Duff McKagan and Duff Beer: An Internet Investigation


“You said if I slept with you, I wouldn’t have to touch the drunk.” – Titania
“Duffman says a lot of things!  Oh, yeah!” – Duffman

In a Reading Digest last spring, I noted that Duff McKagan, bass player for (among others) Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver, and Loaded, had claimed that Duff beer was named after him.  It came up again last summer, and has been bubbling up on-line ever since.  In addition to it being noted in articles and the like about him, McKagan himself has mentioned it several times.  In an ESPN.com column he wrote:

My name is Duff McKagan, and I play rock and roll music. The beer on "The Simpsons" show was named after me, and not the other way around. (I suppose it is a testament to how much alcohol I used to drink. Yeah, not too sexy really.)

In addition to that, one of those generically crappy radio station “blogs” quotes him in an (unlinked) interview:

”Our management for GN’R got a fax but it was from like an adult cartoon.  Now there wasn’t any adult cartoons in 1988.  There just wasn’t and like, ‘an adult cartoon?’  They want to use your name as the name of the beer on the thing and they just want your blessing.  It’s not like I own the name Duff, I should’ve trademarked that thing on up if I would’ve known but yeah, that think took off, that Simpsons deal.”

And here’s how he put it in his autobiography:

When Guns N’ Roses began to break into the public consciousness, I was known as a big drinker.  In 1988, MTV aired a concert in which Axl introduced me – as usual – as Duff “the King of Beets” McKagan.  Soon after this, a production company working on a new animated series called me to ask if the could use the name “Duff” for a brand of beer in the show.  I laughed and said of course, no problem.  The whole thing sounded like a low-rent art project or something – I mean, who made cartoons for adults?  Little did I know that the show would become The Simpsons and that within a few years I would start to see Duff beer glasses and gear everywhere we toured. 

That last quote caused a brief stir on-line last fall when the book was released.  The first eighty pages were put on-line for free, and that quote appears on page 9.  Just about any time a celebrity puts out a book (or someone puts out a book about a celebrity), one fact/revelation will inevitably be used as the hook to describe it so that people can talk about it without actually having read it.  In this case, that one thing was the Duff Beer-Duff McKagan connection, which was mentioned in articles about the book by everything from little blogs to The Los Angeles Times and The Huffington Post

Now, I don’t particularly care about this.  Whether or not McKagan’s drinking (at one point, he had a championship belt that had Budweiser caps instead of jewels on it) was a factor in naming Homer’s beer “Duff” doesn’t change Duff Gardens, Tartar Control Duff, or Duffman one bit.  However, the internet has a way of mistaking repetition for confirmation, and in the last year this idea has become truthy enough that it gets included as a throwaway fact in semi-respectable publications like Business Week:

How he drank so much beer at one point that Guns N’ Roses lead singer Axl Rose introduced him as “The King of Beers” and a producer from The Simpsons called to ask if he could name the show’s beer, Duff, after him, which they did.

As well as independent blogs:

The name Duff comes from Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, known for drinking lots of alcoholics.

And the world’s largest source of information, Wikipedia:

In an excerpt from his autobiography, former Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan said that the beer was named after him as the writers were fans of the band and he was known for his extreme alcohol consumption.[3]

That citation, by the way, goes to Maxim’s website, where there’s an excerpt from the book that includes the paragraph I cited above.  The sentence in Wikipedia is carefully worded, but that kind of caution has a way of washing out over time, and experience says that as more people read, write and rewrite the same claim, it’ll become more and more difficult for someone to trace it all the way back to its actual origin. 

As near as I can tell, no one else from Guns N’ Roses has mentioned this story, nor has anyone from The Simpsons ever said anything similar.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t true, but right now “Duff Beer inspired by Duff McKagan” is a completely unsubstantiated claim by a single guy who freely admits he was drunk out of his mind during the period in question, put the word “Lies” in the title of his book, and wrote this in his Author’s Note:

My friends and old band members may remember some of the stories I recount differently than I do, but I have found that all stories have many sides.

In other words, it’s as far from confirmed as it is possible for something to be.  Again, it could be true, but with the currently available information, there’s plenty of room for doubt.  Maybe someone from The Simpsons did call (or fax) them, but was it one of the guys who came up with it, or was it some paranoid junior lawyer in the bowels of FOX?  Maybe someone not from the show called him and told him about it, and over the years his memory changed that to someone from the show.  Who knows?

McKagan is an extremely accomplished, financially secure guy; he has no reason to lie about this.  However, and by his own admission, he does have a lot of reasons to be confused about it.  Therefore, simple prudence says that it needs to be confirmed by one or more other sources before it’s generally accepted.  Unfortunately, right now acceptance is running well ahead of confirmation.  This post likely won’t slow that down, but it’s here if anyone cares to look. 

[Note: I’m only about halfway done with the book (through the time period when this call/fax would’ve happened), but this post is already two days late and Google Book Search tells me that the Simpsons doesn’t get mentioned again for the rest of the text.  If I come across something that changes any of the above, I’ll update this post.]

18 Responses to “Duff McKagan and Duff Beer: An Internet Investigation”

  1. 1 Sasquatchum
    25 April 2012 at 8:47 pm

    I figure it’s made up. If it were real, it would be a story passed around from time to time at Simpsons HQ. And today’s Simpsons writers, upon hearing about it, would NOT have passed up the opportunity to have McKagan in an episode as an animated non-caricature of himself.

