Limbaugh is a strong conservative in political beliefs, it is rumoured that he smokes marijuana. Limbaugh admitted in an interview on Fox that he was prescribed Adderall in college, which contained amphetamine, and was easy to get addicted to.

Rudyard Kipling

A lot of people smoked in the past, and a lot of smokers don’t quit today. People everywhere understand the health risks associated with smoking, but it’s not easy to quit.

What Life Would Have Been like if Famous People Quit Smoking

Of course, the health risks are the reason why people (excepting some tobacco industry people and others fortunate enough to be protected by their job) aren’t allowed to smoke indoors or near hospitals or schools anywhere in this day and age. But if someone set that rule for past countries, you might not even know who some of the famous people were.

A Historical Look at Smoking and Some Famous Smokers

Here’s a look at some famous and not-so-famous people who smoked all the time, and some that quit after a while and realized it changed their life for the better.

J.P. Morgan

The American financier.

Sigmund Freud

Continue to smoke: Freud was a heavy smoker. He was seen smoking in front of students and staff of the University of Vienna, Austria, in 1940, shortly before his death.

Reasons why he smoked: It is believed that Freud smoked to show his patients how to cope with life and to manage mental illnesses. He showed his patients how the desire for a cigarette can develop into a full-blown addiction.

Quote about smoking: “If you are willing to give up every pleasure in life except smoking, you will be able to give it up.”

Smoking statistics: At the time of Freud’s death, he had been a smoker for sixty years and an unashamed smoker. He smoked approximately 20 cigars each day.

Bruce Willis

In addition to being a major Hollywood action star, Willis also seems to have taken after his Austrian forefathers. According to Forbes, in a 2003 interview with David Letterman, Willis said that he didn’t hold back. “I started smoking cigarettes when I was three years old, bum one from my older sister.”

Mark Twain

Mark Twain didn’t just write about smoking, he lived it too. The author of such classics as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court often would smoke a Cuban cigar over coffee during his writing sessions.

Tallulah Bankhead

This famous 1930s beauty apparently didn’t enjoy alcohol, but she did enjoy a good cigarette. It’s said that she would take one puff of her cigarette every 10 minutes.

Jackie Gleason

The famous actor, playwright, and comedian enjoyed his cigars and smoking was an oft-used character device during his career.

Errol Flynn

The handsome world-renowned actor immortalized his love of smoking in the many swashbuckling films he starred in. In fact, his character was referred to as “the man with the golden cigarette.”

Michael Douglas

In 1975, Douglas revealed that he was being treated for stomach cancer. Later, he was diagnosed with the skin cancer stage one melanoma. In a 2007 interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show, Douglas spoke of his throat cancer diagnosis. He attributed the disease to the many years he had spent smoking and drinking.

Orson Welles

The Famed Actor/Director

Orson Welles was an American actor, director, writer and producer who was best known for his filmmaking. He was nominated for an Academy Award best director for his work on Citizen Kane in 1942.

The heavy smoker died of a heart attack in 1985, but despite the health risks of smoking, people continue to do it because of the addictive nature of nicotine.

Harrison Ford

One of the biggest names to ever smoke, Harrison Ford, the Hollywood action hero, who played Han Solo in the Star Wars series, as well as Indiana Jones and many other Hollywood blockbusters, died from lung cancer at the age of 79. On the 20th of March this year, he died at his home in Los Angeles, where he was surrounded by his children, friends, and his wife, Calista Flockhart. In the mid-1980s, he underwent open heart surgery to replace a faulty valve. Suffering from a grave illness, he took up smoking again to alleviate anxiety. Ford smoked about two cigarettes a day from about 10 cigarettes a day.

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise is one of the biggest stars in the world. He has starred in some of the most successful movies of all time, and is the heartthrob of millions of women. At the same time, he is also used as a punching bag for the media. Even though he is one of the highest paid actors today, he has lost a lot of respect and approval in the past few years, due to some of his out-of-the-norm, and very controversial behavior. However, one of the biggest splashes of this unexpected behavior was when he went on an in-depth rant comparing his own love of Scientology to that of his religion, with that of Nazis to his religion, that of Hitler's, and in doing so called one of the biggest stars in the world, Cruise, a politically incorrect moron.

