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Patrick Hruby

Hollywood, HGH and Vanity Fair

"Any actor over 50 you're still seeing with a ripped stomach and veins in his forearms is probably taking HGH." So says an anonymous talent manager in a new Vanity Fair article about Hollywood's apparent love affair with the same chemical compound Roger Clemens told Congress was one of his wife's favorites.

The story, written by Ned Zeman, is a piece I've been hoping to see: last year, I wrote a Washington Times feature on Tinseltown PED use -- what, you think movie stars get buff n' ripped quick on a program of sayin' prayers, takin' vitamins and extra-intense sessions of Billy's Boot Camp alone? -- and afterward added some blog thoughts about how there was a better magazine piece waiting to be penned:

I'm not based in Los Angeles -- but if I were, I'd seriously consider pursuing this idea for a good, fleshed-out magazine-style piece. Maybe it could run in LA Magazine. An alt-weekly. On Grantland. I dunno. I think there's a good story here, even if it lacks the OH MY GOD ATHLETES ARE CHEATING AND DESTROYING OUT CHILDHOODS! hook of the typical sports doping story.

So: I feel a little dumb for not thinking of Vanity Fair. That said, Zeman did a great job. He nailed the sheer sad-funny-pathetic-all-too-familiar human vanity (no pun intended) underlying the likes of Sly Stallone and (this part surprised me, though it really shouldn't have) a bunch of anonymous producer types hooking up with the juice fairy. As Zeman writes, Hollywood is fertile ground for people seeking a fountain of youth at any price; as one filmmaker tells him, "I'll tell you why I took HGH in the first place: I love f__king." The piece also touched on how PED use can give actors and actresses a competitive career advantage - something that was a major focus of my piece, and that former "Baywatch" star Jeremy Jackson spoke eloquently on - and smartly explained the mixed science around HGH's actual efficacy.

(Small note on that: I think Zeman should have more clearly explained that while injecting HGH might not do much by itself, the point of taking it is to get better results out of diet and exercise, same as anabolic steroids. Minor quibble, though, and probably coming from my status as a recovering sportswriter).

Anyway, if you're at all interested in PED use, you should read Zeman's piece. And mine. And then think about this, which I also mentioned in my previous blog post:

Steroids in Tinseltown has a social dimension. Namely, this is probably the future for society at large. Especially as we age. I used to think the sports world was the canary in the coal mine for upcoming chemical performance enhancement. Now, I'm not so sure said canary isn't Hollywood. Most of this stuff comes out of "anti-aging" clinics -- I'm a bit dubious of the concept, hence the quotes -- and involves taking drugs to look and feel younger. Which society already does all the time. (Viagra, hello?)

Stallone once told Time magazine that "everyone over 40 years old would be wise to investigate [PED use] because it increases the quality of your life. Testosterone, to me, is so important for a sense of well-being when you get older. Mark my words. In 10 years it will be over the counter." Jose Canseco wrote pretty much the same thing in Juiced. Victor Conte told me that he used to take PEDs, and that combined with working out they made him feel great. Of course, HGH and steroids are serious drugs with potentially serious side effects. As are all drugs. (Ever read an antidepressant disclaimer? Do you have a few hours to spare?)  But I'm not so sure that Stallone isn't on to something. There's a chance society will look back on our 'Roid Madness moral panic in 20 years and wonder what all the fuss was about. Especially if cognitive enhancers hit the market and everyone has to make the same choice -- pop this pill, or fall behind -- facing, say, elite football players, sprinters and cyclists.

Of course, that's a separate article in its own right.