Weird History 10 Historical Figures You Didn't Know Had STDs  

Kellen Perry
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A lot of historical figures have been accused of having STDs. Before doctors could properly diagnose a disease like, say, syphilis, it was easier for someone with a grudge—like a political opponent, for example—to spread nasty rumors about someone’s health, especially if it was already in decline. There are a ton of people from history who had STDs, of course, but they’re not necessarily the big names you may be thinking of.

A Google search for “historical figures with STDs” will get you pages and pages of unconfirmed rumors and theories about presidents, dictators, kings, and other famous figures who supposedly had syphilis or gonorrhea. “Did Hitler have an STD? Did Hitler have syphilis?” Not likely. What about presidents with STDs? Nothing has been confirmed. Nietzsche? Nope. Oscar Wilde? No. So which famous people definitely had STDs? Read on!

Gangster Al Capone Had Syphilis

Gangster Al Capone Had Syphili... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 10 Historical Figures You Didn't Know Had STDs
Photo:  FBI/United States Bureau of Prisons/WikiMedia Commons/Public Domain

Famous gangster Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone (1899-1947) was suffering from an advanced case of syphilis when he was released from prison in 1939. He checked into the Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore for treatment using the totally smooth and inconspicuous fake name “Mr. Martini.” When the media found out “Mr. Martini” was actually Mr. Scarface, doctors hid his condition by claiming he had a “nervous system disorder.” His New York Times obituary didn’t mention the syphilis, but it did mention he died from paresis, a severe neuropsychiatric disorder often caused by syphilis.

Occultist Aleister Crowley Had Gonorrhea and Syphilis

Occultist Aleister Crowley Had... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 10 Historical Figures You Didn't Know Had STDs
Photo:  Dnaspark99/WikiMedia Commons/Public Domain

Famous occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) contracted gonorrhea as a teenager. Or, as Crowley later wrote in the margin of one of his own books: “I caught the clap from a prostitute in Glasgow.” The incident led to Crowley getting booted from the Tonbridge School in England. He also later caught syphilis from a (different) prostitute while attending Cambridge.

Painter Henri de Toulouse-Latrec Had Syphilis

Painter Henri de Toulouse-Latr... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 10 Historical Figures You Didn't Know Had STDs
Photo: Maurice Guibert/WikiMedia Commons/Public Domain

Post-impressionist painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) died “of alcoholism and syphilis at age 36.” Toulouse-Lautrec was famous for his genetic abnormality (“a body trunk of average size but abnormally short legs”) and his frank paintings of French prostitutes. Fellow painter Edgar Degas rudely claimed these paintings “stank of syphilis.” Art historians think Toulouse-Lautrec may have contracted syphilis from one of his models, but that could just be a rumor. Penicillin, unfortunately, was unavailable at the time, so Toulouse-Lautrec may have been treated with mercury. ("A night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime with Mercury," as the saying goes.)

Actress Tallulah Bankhead Had Gonorrhea

Actress Tallulah Bankhead Had ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 10 Historical Figures You Didn't Know Had STDs
Photo: Unknown/WikiMedia Commons/Public Domain

Stage and screen actress Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968), said to have a baritone “steeped as deep in sex as the human voice can go without drowning,” once had a case of gonorrhea so bad she had to have an emergency “five-hour radical hysterectomy.” As recounted in The New Yorker, she allegedly later said to a doctor, “Don’t think this has taught me a lesson!” She checked into the hospital complaining of an “abdominal tumor,” and was surprised to discover it was actually a venereal disease that nearly killed her. She weighed only 70 pounds when she got out of surgery.