    • 2 Anonymous
      26 April 2012 at 3:00 pm

      In the season 4 commentary, Al Jean said the name “Duff” came from Jay Kogan (which was probably also mentioned on an earlier commentary, I don’t recall which one), so it’s most likely made up.

  2. 3 Stan
    25 April 2012 at 11:26 pm

    I frankly don’t get the disctinction you make. “Confirmed” from “repeated”… Err, where is it? Groening names a lot of things from people he knew, or bands he liked, or whatever. So how the fuck is it different whether Duff gave his OK for the show to use it or not? It’s 100% certain that the name of the beer comes from him, but what would happen if he didn’t knew it? An internet craze? Comic book guys texting each other in WCs? Oh please, don’t you people have ANYTHING better to do?

    • 27 April 2012 at 2:38 am

      This is going to sound insane, but I distinctly remember at some point that a shoe company (Nike maybe?) created shoes for all the band members… AXL shoes, SLASH shoes, IZZY shoes, DUFF shoes, whatever.. I think the AXL shoes can be seen in THE SPAGHETTI INCIDENT?! booklet. I dunno if these shoes were ever officially released (no doubt in a limited quantity) or just given out to the band members. Anyway… perhaps they called to see if using the name DUFF would be some kind of copyright infringement, what with the merchandising and whathaveyou. Along the same lines, you probably couldn’t name someone on a show, say, PRINCE, without getting a call from one of his lawyers.

      …So, perhaps someone suggested “Duff” for beer, then someone on the Simspons staff found out that “Duff” was being used by… Duff (the person)… and they called him to make sure it was okay. I mean, GUNS N ROSES were just fucking huge back then. So, it doesn’t seem too insane that they’d want to avoid any kind of trademark thing, or to piss off the wrong people in California. I know I’m probably way off but eh.

      • 27 April 2012 at 2:41 am

        Sorry, it was Converse (though Nike DID make Guns N Roses shoes later). And according to a quick google search, the whole band had shoes made for them but the only member who actually wore their own shoes was…

        • 6 D.N.
          28 April 2012 at 1:17 am

          Given how litigious Axl Rose is, maybe the makers of The Simpsons are wary of admitting anything they’ve done as being related to Guns N’ Roses. I know it’s Duff and not Axl, but maybe they’re just being careful…

          • 30 April 2012 at 9:03 pm

            Yeah, exactly. Especially considering how HUGE G’N’R was at the time and how small (by comparison) The Simpsons were at the time (of course, they’re probably smaller now, technically!).

  3. 8 robbercat
    25 April 2012 at 11:57 pm

    Stan – it’s not “confirmed” because only one guy is claiming it. There’s no corroborating evidence whatsoever, no one involved with the show has ever confirmed nor denied it in its 23 year history. You’re aware “duff” is a real word that predates this guy, yes?

    • 9 Stan
      26 April 2012 at 1:20 am

      I am, but “duff” never used to mean beer. Therefore it’s obvious where this came from, and on Wikipedia, one doesn’t have to input reliable sources for obvious stuff, or else you’d make no sentences at all because everything would have to be “confirmed”.

    • 12 D.N.
      27 April 2012 at 8:51 am

      I can’t help but think that if Duff Beer was named after Duff McKagan, the people behind the show would’ve mentioned it at least once. Trivia-wise, they tend to repeat themselves a lot (how many times have they mentioned that dumb Marge-having-bunny-ears-under-her-hair idea?), and are pretty open about their influences, but in the ten seasons’ worth of commentaries I’ve listened to, no one’s mentioned Duff McKagan once. So while it might be true, and I’m sure Duff himself has reason to think it’s true, I’m with Charlie in that at least one other person besides Duff should concur before we take it as fact.

      I’m sure if the show named its beer “Izzy” there’d be no doubt.

  4. 27 April 2012 at 2:28 am

    It’s actually spelled “Pygmoelian” (liAn instead of liOn).

    Is this the first-ever quote from a season past 10?

    • 14 Charlie Sweatpants
      27 April 2012 at 11:49 am

      Fixed the tag, thanks. Oddly enough, I spelled it correctly on the image, but not on the tag.

      And no, I’ve used a few Season 11 quotes before.

      • 27 April 2012 at 11:52 pm

        Interesting. I think you said this before, many episodes of even Zombie Simpsons (I know according to the manifesto, season 11 isn’t quite Zombie yet, but close enough) has a decent line or two that somehow snuck in, if we’re lucky. That’s pretty much it.

        …That being said, this is one of the better episodes post-season 10 (which is around when my love for the show fell apart). I’d still like to see your take on the Al Jean-written HOMR, which I think is a phenomenal episode and one of my alltime favorites, despite being season 12. Slim pickings after that though.

        Take care!

  5. 16 Victor Dang
    27 April 2012 at 10:20 am

    Wow, who’d have thought the etymology of Duff would have been so dividing? Look what you’ve done to us, McKagan! Enjoy your ill-gotten chaos, old man.


  6. 17 Scott S
    27 May 2012 at 7:07 pm

    I’m currently sitting on my duff, drinking beer, instead of going outside. I can’t imagine the name came fom anywhere but this exact situation.

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