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]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Sherryness says:

    Isn’t there some law that dentists aren’t allowed to endorse toothpaste in commercials? I always assumed it was the same for doctors and medication – which is why this commercial always confused me. (Plus it’s just annoying.)

  2. Consumertaz says:

    Sweet, another thing for Congress to waste its time on. Between this, Arlen Specter investigating Sypgate and the baseball steroid hearings, its no wonder the economy is headed for the shitter, violent crime is going up and we’re mired in a war half a world away with no good exit strategy. Good work Congress, keep it up.

  3. Optimistic Prime says:

    I honestly could care less who shills out the drugs. I think the drug companies would do better to not advertise so heavily. That’s why they cost so much.

    If I’m sick, I’m going to go to a doctor and ask them for something that helps. When was the last time somebody was watching TV and said “Hey, I have herpes too! Maybe that drug would be awesome!” Probably not as often as the ads would have you believe…

  4. alice_bunnie says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s thinking “Why does it matter?”. Why do you have to practice medicine? The people who actually formulate the drugs don’t practice medicine, do they? The ones that sell the drugs don’t.

  5. savvy999 says:

    Next up on the Congressional docket: Was Bruce Jenner qualified to hawk Wheaties in 1976?

  6. Canerican says:

    I have a hot tip for Congress: There are strippers that dress as nurses, but they have no medical experience.

  7. bohemian says:

    A better solution is just to ban prescription drug advertising on TV, radio and magazines. They did it with smokes to a certain extent. Maybe they would quit wasting so much money on marketing. There are also some hospitals that are questioning the practice of they way drug reps are operating and the VA already bans them.

  8. Hexnut says:

    I bet his hair is fake too. shame.

  9. Bladefist says:

    @savvy999: I agree.

    We blame bush for addressing small issues while the big ones go untouched. Congress is working on this, but consumerist is the only one I’ve seen talking about it.

  10. MissTic says:

    So much for Pelosi’s “new direction” platform from 2006. What’s their approval rating now? 11%? Gee, I wonder why?? *eyeroll*

  11. bukz68 says:

    @optimistic – doctors actually get a fairly large number of patients that schedule appointments for checkups and actually ask for specific prescriptions to be written based on an ad they saw on TV that listed symptoms they thought they had too… so for all intents and purposes the ads do their jobs

    Drug companies should not be allowed to advertise their products on TV because it negatively impacts the doctor patient relationship. Patient thinks she has X because of a TV add and wants prescription Y. Doctor is 98.9% sure the patient doesn’t have X and therefore doesn’t need Y. Patient gets angry because they think the doctor is ignoring their pain/suffering and demands drug Y. Doctor refuses. Patient leaves doctor, finds another who has his pockets lined with drug company’s money and has no qualms writing the crazy patient the prescription. Drug company makes more money.

    From R&D to the market, a drug costs pharma companies in excess of $800 million (includes the costs of developing the one drug that got by the FDA and the 50 that failed). They spend quite a bit more money schmoozing doctors and hospital reps to increase brand awareness (read: buy the loyalty of doctors). So the next time you pay for a prescription, or see what your health insurance is paying, remember all the free meals for medical school students, 5-star weekend trips for doctors, branded pens and prescription pads, etc. Drug companies, a large proportion of them anyway are in business to make money, not necessarily do what’s in the best interest of a patient. That’s why Pfizer pumps billions into dick pills but hardly anyone will attempt to develop a drug that would treat less than a million people.

  12. nequam says:

    If they’re gonna use a stunt man, they might as well take it to the extreme. I would love to see “Jarvik” jumping out of an exploding building while talking about his abandoned dream of becoming an architect …

  13. chilled says:

    Colesterol drugs are the biggest scam ever!Just another way to keep you going back to the docs..they don’t want to cure you,just treat you…how else will they make those boat payments!!

  14. This would be less sad if it were only boner pills “Doctor” Jarvik was hawking. But since it’s the controversial statins, that don’t really do anything for anyone who is anything but a <65 year old male who has already had a heart attack, this is even ickier.

    Read Malcolm Kendrick’s The Great Cholesterol Con. You too will want to sue a statin drug maker.

  15. savdavid says:

    All the drug companies lie to us and spend more on ads than research. Congress should be investigating that.

  16. FLConsumer says:

    Don’t forget that the Jarvik 2000 heart isn’t approved for use in the USA either.