Reading some of these outrageous statements, you feel somewhat sorry for Tom, that he's actually gone so crazy over the years, that he is in need of professional help, but then you realize, here's a man that smokes and enjoys doing it, that he's been addicted to smoking, and has always been addicted to smoking since the first time he tried it. He smokes a lot too. Tom smokes as many as four packs of cigarettes a day. He's smoked so much that despite his fortune and influence in the world, he's managed to offend and involve himself in a lot of controversy.

Charlie Chaplin

Although he started smoking at the age of 12, Charlie Chaplin was one of the most famous Hollywood stars to smoke. According to the movie legend, he smoked 40 packs of cigarettes a day for the first three years of his film career.

He knew the health risks associated with smoking and the appearance that it was giving him.

He would later quit during the filming of The Great Dictator at the request of the American Ambassador. He tried for another five years without a cigarette before dying of throat cancer in 1977.

King Edward VII

As one of the prime movers in a bitter diplomatic and commercial conflict, for many years Edward was vilified as a murderous, decadent, hedonistic, grasping, philandering, playboy. He was often portrayed as a rotten egg.

Then, in 1910, when his people demanded more transparency and accountability from their government, Edward said, "Gentlemen I can't change my spots." Smokers all over the world cheered, for they finally had an ally in the highest office.

To protect his friends in the cigar industry, Edward kept his smoking a secret from his devoted wife, Lady Mikey.

No one knew that Edward was the major shareholder of the once booming Stogies & Spiffs cigar chain.

When he died, his grandson Edward VIII was a ten-year-old Dippity Doodle smoker.

Edward’s statue is located outside the National Smokers’ Rights Museum in Pennsylvania, where he is honored as the founder of the modern smoking movement.

David Letterman

Letterman has been a smoker for decades. Not only has he said that he will never give up smoking, but he has made jokes about his three pack-a-day addiction. Letterman has even been known to smoke on the air during his late night show.

You may think that it’s easy to cut back when you’re smoking three packs a day. After all, how hard can it be to give up one or even two cigarettes? But nicotine is a notoriously difficult drug to get off of. Some people intentionally have one cigarette a day just to remain on the habit, and learn to resist the siren call of quitting.

Starting off Right

Although the percentage of smokers is smaller these days compared to years ago, something in evolution seems to make people take up the habit of smoking. There are a ton of health risks associated with smoking, including cancer. It costs a pretty penny to purchase all of those precious gadgets that smoke. Yet, many people keep up the habit and don’t see the danger that they could be putting themselves in. We are born with lungs, but it doesn’t matter if we take care of them.

Even though you may have started with good intentions, or you have good intentions now, you should know that your body will suffer from this. You may not have a choice of stopping now, but have you ever wondered about what your body would have looked like if you didn’t smoke? For all you know, you may have developed powers and would have been able to develop superpowers, or at least, have super lungs. The next time you feel the need to light one up, listen back to this podcast and think about the possibilities.

Final Thoughts

The companies behind the brands, advertising, and celebrity endorsements have done a great job at leveraging the appeal of the "cool factor" with their product. Who doesn’t want to be seen as being "COOL" and the cigarette companies have spent millions making sure that the advertising of their products does just that.

It is very easy to get caught up in what is seen as the "cool" thing to do, today and in the past. Over the course of hundreds of years, people have become addicted to nicotine and attracted to cigarettes for the same reasons. It is important to understand nicotine's addictive qualities in order to avoid becoming a smoker.

Because it is so easy to overlook smoking as being a dangerous habit, with an image of “coolness” surrounding it, even when you learn the truth about how bad smoking is, it is difficult to give up. The Food and Drug Administration has launched a campaign to encourage people to quit smoking and it includes medications and nicotine replacement therapies. The campaign is called, “Be The First To Know: What’s In Your Cigarettes” and aims to make consumers aware of the knowledge that the tobacco industry may be hiding from them.