Social media’s self-proclaimed “Liver King”, who gained fame by claiming a diet of raw animal organs helped him naturally obtain his muscular physique, has been exposed as a heavy steroid user.
Brian Johnson, 45, gained millions of followers who watched him eating raw animal liver, bull’s testicles, cow’s lungs and other organs.
Johnson promised to help fans unlock their “highest and most dominant form” by sticking to an “ancient primal” carnivorous diet.
Appearing on numerous podcasts, videos and in interviews, he always firmly maintained that he obtained his herculean physique naturally, without the use of any type of steroids.
“The question has always been, ‘Do you take steroids? Do you take [performance enhancing drugs]?’ The answer to that is no. I’ve always told the truth, I still tell the truth”, he said on a podcast in October.
About two months later, the Liver King sits shirtless on a throne-like chair in a dimly lit space, apologising to his followers.
In the YouTube video that has been viewed more than 2.8 million times, he comes clean and confesses his lies.
“Before social media, I was rich and anonymous and after social media, I’m still rich, but no longer anonymous. I never expected this kind of exposure,” he says.
“Yes, I’ve done steroids. And yes, I’m on steroids, monitored and managed by a trained hormone clinician.”
The confession came just a few days after Johnson was exposed by fellow fitness YouTube star Derek, aka More Plates More Dates.
Derek showed his followers what he said were leaked emails from the Liver King asking for advice on his steroid use.
In the emails, Johnson allegedly said he was spending about $US11,000 ($16,400) a month on steroids.
Young men adopting unrealistic standards
Dr Mair Underwood, an anthropologist who specialises in the study of bodybuilding culture at the University of Queensland, said the reveal did not come as a surprise.
“Anyone who’s seriously into fitness would look at the Liver King’s body and say that is an enhanced body,” she said.
And she said she was sceptical about Johnson’s claim that his quest for fame was motivated by a desire to help young men suffering from mental health issues.
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“It is wrong to say that you are [a natural bodybuilder] when you’re not, because you are creating unrealistic expectations in fans who think that they can look like you, and then when they can’t, they are disappointed,” Dr Underwood said.
“If you think, ‘All I have to do is eat a bull’s testicles and take these supplements and then I can look like the Liver King,’ and then you don’t get there, it’s going to really mess with your head and you might start asking yourself what’s wrong with you.
“There is nothing wrong with you, you’re being lied to. I think that’s dangerous for mental health.”
Steroid stigma in bodybuilding community
“Fake natties” — bodybuilders who pretend to have attained the size that they are by purely natural means — are very common, according to Dr Underwood.
“It’s especially common in the public eye, because there is a lot of stigma attached to steroid use,” she said.
“I think people don’t talk about their enhancement drug use because they don’t want people to think it was just the steroids that built that body.
“People are reluctant to come out about using enhancement drugs, because they want to be recognised for the work that it has taken to build their bodies, rather than the general public thinking it’s just the steroids.”
‘It honestly makes me and probably a lot of other people lose hope’
Online reaction to Johnson’s steroid confession varied, with some fans still supporting him and praising him for his honesty, others expressing their disappointment, and others saying it did not come as a surprise.
“See the thing that makes me upset is that I have self-esteem issues also with my body and want to get bigger and honestly feels like now I can’t get big for a long long time because all of these creators are doing [steroids], or non natural substances,” said one YouTube commenter.
“So it honestly makes me and probably a lot of other people lose hope once we find out what you guys do behind the scene of YouTube.”
“Rest In Peace to all the eyeballs and raw testicles that were needlessly eaten to attain this unattainable physique,” said another.
Dr Underwood, who works with a lot of bodybuilders, spoke with some of them about Johnson.
“There seem to be two camps. One says it’s wrong to be a fake natty because it creates unrealistic expectations, and the other says it motivates people to follow a healthy lifestyle, which already allows them to gain muscle before even considering using steroids.”
Still, Dr Underwood said she did not believe Johnson’s intentions were all bad.
“I have no doubt that Liver King has some good things to say. And I have no doubt that at some level, he really cares about what young men are going through. I can sympathise and I can understand why he lied,” she said.
“I just really hope that we can change as a society so that people like him don’t feel the need to lie about these things. And so young men can make informed decisions about their health.”