Bing Crosby picked up a marijuana habit hanging with jazz musicians in the 1920s, suggesting later in his life that the plant be decriminalized.
Though Bing Crosby made many grand contributions to pop culture, his name will forever be associated with “White Christmas”. Before the 1954 musical became a family-viewing staple around the holidays, Crosby first recorded himself singing Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” in 1941, which he later released as a radio single. It’s since become the best-selling record of all time, with an estimated 50-plus million records sold.
But Crosby secretly hid a passion for a different color associated with Christmas—green. According to the 2002 biography Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams written by Village Voice critic Gary Giddins, Crosby grew fond of cannabis as a young jazz singer in the 1920s and 30s, before the plant became federally illegal. Crosby’s son Gary Crosby told Giddins that his dad once said he should quit drinking and pick up marijuana instead.
“If you looked at the way he sang and the way he walked and talked, you could make a pretty good case for somebody who was loaded,” Gary Crosby said. “[My father] said to me one time when he was really mad, ranting and raving about my heavy drinking, he said, ‘Oh, that fucking booze. It killed your mother, [actress Dixie Lee]. Why don’t you just smoke shit?’ That was all he said, but there were other times when marijuana was mentioned and he’d get a smile on his face. He’d kind of think about it and there’d be that little smile.”
Giddins reports Louis Armstrong was responsible for introducing Crosby, and several dozen other jazz musicians at the time, to marijuana.
“Louis’s influence on Bing extended to his love of marijuana, which he alternately called mezz…gage, pot or muggles. Bing didn’t develop the lifelong appetite for it that Louis did, but he enjoyed it in the early days—it was legal” Giddins wrote.
This understandably wasn’t well-known information at the time. That’s why fans and television audiences were surprised when Crosby suggested throughout the 1960s and 70s that marijuana should be decriminalized. In a 1977 interview, Crosby told Barbara Walters he’d disown his children if they participated in pre-marital sex, but would be cool with them smoking cannabis.
“I don’t think that’s any big sin, unless they abused it and got on it continuously,” Crosby said. “I think it should be legalized. I think it would probably do away with a lot of this smuggling and gangster business. I don’t suppose smoking marijuana hurts any worse than being an alcoholic, does it? Probably not as much.”
There you have it—the most popular recording artist of the first half of the 20th century was also a marijuana advocate on the low. Crosby may sing he’s dreaming of white Christmas, but maybe he wouldn’t be that upset with a green Christmas, either.