Say Goodbye To Dr. Jarvik As He and His Stunt Double Row Into The Sunset

Weary of all the “fake rowing” controversy, Pfizer has canned Dr. Robert Jarvik (the inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart) as a spokesperson for their blockbuster cholesterol drug, Lipitor.

The “way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions and distractions,” Pfizer’s president of world-wide pharmaceuticals, Ian Read, said. “Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople.”

Jarvik, who wore a white coat in the ads even though he isn’t a licensed physician, and used a stunt-double for the rowing scenes in one commercial, isn’t going quietly. He’s issued a statement of his own. In it, Dr. Jarvik defends his use of a stunt double (The insurance company made him do it! Really!) and mourns his lost job:

I spent most of my summer vacation time during high school on the water, sailing, rowing, fishing, and scuba diving. At the time the ad was filmed, I was certainly fit enough to row for the shoot. I trained to row for it, and I intended to do so. But at the last minute, I was informed that the insurance carrier for the shoot would not permit me to row because the water temperature in the mountain lake at that time of year was about 40 degrees — so cold that if I had an accident, I could drown within minutes because of hypothermia. So the production company hired a rower experienced with that kind
of racing shell for the distant shots. It never occurred to me that anyone would consider this dishonest.

The message remains: heart health.

Recently, Pfizer chose to stop running the ads, through which I was able to appeal to so many viewers to pay attention to their heart health and to ask their doctors about Lipitor. My message has been sincere and correct — Lipitor can indeed help prevent heart disease in many millions of people, a great many of whom are not presently taking any cholesterol-lowering medication.

The full statement is can be read at the WSJ Health Blog. We’ve yet to hear back from as to why Sally Field (also not a licensed physician) is qualified to shill Boniva. And hey… do those Valtrex people really have herpes? The Consumerist respectfully declines to investigate.

Jarvik: My Credibility Was Justified and Fairly Represented [WSJ Health Blog]


Edit Your Comment

  1. If Sally Field is shilling Boniva, maybe Lipitor will pick up Olympia Dukakis? Or, skewing younger, Markie Post?

  2. sp00nix says:

    Is any Doctor/lawyer/patient ever real on TV?

  3. sp00nix says:

    ps. i dont think David Hasselhoff was a real life gaurd

  4. Nissan288 says:

    He did complete his MD, just as a medical engineer and not a doctor: []

    Since he actually did develop the artificial heart and I’m assuming he worked in a lab to develop it (I’m sure he wasn’t in a machine shop hacking it together), he probably did wear a white coat at one point or another, but does it matter if he wore a white lab coat or not?

    So many ads have people in them looking like something or another, but they don’t say it outright. Of course they’re all probably actors. Real people aren’t considered photogenic enough to be on tv it seems. And I’m guessing herpes people aren’t either. ::shudder::

  5. apotheosis says:

    Next you’ll tell me Crazy Fox isn’t using genuine furries to advertise their product.

    + Watch video

  6. NcSchu says:

    He also isn’t the inventor of the artificial heart – he invented his own artificial heart, yes, but it wasn’t the first.

  7. MDSasquatch says:

    I see some old boat-rowing buzzard shilling cholesterol medicine on TV and I immediately drive to my doctor’s office and demand a prescription.


    I take cholesterol medicine and mine was chosen by my DOCTOR after short periods of trial and error combined with scientific labwork to see which one works best for ME.

  8. Sean O says:

    Well, it comes down to misrepresentation. If you throw a guy in a white lab coat on a commercial, and tell everyone he’s the inventor of the artificial heart, people are naturally going to believe (as I did) that he’s a doctor.

    Yes, haha “you mean TV doctors aren’t real”… It’s one thing to play a doctor in a scripted show, quite another to be representing a physician in an advertisement endorsing a multibillion dollar medication.

    As for the whole stunt double controversy, ummm… find a warmer lake.

  9. redhelix says:

    @Sean O: I’m actually siding with Jarvik on this one.

    He’s not a licensed physician, but I don’t see how that hurts his credibility as an authoritative expert on the human heart. He has dedicated his life to research, not performing vascetomys.

    Despite the brouhaha he gets, he *IS* an MD and his contributions to the medical community on the human heart are both brilliant and numerous. I think it’s a shame for him to lose a job as spokesperson for this drug over something as asinine as a single shot in a commercial.

  10. badgeman46 says:

    He is married to Marylin Vos Savant, that super high IQ lady you see in the papers, so maybe that counts for something.

