Laura Bush Reveals How George W. Stopped Drinking

Former first lady tells Oprah there was no 'Jim Beam or Me' ultimatum.

May 4, 2010, 12:51 PM

May 4, 2010— -- Laura Bush's reportedly famous ultimatum to her husband, "It's either Jim Beam or me," is often cited as the turning point where George W. Bush went from the spoiled and heavy-drinking scion of a prominent political family to the self-made man who would ascend to the presidency.

But, the former first lady said, it never happened.

"I never said the line: It's either Jim Beam or me," Bush revealed in a new memoir, "Spoken From the Heart."

Instead, Bush, 63, came to the decision to quit drinking after a "wild drunken weekend" to celebrate his 40th birthday, the former first lady told Oprah Winfrey today.

"We had the wild drunken weekend and it was no different from any other weekend," Laura Bush said of the trip the couple took with friends to Colorado Springs in 1986.

"George just woke up and he knew he wanted to quit," she said. "And he stopped and he was able to stop. A lot of people can't. A lot of people need help to stop. He just stopped cold turkey."

In the book, she wrote: "I was not going to leave George and I wasn't going to let him leave me with twins. Our marriage was enduring, we loved each other and we were two people who did not have divorce in our DNA. But I was disappointed and I let him know that I thought he could be better man."

The former president, she said, drank frequently as a young man, often consuming beer, bourbon and B&B liquor in one sitting.

"We talked about [his drinking problem] a lot," she told Winfrey. "Drinking was a very acceptable part of our social life in Midland [Texas]. ? He liked to drink beer, bourbon and B&B afterwards."

She said Bush would go for hours-long runs to shake off a hangover.

President Bush never denied his use of alcohol and credited a religious awakening for his quitting. He denied being an alcoholic but admitted to a biographer that he was "drinking too much."

It was revealed the week before the 2000 presidential election that he had been arrested for drunk driving in 1976 near his family home in Kennebunkport, Maine. He paid a fine and his license was suspended. Ten years earlier, at age 20, he was arrested for disorderly conduct but the charges were later dropped.

Billy Graham Helped President Stop Drinking

Laura Bush, 63, said there were several factors that persuaded her husband to stop drinking, including a meeting with evangelist Billy Graham and regularly attending Bible study.

"We had been in Maine the summer before [Bush's birthday] and Billy Graham was there and George had a long talk with Billy Graham," Laura Bush told Winfrey. "Some of our friends had started a Bible study, a men's Bible study that he started to go to. So I think it was a combination of things: of maturing, finding yourself at 40 years old and deciding what you really want.

"He had a wife who loved him, had baby twin girls, and had a father thinking about running for president who was vice president."

The former first lady also talked about the lowest point in her life, accidently killing a friend in a car accident when she was 17, and the lowest point in her time in the White House, Sept. 11, 2001.

She had never publicly talked about the 1963 car accident in which she killed her friend Mike Douglas when she ran a stop sign at an intersection in Midland.

Reiterating many of the points she made in the book, obtained by ABC News last week before it hit shelves, Laura Bush called the accident a "terrible tragedy."

She said she continues to live with the guilt and regrets that she never visited with the boy's parents or attended Douglas' funeral.

On 9/11, the first lady was taken to an underground bunker in the White House where she was later met by the president who was flown back to Washington, D.C., from Florida via Louisiana and Nebraska.

The first couple decided that night to leave the bunker to sleep in the residence. Soon after falling asleep, they were awoken by a presidential aide and told another plane was headed toward the White House.

"George and I jumped up and I didn't put on my contacts because I didn't have time to," she said. "So George grabbed my hand and I blindly made my way down. We grabbed our pets, Spot ran, George grabbed Barney and I had Kitty."

But by the time they arrived again in the bunker, they were told it was a false alarm.

George Bush Had Forgotten How to Make Coffee

Laura Bush revealed some details of her new life outside the White House. A former librarian, she has arranged all the books in her house by the Dewey decimal system.

Her husband, who frequently brought her coffee in bed before they moved into the White House, woke up the morning of Jan. 21, 2009, the day after President Obama's inauguration to make a cup of coffee, but she said, "he had forgotten how."

The Bushes now live in Dallas and continue to visit their ranch in Crawford, where, as president, George Bush often hosted foreign heads of state.