Congress Asks Pfizer: Why Did You Have A Stunt Double Row For Dr. Jarvik ?

Congress has been asking some tough questions while wearing their serious faces about why Dr. Robert Jarvik (inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart) is shilling Lipitor when he’s not actually licensed to practice medicine.

ABC News says that Dr. Jarvik has been paid a guaranteed $1.35 million for the ads, which feature him espousing the virtues of Lipitor in a doctoriffic-looking lab coat and rowing around a lake talking about “when diet and exercise aren’t enough.”

Here’s our favorite part of the story—the New York Times says that Dr. Jarvik uses a stunt double when he’s shown rowing in the commercials.

As it turns out, Dr. Jarvik, 61, does not actually practice the sport. The ad agency hired a stunt double for the sculling scenes.
“He’s about as much an outdoorsman as Woody Allen,” said a longtime collaborator, Dr. O. H. Frazier of the Texas Heart Institute. “He can’t row.”

The NYT even posted a PDF of a rowing club newsletter with an article written by the dude they hired to row around pretending to be Jarvik.

Jodi, the Seattle-based casting agent, told me that I was everyone’s first choice so far, but it was up to the client. And no, it wasn’t my sterling (or tarnished) sculling technique that impressed them; by genetic luck of the draw and male-pattern baldness I was the best body double available for Dr. Jarvik, who it turns out is my age, an inch taller and five pounds heavier than I.

For some reason we think this is hilarious.

Naturally, Congress is very concerned about fake rowing—they’re sending out letters to Pfizer’s ad agencies to inquire about it, as part of their overall investigation into the Lipitor commercials. We guess they’re worried because fake rowing would play into an overall picture of deceptive advertising.

In response to all the Congressional attention, Dr. Jarvik has been popping up on the morning chat shows and has even released a statement on his website defending his choice to shill Lipitor:

I do not practice clinical medicine and hence do not treat individual patients. My career is in medical science. I have earned Bachelors, Masters, and MD degrees, and I have received honorary Doctor of Science, Doctor of Engineering, and Doctor of Medicine degrees. I am presently President and CEO of the company that manufactures the Jarvik 2000 heart. I have collaborated closely with many top surgeons and cardiologists from dozens of leading medical centers in the United States, Europe, and Asia. I have been named Inventor of the Year and have received a Lifetime Research Achievement Award among other honors. The Jarvik 7 and Jarvik 2000 hearts have been displayed at the Smithsonian Institution as part of their exhibit called “Treasures of American History.”

Fake hearts, fake rowing. Where will it end, America?

Statement by Dr. Jarvik Regarding his Role as Lipitor Spokesman [Jarvik Heart]
Dr. Robert Jarvik Lipitor Ad [NYT]
Drug Ads Raise Questions for Heart Pioneer [NYT via WSJ Health Blog]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.