  17. ClayS says:


    I believe that although Dr. Jarvic is an MD (he has the degree), he does not have a medical license, so he is not considered to be a physician.

  18. stuckonsmart says:

    File this under the “It takes one (a lying shill) to know one (A lying shill)” department.

    I’m rolling on the floor laughing. Politicians — the greatest FRAUDSTERS in the world investigating a lame TV commercial for being a fraud.

    Notice they are paying attention to the MOST URGENT and MOST IMPORTANT matters of this nation (yeah right) while this nation’s sons and daughters and economy all tank.

    Perhaps next up they will look at the fraudsters on Wall Street and the financial institutions who have orchestrated these incredible ponzi schemes. Maybe they can start with the Federal Reserve.

    Wasn’t there an old TV here that stood for: “Truth, justice, and the American way?” WOW — what happened to US?

  19. Anonymous says:

    Who gives a shit if he is rowing or not? Who gives a shit if he doesn’t have a licence? Do those people in the highblood pressure pill commercials all have medical licences? Do the people in birthcontrol ads have a medical licence? Are people so stupid that they can’t handle watching a heart medication commercial? so your saying that because he has a degree he can’t have anything to do with the advertising, but some jo shmo off the street can? This is stupid. Seriously. Please don’t post anymore articles about it.

  20. Anonymous says:

    To me, the funniest thing in this article is in the Bio on Jarvik’s website. “and I have honorary degrees”
    Honorary Degrees? Honorary degrees are meaningless PR.

  21. floyderdc says:


    I don’t think the people in high blood pressure commercials even have high blood pressure. The only thing I can think of is maybe because he says he is a doctor he should really be a doctor, but I agree it is a non facotor

  22. nequam says:

    @melanie.dawn: The ads give the false impression that he is a licensed physician. Believe it or not, this makes him more trustworthy in some people’s minds. Having people say “you should use this medicine because it worked well for me,” is (I think) different than “as a doctor, I think you should use this medicine.” I realize that he doesn’t literally say that, but the impression in clear (why else use a doctor in the conmmercial?).

    And I think Meg appreciates the absurdity in making an issue out of whether or not he’s a rower.

  23. picshereplz says:

    Next on Consumerist: the Trix rabbit is not really a rabbit.

  24. Michael Belisle says:

    “I am not a celebrity.” Oh how modest you are, Dr. Jarvik.

  25. bonzombiekitty says:

    I can understand the point of congress questioning why Dr Jarvik is in the commercials to begin with. I think it’s a legit issue that should be examined when it comes to advertising for pharmaceuticals and advertising in general.

    However, I think questioning why they used a body double for a brief scene in the commercial is stupid.

  26. teh says:

    If only Congress would look at the real problem. Why are the drug companies advertising to us, the consumer? I don’t know which drug would work the best with the fewest side effects — that’s why I pay a doctor.

  27. rioja951 - Why, oh why must I be assigned to the vehicle maintenance when my specialty is demolitions? says:

    @Sherryness: You should see the older ads for Colgate tooth paste in mexico, they show Hugo Sanchez doing the advertising, and he IS a dentist. I guess he never practiced.

  28. Where is Sally Field licensed to practice medicine? What about Bob Dole?

    Dr. Phil gives health advice and he isn’t a real Doctor either. He also wrote a diet book, and he is fat.

  29. MercuryPDX says:

    “He’s not a doctor, but he plays one on TV”… No one said that yet?

    I think like any other ad, you need to approach with a level of skepticism and not blind trust that it’s right for you.

  30. yesteryear says:

    @bonzombiekitty: agreed.

    it’s important to remember that congress will not just make a decision on whether or not this ad is unethical – it will apply to all drug commercials from here on out.

    as far as i’m concerned, more regulations on these offensive drug commercials are long overdue — and maybe this will draw needed attention to the fact that we really shouldn’t have these types of commercials on TV at all. stupid people everywhere are convinced they have everything from restless leg syndrome to chronic acid reflux. also – i’m sick of watching a young couple discuss their herpes while parasailing.

  31. floyderdc says:

    Yes but he does not say he just plays one on TV. There are a lot of people who will take what he says as gospel just because he says he is a real doctor. Many people do not understand that this is an ad and not free medical advice.