  11. SchecterShredder says:

    Lipitor is a GREAT drug, almost as good as oxycontin, oh wait…

  12. Cerb says:

    Let me start of by stating that I think direct to consumer pharm ads need to be banned. They serve no purpose in educating the consumer and end up doing more harm than good.

    That said:
    A) Who cares if he used a stunt double in an ad? If you believe ANYTHING you hear in a commercial – especially one from a pharm company – you deserve the side effects mentioned at the end of the ad.
    B) Everyone wears a white coat these days. It’s actually a sore spot for some physicians who see it as confusing to the patient who end up assuming that the 18 year old labtech is a doctor because he wears a white coat.
    C) The controversy of Dr. Jarvik shilling for some pharm company is ridiculous considering all the other hacks selling their souls to big pharma. When I see a “physician” on tv selling a product, I immediately assume he is just an actor – so should everyone else.

  13. First of all, if you let something as important as your health be influenced by a TV commercial, you are an idiot. But then again, a good percentage of Americans eat fast food every day.

    If I am going to take advice from someone who is not a doctor, I’d much rather take it from the inventor of the artificial heart, rather than Sally Field, or Cheryl Ladd, or Bob Dole or Wilfred Brimley.

    And what about endorsers of food products? Food is no longer touted as food. It is marketed as if it is a medicine. They talk about the anti-oxidants, the vitamins, the minerals, th ecultures in the yogurt. How is the marketing of food any different than the marketing of a pharmaceutical?

  14. redhelix says:

    @Cerb: The difference here is Jarvik – whom we all know is an undisputed expert on the human heart, and I’m not being sarcastic – is good and fired, and he’s still saying that the company makes a spectacular product.

  15. alexanderpink says:

    @Sean O: He is a doctor, he is just not licensed to practice medicine. It is irrelevant, he did not misrepresent himself, and despite this ridiculous inquest Pfizer did well here. They had a real doctor, who is an expert on the medication and organ system being advertised, and who actually uses the drug sponsor it. You really couldn’t ask for me. His not being licensed doesn’t matter, he has spent his entire career after medical school working on the heart. He has researched Lipitor, he uses Lipitor, he is an expert. As some of you may not know, you can go to medical school, get your M.D., and then decide not to go on to practice. You only get licensed to practice after doing an internship (1 year after medical school). You still have your M.D. and you are still technically a doctor, you just don’t treat patients (I am a medical student). Anyhow, think of it this way, would you rather have Dr. Jarvik pimping the drug, or one of those fake doctors that pimp the non FDA approved “neutraceuticals”? Or how about Tom Cruise instead? The biggest problem is that our government shouldn’t be investigating such things as real doctors advertising real efficacious medicine, or whether baseball players use steroids, or whether the superbowl will show on regular TV. This is not the role of our government. Meanwhile you turn on the TV and some Akivar commercial with some “doctor” is claiming “eat all you want and still lose weight – we couldn’t say it on TV if it wasn’t true.”

  16. strangeffect says:

    “way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions and distractions,”

    “It has come to our attention that we have misled you”

  17. SundaySunday says:

    It’s like that heart medicine commercial with the woman pacing up and down the ER waiting room. She’s just an actress, and her “husband” is just an actor. Nobody in that commercial really had a heart attack at all. Charlatans. Snake oil salesmen.

    And I also wonder how many people are put off by Wilford Brimley getting all preachy about diabetes patients checking their blood sugar. I feel like he should go eat his oatmeal and shut the hell up. MYOB, blowhard.

  18. orielbean says:

    why do we need Prescription Medication commercials?! I can’t go and buy it without a doctor. If I am going to the doctor and can successfully communicate via voice, email, paper letter, carrier pigeon, then he/she is the expert and will help me get set up on what I need. If I start shouting for Lipitor, my doc might give it to me to just shut me up. What a bad way to practice medicine.

  19. MDSasquatch says:

    “why do we need Prescription Medication commercials?! I can’t go and buy it without a doctor.”

    Take a trip to Tijuana, you can buy whatever you want without a doctor or prescription; all you need is good ole’ American Dollars, and while you are there yo can also get some blankets, Chiklets and lots of other things that are not appropriate for posting…

  20. Bix says:

    Can they go after Dr. Daniel Stein & Enzyte now? []

  21. Bix says:

    err, EXTENZE, not Enzyte. Stupid penis pills.

