Benson is now an FBI agent working in homeland security in Washington, D.C., so he's very careful about what he says. But no, he was not surprised.

August IV was never charged in the crash because his blood and urine samples were ruined during testing. That just seems so suspicious, no?

Benson will tell you that that never happened in any other investigation he conducted. And he dealt with the lab people all the time. Who knows? It could be circumstantial. But based on testimony [about August IV drinking heavily prior to the crash] from people with him that night, it certainly was fortunate for August IV.

August Busch III (right) enjoys some of his product with Lou Rawls and Frank Sinatra circa 1982.
Zuma Wire
August Busch III (right) enjoys some of his product with Lou Rawls and Frank Sinatra circa 1982.
August Busch Jr., known as "Gussie," guided the brewery from 1946 to 1975.
RFT FILE
August Busch Jr., known as "Gussie," guided the brewery from 1946 to 1975.

Details

Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer will be released this month by HarperCollins Publishers. Author William Knoedelseder reads from the book at Left Bank Books' Central West End store (399 North Euclid Avenue; 314-367-6731) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 13.

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You write that August IV's favorite movie, which he played over and over for visitors at his home — is Scarface. Given some of the anecdotes you relate — about him snorting epic-size lines of coke and smuggling the drug in Alka-Seltzer tablets, that film seems to mirror his life story somewhat. But would American Pyscho perhaps be a better fit?

I can't say I've read the book or seen that movie. But the thing about August IV is that the vast majority of American males live out their lives without having a young woman die in their presence with drugs in their systems. Much less two.

You give the St. Louis Post-Dispatch credit for breaking the story of Adrienne Martin's death, but you also ding the paper for participating in the "sympathy campaign" toward August IV. In particular, you note that columnist Deb Peterson's interview with August IV after Martin's death, in which he talks about his distant relationship with his dad, was "short on hard questioning." Is the St. Louis media soft on the Busch family?

At times probably yes, and times no. It's a moving thing. Sometimes things get played up too much, other times not enough. That interview, though, was somewhat bizarre. She told her version in another article I read. She let him talk, and she didn't feel she had any reason to ask if he was doing drugs with Adrienne — the theory being if you ask that question to a source, then you can't go back. I think she has been criticized over that. She doesn't need me to do it. But again, yeah, the story he told her is "woe is me" — as though all this stuff happened to him. I'd argue that more stuff happened to the dead girl.

Your book ends with some of Busch IV's friends telling you they wouldn't be surprised if he turned up dead tomorrow. Despite rehab and interventions from family and friends, he allegedly continues to abuse drugs and alcohol. Moreover, the man who once took such great pains with his physique and dress has let himself go, putting on weight and wearing pajamas in public. It's a pretty sad story, isn't it?

I heard that so many times: "He won't make it to his next birthday." But then the next birthday would come. It's funny. Some say the book is a pretty sympathetic portrait of August IV and that his father is unsympathetic. And some come back with exactly the opposite. It's hard to be sympathetic about a lot of things. A lot of people have overcome worse situations with their father and not gone where he did. But then every life has its own stuff. He was born into a life that was dictated to him: "You're going to be the CEO here, and this is what you have to do, and this is what 150 years of tradition is."

Maybe in another life he would have been an artist or run his own advertising company. But that wasn't a possibility. I don't see him as a monster or a bad human being. There are flaws, some of them glaring, and he's definitely a troubled guy. I had people who told me they were talking to me because they were hoping that if the book came out, it could be the thing to move him to deal with his issues, to take care of his problems and survive. Hopefully he will.

You grew up in St. Louis. What's your memory of the Busch family from your childhood?

I remember my first visit to Grant's Farm like yesterday. Standing next to a horse that was too big to fit inside my living room and taking the tram through Deer Park. It was indelible. I remember at one point in the tour, you could look off and see the big house, and one of my cousins said, "That's where Gussie lived." I always remembered that and wondered what it was like. Growing up, Gussie was larger than life.

Looking back, are you surprised at the staggering success the company enjoyed over its history?

I've always been interested in the story, so I was up on how successful they were. But I was surprised by some of the interfamily dynamics. When you examine the people involved, you see history repeat itself. These guys were amazing guys. They had all kinds of issues, but the people who built the company and kept it running for 150 years were not your normal people, or it wouldn't have happened. So there's a lot of heroic stuff in there, and there's a lot to be criticized.

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2 comments
kp.ryan
kp.ryan

Sounds like a great read.

pablop765
pablop765

GREAT HISTORY ABOUT THE BEER BARON'S OF ST LOUIS,

 
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