Billy Joel Is No "Hardcore Alky"

By Sarah Beller 05/27/13

The singer aims to "set the record straight" about his rumored alcohol problem.

Joel just overdid it. Photo via

Despite his well-publicized history of substance abuse and a stint in rehab, Billy Joel says he "just overdid it" with the booze. In an interview in the New York Times Magazine, the iconic singer and pianist aims to clear up the "misinformation" about his rumored alcohol problems. He admits to indulging quite heavily in the past: "It started with Dewars White Label Scotch and then, when I really got heavy into it, it was vodka. Vodka is a hard-core alky drink," but says his drinking "wasn't consistent, it would be periods of time, during a divorce or something." Joel, 64, says he also turned to alcohol to cope with a "deep, deep depression" following the events of September 11th, 2001. "9/11 just knocked the wind out of me, and I don’t know even now if I’ve recovered from it," he says, adding that he "used booze as medication." It was also 9/11, he explains, that led to his series of auto accidents: "I was kind of in a mental fog, and [the accidents] had nothing to do with the booze. My mind wasn’t right. I wasn’t focused." Joel calls DUI rumors "a fallacy," and says his trip to Betty Ford in 2005 was only at the urging of his former girlfriend (and later ex-wife), Katie Lee. "I don’t know why I drank so much. I don’t subscribe to A.A.," he says, "I don’t subscribe to 12-step stuff. Sometimes I just overdid it." 

These days, the "Piano Man" singer says he drinks in moderation, and he's not ashamed of it: "I have a glass of wine once in a while, and I don’t hide it. I have a glass of wine with a meal." In fact, his lifestyle is so moderate that he pulled out of a $3 million dollar advance book deal from HarperCollins for his memoirs, because they "wanted more sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, and there’s not that much in my life." Says Joel: "What I wanted to do was have a book that set the record straight. There’s so much misinformation about me."

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Sarah Beller is a writer and the Executive Director at Filter. She has written about drug policy with a focus on harm reduction for Substance.comThe Fix and Salon. She has worked as a social worker with formerly incarcerated people in New York for a number of years. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’sThe HairpinThe ToastReductressThe Rumpus and other publications. You can find Sarah on Linkedin and Twitter.