If I Ask For Whiskey On My Deathbed Please Just Give It To Me

Alcohol is no longer part of my life. I don’t miss it, and I have no intention of ever touching the stuff again. When I left Thamkrabok temple almost 6 years ago I was convinced my addiction had ended, and I still feel exactly the same way today. Some might say that I’m being overly confident, but it is just the way I feel.

The Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous Asked for Whiskey on His Death Bed

In the biography My Name Is Bill Susan Cheever reveals how the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous asked for alcohol shortly before his death. At the time he was losing his battle against chronic emphysema and only had days to live. It is reported the he asked for whisky on four separate occasions, but it was never given to him. It appears that protecting the legacy of the man who founded Alcoholics Anonymous was more important than comfort during his last hours. Bill Wilson’s requests for whiskey were recorded in the notes by the nurse taking care of him.

I personally find it a bit deplorable that Bill W. was not given alcohol when he requested it. I have experience working as a nurse in palliative care, and I have seen how tough the process of dying can be. People can be terrified so anything that can give them some comfort is welcome. The only reason that I can see why Bill W. was denied his dying request was an attempt to protect his image and the image of the program he created. These are not good justifications in my mind. He had already made it to the end of his life so what difference did it make if he drank again? It wasn’t like he was going to go on a drunken rampage or damage his liver. It just bothers me that this man who had helped so many was denied some final comfort and for what?

If I Ask For Whiskey on My Deathbed Please Give It to Me

I have no plans to ask for whiskey on my deathbed, but if I do it should be given to me. I intend to leave this world completely sober because I want to fully observe the process – even if it is only blinking out into nothingness. The reality is though, that we have no idea how we are going to react to dying until we are facing it. Ram Dass talks about this in the documentary Fierce Grace . He devoted decades to spiritual training but he still felt overwhelmed when faced with own death – this was when he was having his stroke. Dying is not an easy thing.

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21 thoughts on “If I Ask For Whiskey On My Deathbed Please Just Give It To Me

    1. Hi Lynne, it is a bit sad. I wouldn’t have thought any less of him for drinking on his death bed. Dying can be a tough business and we don’t know how we are going to react until it happens.

      1. That article and most likely the book is misleading. Bill Wilson’s emphysema had periodically deprived his brain cells of oxygen. He was on numerous meds when on his deathbed. The phenomenon of craving alcohol is normal for alcoholics, especially those in Wilson’s state of mind. With over 2 million active members, AA’s numbers speak well of it’s successful approach in dealing with the disease of alcolholism. Did any legitimate critic give this book a positive review?

        1. Hi Mike, I’m not swayed much by your argument that Bill asked for whiskey because of his emphysema. I understand why you might feel that his image needs protecting, but it is a bit of a leap. I could be wrong but when people are so hypoxic that affects their judgment they struggle to even manage sips of water. Do you also believe that his emphysema is the reason for why he took LSD during the sixties?

          This book was written by an AA member, and the portrayal is generally flattering. Some AA members seem to have liked the book, and some didn’t – you can do the research for yourself if you’re interested. I have no idea what you mean by ‘legitimate critic’ – do you mean critics that believe what you believe?

          I greatly Bill W. and I don’t believe that his desire for whiskey on his deathbed says much about the effectiveness of AA. He was a fallible human being just like everyone else.

  1. Paul, I think the point you document about Bill Wilson’s death bed request shows that for many people the fight against alcohol addiction is a lifelong battle. It’s a very interesting story and like Lynne one I’d never heard before.

    I’d have given him the bottle and asked if he wanted a cigarette as well.

  2. What you read in print and what actually happened are sometimes 2 different things ,Wilson may have had whisky who knows

  3. I think there are a few things you’re missing, Paul. Maybe this is just one of those knee-jerk, online articles that aren’t really thought out. Maybe you really thought about it, and these are the conclusions you’ve made. Regardless, you certainly seem absolute in your thinking that the nurse should’ve given Bill whiskey.

    First, is your assertion that “It appears that protecting the legacy of the man who founded Alcoholics Anonymous was more important than comfort during his last hours.”
    She was a nurse. Perhaps she knew a little something about the Hippocratic Oath. Dying of emphysema is a messy affair. It’s a terrible way to die. What would alcohol have done to him in last days?

    You claim that it would have comforted him. How do you know that? Because he asked for it? Hell, if alcohol would’ve comforted him in his dying days, imagine the joy he would’ve experienced had she shot him up with an 8-ball of coke, invited a couple of hookers into the room, and slipped him a tab of acid!

    No. Bill was an alcoholic. Maybe he was in a state of delusion. Maybe he wasn’t. But he definitely knew that it was a progressive disease. Perhaps the nurse knew that too, and I bet she knew that you don’t give a man whiskey on his death bed and call it “comfort care”.

    1. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. Guess what? So is emphysema. She refused his request because it’s progressive? Progress towards what, exactly? The man is about to die anyway. My father died of emphysema and I would not have denied him anything that gave him a moment of relief.

  4. Great article, Paul. I think flashes of spiritual insight are enormously difficult to convey, which is why organised religion can do so much harm as well as good. Personally I think AA is a little bit like organised religion in that respect.

  5. I guess my question is, Why is this even a story? What is the motivation? How does this story do anything for anyone? Why is this important? I find it interesting that there are people who think they need to know the most intimate and private details of a persons life. Like Elvis dying in his bathroom with his pants around his ankles. I worry about such voyeurs. It is usually told as if this is to be the last thing we should remember them by or for. The nurse apparently had no concern for the Wilson family and patient confidentiality in disclosing this intimate detail (if it is even true.)

      1. The first time I heard the story, I shared it with another alcoholic, as proof that you’re never completely free from the desire to drink. He responds, “That story can’t be true; he was a gin drinker.” But the story is documented fact, so just take it as a warning to all alcoholics.

  6. I always find it funny when people try to rationalize or minimize information like this. These same people will believe with absolute certainty that Bill had a spiritual awakening. He was hospitalized 3 times in a year with the DTs and was given belladonna {a hallucinogen} but people will believe he was visited by god. Bill was a serial cheater and carried on affairs for years. Bill also used LSD on a regular basis. I would think, for myself anyway, that if I was visited by god, any god, that I would have no problem walking the walk not just talking the talk.

  7. I have done a lot of research on AA and truly believe it is a cult. I watched AA take over my now ex-wife’s life and consume her for the wrong reasons.

  8. Welllll..AA PROGRAM cult or not has saved my life numerous times ..I’m an alcoholic I use to kid around with guys at the bar as did others “functioning alcoholics” then became disfuntional many of us did.
    At age 69 am still relapsing longest period of sobriety 7 months at a time twice then shorter periods and shorter periods and still am relapsing. Betty Ford and other rehabs didn’t help AA if I go to the meetings helps me stay sober even if it is short while..hey am not drinking today.7 days today ,tomorrow who knows.
    39 years sober give the man a break being human is not easy for an alcoholic
    It is a decease that will kill you more often than Cancer. People feel for Cancer patients but us alcoholics are just filthy drunks doesn’t matter if you are Winston Churchill or Fidel Castro alcohol is cunning.
    So next time you see that bum under the bridge instead of shaking your head prey for him after all he is human like Bill was.

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