  32. Caduceus says:

    He IS a medical doctor who does clinical research. My goodness, he’s an expert! Lipitor and other statin drugs are well-shown to reduce risk of MI in patients with hyperlipidemia and reduce the risk of stroke in high risk patients.

    File this under witch hunt.

  33. ClayS says:

    I don’t even understand the concept of pharmaceutical advertising. If my doctor tells me I have high cholesterol, I’m not going to suggest Lipitor or anything else. That’s my doctor’s job, isn’t it?

  34. naptownman says:

    Just eliminate all direct to consumer pharmaceutical advertising. Problem solved.

  35. ancientsociety says:

    Hold on everyone! Congress has already tackled the issues of the war (“The Surge” = no problems!, & we’ll just spend another couple hundred billion in 08) and the economy (Money for everyone!).

    At least our government is consistent. Throwing money and resources at the problem is so much more expedient than actually hammering out a solution.

  36. strathmeyer says:

    Ahhh, this is still happening? Have they still not payed off the correct people?

  37. MYarms says:

    Old senile people on medication are easily fooled into believing things that may not be true. THAT is why this is an issue.

  38. royal72 says:

    earth to congress, earth to congress, are you there congress?… if you can hear me, please know, that you are ignorant cunt pumps… you need to find something better to do, than wonder why the drug dealers you endorse are liars, but here’s a hint: they are lying and cheating drug dealers who only care about moving product… oh yeah, as a side note, there are no steroids in sports, i repeat there are no steroids in sports. move on.

  39. rmz says:

    @Caduceus: So, how much if Pfizer paying you again?

  40. rmz says:

    @rmz: *is

  41. b-real says:

    @Optimistic Prime:
    Advertising is not why a given drug costs so much. To bring 1 drug to market, from the time it is researched, to the time it hits the market, the cost is $850 million and about 10 years. The pharm companies recoup their investment largely in the U.S. This is because almost every other country in the world, through their governments, negotiate prices with drug companies. The U.S., however, is a (largely) free market system, where drug prices are unregulated. The higher prices charged to Americans makes it possible for consumers in other countries to pay less.

    @suburbancowboy: Sally Field is not passing herself off as a physician, whereas Dr. Jarvik is. He does NOT have a medical license and doesn’t treat patients. He may be an authority on biomedical engineering, but this commercial relies on people believing him to be a cardiovascular specialist, which he is NOT. Think of Dr. Laura, who many people believe to be a certified expert in mental health and counseling. She has a Ph.D. in physiology, which doesn’t make her qualified to do more than run a research lab and teach undergrads.

  42. floyderdc says:

    Neither do I. I personally do not think it should be allowed. That being said if it is going to be allowed they should not have some “doctor” speaking about how great the drug is, and endorse it.

    That being said it is your doctor’s job to determine what medication you need. I think nothing is more dangerous that a person going into his/her doctor’s office armed with print outs from WedMD and information he/she got off a drug comerical.

  43. ohnoes says:

    I would be behind this if it were Dr. Phil they were investigating. Why is it that Ty Pennington can hawk Bayer but someone with an M.D. and the TRAINING TO EVALUATE research papers should be investigated because he no longer practices medicine.

    I would investigate that woman on the idiotic Yaz ads, who claims that she “didn’t go to med school for nothing.” If an actor claiming to be a doctor can be an authority on pharmaceuticals, then a doctor who actually was a doctor can definitely be an authority.

  44. joemono says:

    I’m with those calling for a ban on pharmaceutical advertising.

    And while we’re at it, can we ban the cotton commercials? Why do I need to see an ad about how great cotton is? You don’t see commercials about how great steel is, or wood.

  45. If only there had been this level of investigation and skepticism back in March 2003! *grrrrrrr*

  46. b-real says:

    It’s not that he no longer practices medicine, but rather that he has NEVER practiced medicine. He graduated med school, but did not complete a residency or any qualifying exams. He is simply NOT a physician, now or ever.

  47. Brad2723 says:

    What’s the big deal? It doesn’t sound too far off from “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”

  48. MercuryPDX says:

    @floyderdc: I guess you were not born/around/aware of the ad I was referring to?

    @ClayS: It should be your doctor’s job, but big pharma would like you to be empowered to make your own choices. You know… without the fancy medical degree and stuff. :)

  49. MercuryPDX says:

    @MercuryPDX: (Meh trivia link was broken: [] )

  50. alexanderpink says:

    @B-REAL “It’s not that he no longer practices medicine, but rather that he has NEVER practiced medicine. He graduated med school, but did not complete a residency or any qualifying exams. He is simply NOT a physician, now or ever.”

    He IS a physician. By definition he has a medical degree, so he is a a doctor. This is absurd, not only is he a real doctor, but he is an expert on statin research. Statins are not controversial to anyone in the medical establishment, the fact is they lower your cholesterol and lower your risk of atherosclerosis and resultant MI. I am a medical student and find absolutely no problem with this ad. Look, the people on the herpes commercial probably don’t have herpes, and certainly don’t have medical degrees, but people don’t get up in arms about them. Dr. Jarvik is an expert in the area he is endorsing. Who cares if patients go to their doctor and say “oh, I saw the Lipitor commercial doc, could this drug work for me?” It will only accomplish 2 things 1)increased awarenes and discussion and evaluation of hypercholesterolemia and 2)the physician prescribing a drug he sees fit. It is up to the physician to prescribe the correct drug. But what we really should be asking is why does congress waste time with these investigations. Is this the role of our government, to investigate doctors who advertise for drugs and steroids use in sports, or whether or not the super bowl is only on cable or not? It should not be a role of the government. What the government should be doing is regulating these “nutritional supplements” that are full of these people who claim to be doctors, and neutraceuticals clearly marketed as drugs when they are not. They even mislead by having fake doctors, claiming to be “FDA registered”, and saying “we couldn’t say it on TV if it wasn’t true”.

  51. smitty1123 says:

    Good to know that congress is taking time out of it’s busy investigations of Major League Baseball to put some time and effort into something that really matters.

  52. m4ximusprim3 says:

    @Canerican: That is a hot tip. Do you have any pictoral or video evidence so I may investigate further?

  53. scarletvirtue says:

    If Congress is investigating Pfizer’s ad agency and their spokespeople, I just hope that it isn’t retroactive – because no one wants to know if Bob Dole was qualified to shill for Viagra.

  54. veal says:

    I’m of a mind that everyone in ANY TV COMMERCIAL should be what they say they are. Anyone who hawks a medicine should actually be on that medicine. Anyone who’s shown eating a bowl of Total had BETTER eat Total regularly. If you’re gasping from the floor and reaching for your Life-Alert, you’d best have a real broken hip.

    And Aunt Betty and Uncle Jim dressed up like food in the Vytorin ads needn’t be there at all. NO MORE ACTORS IN COMMERCIALS, it’s one of the many hideous slopes we’re rolling down. And while I’m at it, NO MORE KIDS selling us stuff either. They shouldn’t be allowed to be spokespersons for corporations, they’re just kids reading copy, jerking our emotional chains pointlessly.

  55. veal says:

    And for Gods’ sake. Those smarmy chefs who are selling the Healthy Choice meals – it says “dramatization” at the bottom! No chef prepared or had any say in the creation of these little sodium bombs, no chef would serve such abhorrent fare anywhere… why do people dressed as chefs get to make it seem like chefs were involved? I’d like them to just stop lying to us, both outright and with little “dramatizations”. Why is that so impossible?

    Oh yeah: because we told corporations they could do anything they wanted to.

    Carry on.

  56. XTC46 says:

    @nequam: I agree. Id by some of that pill if it showed this old guy jumping from a plan on a crash course with a mountain, the snowboarding to cover in a hail of gun fire. Not some sissy taking a slow row down a stream or going for a jog.

  57. magic8ball says:

    @Canerican: You think that’s news to Congress?

  58. b-real says:

    Yeah, I’m a med student too, so you can spare me the dime store antihyperlipidemics lecture. I got enough of that in pharm. I’m not saying that statins are controversial, and that’s not the point. He could be shilling aspirin for all I care. The guy is NOT a physician, MD or no MD. It’s all about the license to practice. Pfizer is banking on people recognizing his name and thinking “the guy invented an artificial heart, he must know what he’s talking about.” Like most advertisements, it’s both disingenuous and deceptive.

