Desi Arnaz Ate Tomato Soup Loaded with Vodka for Breakfast Everyday

‘A couple of sips of it and he’s gone’
Desi Arnaz Ate Tomato Soup Loaded with Vodka for Breakfast Everyday

Desi Arnaz would have co-signed on the old ad slogan for Campbell’s: “Soup is good food.” That’s because Arnaz started his well-balanced breakfast each morning with a big bowl of tomato soup “loaded with vodka,” according to I Love Lucy’s camera coordinator Maury Thompson on TCM’s The Plot Thickens podcast. “A couple of sips of it, and he’s gone. He’s gone and staggering, going to sleep, just the worst, the worst.”

Arnaz drinking a Bloody Mary bowl for breakfast sounds like a funny sitcom plot, but for Keith Thibodeaux, the actor who played Little Ricky, his TV dad’s drinking was pretty scary. There was the night Thibodeaux was sleeping over at the house of real-life pal Desi Jr. when Arnaz found out that a tutor had called his son a spoiled brat. “We heard all this commotion, and Desi had been drinking,” Thibodeaux remembered. “And he really laid into this guy. I mean, literally physically was beating him up, knocked him out of the house, down the stairs and just cussing. Here we are in our bedroom, and you know, of course, his kids. It’s like, what in the world is going on? It’s like somebody is dying out there.”

Desi Jr. and Thibodeaux were “shaking and trembling,” he said. Arnaz eventually found the boys and hugged them, apologizing for the chaos. “You know,” explained Thibodeaux, “he was that kind of guy.” 

Thibodeaux said he was sensitive to Arnaz’s volatility when he drank, so much so that “I began to stutter during one point during the filming of the show,” he said. “And Lucy told my father that I needed some time off. So, I took some time off.”

The drinking was no doubt due to the pressure on Arnaz, who ran Desilu and all the shows it produced. That was a staggering 350 hours of television between 1955 and 1957 — all while he was appearing weekly as Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy.  “He did always think in terms of liquor,” I Love Lucy writer Bob Weiskopf told People. “We once worked very late, and I started to look at my watch. Desi says, ‘Jesus, I’m sorry, amigos. Who’d like something to drink?’ No thought as to whether anyone might like a sandwich. Just, ‘My God! Going all this time without a cocktail!’”

Near the end of his life, Arnaz finally confronted his issues with alcohol. “He resisted going into AA or any program for a long, long time. We don’t air our dirty laundry in front of other people; he hated that part,” according to his daughter Lucie. But it was Desi Jr. who “convinced him, I think, ‘Come on, Dad. You can do this.’ And he did it. He stopped drinking.”

Lucie was next to her father when he stood up at an AA meeting and admitted he was an alcoholic. “It was the proudest moment of my life to sit next to him and hear him do that,” she explained. “It was like, ‘Okay, I don’t care what you do after this. That was the best thing you’ve ever done.’”


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