  22. MDSasquatch says:
  23. Hanke says:

    @loquaciousmusic: You say Boniva, I think Erectile Dysfunction med.

  24. Hanke says:

    So wait, a product that DOES work is having it’s ads pulled because the pusher may not be quite so qulaified. But Enzyte adds, with Smiling Bob, are still running, despite the numerous stories about their product being a complete fraud? WTF, indeed.

  25. quagmire0 says:

    Like it matters now, since I’ve seen the commercial about a million times already. :P

  26. bdgbill says:


    I see some old boat-rowing buzzard shilling cholesterol medicine on TV and I immediately drive to my doctor’s office and demand a prescription.


    I know a few doctors and they all have stories about patients coming in and requesting medications they saw advertised on TV.

    When they first started advertising Claritin on tv, the ads made absolutely no mention of what the drug was supposed to treat. It was all ice cream trucks and rainbows. It could have been an ad for LSD.

    Still people dutifully “asked their doctors” about it.

    We are in a era very much like the early twentieth century when “patent medicines” were advertised and sold everywhere, often with outrageous claims of instant cures.

  27. yesteryear says:

    @apotheosis: ha! furries!

  28. mthrndr says:

    My wife and I are fully convinced that Jarvik is actually Lucifer himself. These commercials are the spawn of Satan.

  29. m4ximusprim3 says:

    wait, so the stunt double was impervious to hypothermia? now THATS a story!

  30. MercuryPDX says:

    @Sean O: Better yet: Green screen + CGI = Jarvik rowing on a dry set but actually a refreshing mountain lake after Post Production.

  31. spamtasticus says:

    I can attest for the cutie in the hammoc (carmen nicole) that she does not in fact have herpes. Or at least I hope not!. Just kidding. She is in fact an actress as you can see from the VW commercial from a few years back where she was the bride or from her short stint as a video game show hoastess in the GSM network. She also happens to be great person above the obvious hottie factor.

  32. bakertim says:

    He’s a paid spokesperson, like any other. Granted, he has more cachet as someone familiar with how the heart functions, perhaps more so than most doctors, but whether he practices medicine daily or not isn’t terribly relevant. A working urologist would have been a more acceptable choice? And the rowing shot would likely have been considered a “stunt” shot; replacement in movies for such mundane tasks is common. It amazes me what people choose to get their panties in a bunch about.

  33. @Cerb: “Everyone wears a white coat these days. It’s actually a sore spot for some physicians who see it as confusing to the patient who end up assuming that the 18 year old labtech is a doctor because he wears a white coat.”

    It’s actually becoming an ethics issue, as well as an insurance and legal issue … God forbid a patient accidentally rely on a white-coated lab tech’s medical advice and then sue.

    In an interesting twist on Rx advertising, my doctor advised me to take mucinex to help with a nasty sinus infection, and I was shocked when she told me it was OTC. I just ASSUMED since it was on television and touting itself like crazy, it MUST be Rx. I would never have bought the stuff if my doctor hadn’t told me to — I had no idea it was available without a prescription.

  34. radio1 says:

    You ‘need’ Rx commercials because the big pharma companies want it, and the Supreme Court and the FCC decided it would be so.

    I had no problem with the commercial. Why would PFizer fire the guy they hired, why not fire the freaking ad agency that filmed the TV commercial?

    Yeah, the guy who devotes his life to end suffering, who develops and build artificial hearts; he’s the EVIL guy misrepresenting himself… Riiigght…

  35. BSAKat says:

    I don’t see what all the hubbub is. I work in advertising (photography) and I see legal departments do this all the time. “Make sure he has his seatbelt on”. In a studio image shot against a white cove. Legal departments are the devil’s work, I tell you.

  36. kostia says:

    Man, Boniva annoys me. My mother takes that. On her AT&T retiree health plan it costs about $150 a month, and it comes with so much paper and plastic packaging–for one pill!–that she’s always afraid she’s going to drop it while wading through the brochures and boxes and flaps and blisterpacks.

    I’m amazed Sally Field’s the best they can do for the money they’re swimming (rowing) in.

  37. arby says:

    @bdgbill: That’s true for all drugs early on, not just Claritin. In the U.S., pharmaceutical companies are not allowed to make any kind of claim about a drug until the drug is approved, and saying what the drug is intended to treat is considered a claim.

  38. strathmeyer says:

    Next thing we’re going to learn that the people in those Head-On(TM) commercials don’t actually have headaches.