  59. trujunglist says:

    Does this really matter that much? The guy is famous for doing something heart-related, so he must know something about hearts. If he knew nothing about it, then maybe they’d have some argument, but it’s not like Ron Jeremy is on there talking about how great it is, it’s this dude who invented a fake heart.
    Also, how many commercials have I seen in the last week where an actor is playing a doctor giving some sort of advice? Like a million! There’s that one where there’s an entire school of med students talking about how great ____ drug is.
    Did Pfizer ever say “This guy is a physician”? I don’t recall that. They say “this is Dr Jarvis, inventor of the Jarvis artificial heart”. Yeah, the reason he’s on there is because he knows something about hearts. None of the actors, including those that are meant to portray actual physicians/pharm/whatever, that talk about any of the other drugs know much about anything.

  60. synergy says:

    Oh for a second there I thought Frazier was a Frazier I knew who’s a bigwig around these parts. Different dude, though.

  61. alexanderpink says:

    @B-REAL The statin comment wasn’t directed toward you, it was directed to someone before you who claim they were controversial. And Dr. Jarvik is a physician, he has an M.D. What other criteria do you propose as a standard of someone being a physician or not? I don’t see someone being currently licensed to practice medicine as the defining characteristic of physician. By definition he is a medical doctor, which is synonymous with physician. Regardless of a semantical debate, this commercial is neither “disingenuous” or “deceptive”. Who would be a better expert on a statin that a medical doctor who has actively researched the drug as well as takes it himself? Not only are you wrong in asserting this commercial is deceptive (was a false claim implied?) or disingenuous (was a dishonest claim made?), but he is fully qualified to speak on behalf of he drug. In addition, it is irrelevant that he he be qualified in such a manner because 1)actors pimp drugs all the time and 2) the commercial has no bearing on whether the person ends up taking lipitor or not. Look, your patient comes to you and says “I have high cholesterol, is Lipitor right for me?” You say, well take this cheaper generic statin instead. Either the patient takes that generic or he insists on Lipitor, in which case he can have it if it is equally efficacious and everyone is satisfied. The only negative outcome would be a clearly unlikely scenario of Lipitor being a worse choice of medicine, AND the patient insisting on it AND the doctor prescribing it. Then the onus is still on the doctor. What have we learned? That direct to consumer drug marketing does not harm the consumer. If anything, the case would be made it harms the doctor b/c 1)you have to deal with know it all patients or 2)you have to stay on top of popular medications.

  62. chartrule says:

    they needed something to distract the sheep from Iraq / Afganistan I guess they finally found something

  63. nancyhoward says:

    “Doctor” is a degree, not a license.
    One can be a doctor in English Lit. A doctor is NOT necessarily a physician. You will see in many ads, people stating they are doctors. In the small print you will see what type of degree. There are others who give themselves doctorates in unacknowledged fields.
    Anyway, WHO CARES! It’s a commercial. Who really cares if Jarvis was rowing?? I would rather see him, than a fake doctor. Are we running out to purchase the medication because of this? Our personal physician still has to decide, if it is a proper drug for us.
    Do we care that an actor does not do his own stunts? Why are our representatives wasting OUR money on this investigation? They must have nothing else to do…”distracting the sheep.” Have we all gone stupid?
    Billions of dollars are being scammed out of consumers, with all types of fraudulent products, preying on an individual’s problems. They are advertised on TV and through other ad media–with fake claims, bogus “clinical” trials, and invented degrees and status of their “inventor/ spokes person.” These are the ads make me sick. THIS IS SOMETHING TO CARE ABOUT! A lot of this “snake oil” makes it hard for consumers to find or get products that really work. These good, legitimate products are not always from the big companies, like Pfizer. There are little guys out there who do research and create many needed consumer products. They are not backed by big money and get lost in the ocean of fakes–that should be investigated.

  64. mariospants says:

    Well, I’m sure that Jarvik does shill the Jarvik 2000 artificial heart, doesn’t he? Not that being paid one-point-three million to do the ads makes him biased in any way. Hell, for $1.3M I’m sure Jarvik would shill the “Garvik Happy 2001” artificial heart knock-off made in China, too.

  65. redkamel says:

    alexanderpink, as a fellow med student I agree with almost all of your points but you do have to include the fact that if drugs were not marketed, then their costs would be lower. Also, there is a difference between consumer marketing and physician marketing. I disagree with one point…Dr. Jarvik is not a physician, since a physician by definition practices medicine, while Dr. Jarvik does not AFAIK.

    Consumer marketing is fine. Physician marketing I disagree with, although I do miss free pens and food and get irratated by the hoight-toity “I am so great because I am pharm free and you are a shill because you took a pen and taco” people.