The top five celebrity endorsements of vodka

"Clear Thinking," this week's cover story about Spring44 vodka and gin, outlined the rise of vodka, which went from a rarely-consumed liquor to the country's most popular spirit between the end of Prohibition and the mid-1970s. That was mostly thanks to marketing, including, in addition to brilliant ad campaigns, product placements in movies and celebrity endorsements.

Spring44 opted out of bringing on Hollywood's A-Listers to push its product, but here are five celebrity endorsements of vodka that helped make the category worth billions of dollars:

5. Woody Allen, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Julie Newmar -- Smirnoff In the 1960s, Smirnoff, which pioneered vodka marketing with the famous "It leaves you breathless" slogan, launched a series of magazine ads featuring Hollywood's hottest stars. Woody Allen, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Julie Newmar all made appearances, and Allen later referenced his stint with the vodka maker in a stand-up comedy routine called "The Vodka Ad."

4. Zach Galifinakis -- Absolut Zach Galifinakis really hit the mainstream in 2009 with The Hangover, but before he was a mega-star, he was a comedian who created a couple of shorts featuring Absolut vodka. The company allowed him to do anything he wanted, so he signed up Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim to assist, unveiling a trio of ridiculous -- and hilarious -- YouTube videos.

3. Sean "Diddy" Combs -- Ciroc Ciroc spent a few years selling its vodka, which is made from grapes instead of grain, without the help of a star. But in 2007, Ciroc struck a deal with Diddy, whereby he'd get half the company if he would be responsible for endorsing and marketing it. Diddy agreed and immediately proved that celebrity endorsements work -- according to Ad Age, the company has grown 552 percent, bringing in many millions of dollars more in revenue, since Diddy came on in 2007. 2. Dan Aykroyd -- Crystal Head Vodka Dan Aykroyd shares something in common with his character in Ghostbusters: an interest in the paranormal. That's what pushed him to explore the myth of the thirteen crystal skulls, which have all sorts of weird otherworldly powers, and then, oddly, establish a vodka brand that drew inspiration from his findings. This vodka, poured into a skull-shaped bottle, is filtered through Herkimer diamonds because, apparently, that imparts the same spiritual vibes as the original crystal skulls. 1. Chelsea Handler -- Belvedere This late-night comedy show host loved vodka so much, she actually titled a collection of essays Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea. But her spirit of choice was Grey Goose, which she drank on television for several episodes, until she publicly switched her allegiance to Belvedere, endorsing it because she "found out Belvedere has no real sugar in it" and "they have a distillery in Poland and that spells serious to me," according to an interview in Ad Age. Also, Belvedere -- not Grey Goose -- sponsored her book tour.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk