"Ahhh, but wait until you ride one." -Dan Duchaine
When he first coined that little phrase, he might well have been referring to a big, veiny muscled chick, or perhaps a post-op transsexual, or a dwarf - even then nothing would have surprised me. But, really, he was talking about recumbent bikes, of which his particular design looked like it was destined to be the guru's next claim to fame. He was also intrigued with, and well informed about, high-end audio equipment that was as intricate and precise as it was insanely expensive. He designed his own pair of complex multi-chambered speakers and had them custom built specifically to enhance every invisible nuance that made an angry lesbian - his favorite brand of performer.
But his real love was the theater-- that was his college major - and, at the time of his death, Dan was writing his first screenplay inspired by a recent two-month stay in New York's theater district. Some of you might find it hard to believe that I'm talking about the notorious Steroid Guru Dan Duchaine, the same guy that used to roar down the streets of Venice, Calif., in a 427 Cobra replica with his hair on fire; but I am. Now, almost nine years after his death, I still find myself wondering, daily, about my friend; what we'd be talking about today if he were alive, and what he'd have told me had I made it up to New York that last time he so vehemently implored me to visit. I think he knew he was dying.
That's why there will always be that rock in my stomach that keeps reminding me I should have gone to see him. It also keeps me thinking about him and remembering what it was like to have him as a part of my life. People I meet who knew we were friends always, invariably, ask me what the Guru was like. Recently, someone wrote me suggesting I pen my memoirs of the time he and I spend together. Compiling the details would required doing them justice; these memoirs would be encyclopedic, and perhaps someday I'll get the chance to sit down and spill it all out. But, for now, closing in on the ninth anniversary of Dan's death, it would at least be cathartic for me to talk a little about the life of one of bodybuilding's most influential people.
We met in 1989 while we were both guests of the federal government in one of their "desert country clubs." Each of us knew who the other was because we knew a couple of the same people around Venice, and we saw each other at Gold's Gym. Plus, I'd read his book, the Underground Steroid Handbook. But, we never really spoke until our unique association with the Mecca of bodybuilding required that we'd instantly become training partners in the joint. We gradually realized, however, that the only intellectual stimulation we were ever going to get while corralled in that place was from each other. So we ended up convincing ourselves that walking laps around the prison camp and up the hill to the air traffic control tower was adequate cardio, so long as we did plenty of laps. So, between two workouts a day and God knows how many laps, we hit every subject imaginable; not just drugs.
Soon it dawned on me: Holy shit, this guy is a genius. He didn't just know about a bunch of steroids. Dan was like a freak'n scientist when it came to metabolic pathways and hormone cascades and interactions of various drugs. Most of the ancillary drugs we use along with our steroids today are only used because of Dan Duchaine. Nolvadex, Clomid, HCG, Clenbuterol, metformin, GHB, Cytadren, ionamin, pondamin and Fastin, to name but a few, were drugs he either proposed we use, or whose use he perfected. Unfortunately, he has also been blamed for a drug many bodybuilders abuse and are addicted to today-- Nubain.
Not long after we got out, we ended up sharing a wall in an apartment building on Vernon St., right around the corner from Gold's Gym, at the very beginning of the freak movement in bodybuilding. This was the dawn of the Dorian era and this Mr. O was giving us the first glimpse of where we were headed. At that time, bodybuilders were throwing caution to the wind, and training with painkillers became the thing to do. Dan spoke forlornly about Nubain in prison. He told me about how smooth the high was and how relaxing. He also mentioned the sneezing, fatigue and headaches you got when you ran out. And he told me it was thermogenic (that sold me); it helped kill your appetite and it was perfect to train on because you could really go deep into the pain barrier-- just the thing for training while contest dieting. Dan's thing was to wake up in the morning, take all his steroids, and various other drugs and stimulants, and a shot of Nubain. Then he went back to bed and waited for his eyes to pop open when the Fastin kicked in. Bam! Then, off to the gym.
The day he got out of the halfway house, Dan knocked on my back door. I was up on a ladder painting my ceiling, so I told him to let himself in. He walked into my kitchen, looked up at me and said, "Get down off there, John; you shouldn't be up on a ladder when you do this." He held up an insulin syringe that had just 1.5 units in front of the plunger.
"That's Nubain?" I presumed.
"It's not insulin," he said smugly.
"No, what fun would that be," I said, trying to make light of what would be a life-changing experience.
He motioned for me to get down. I felt a knot tightening somewhere in my guts as I got off the ladder and we sat down at the table. He laid the syringe down in front of me and I picked it up. "So, I should mainline this, right?"
Dan grinned and began a recap of all the bodybuilders who used it and how the drug's effect was influenced if it were injected into fat, muscle, or intravenously. The consensus was that hitting a vein was definitely the preferred route if you wanted the rush. I held it up and looked through the little bit of liquid as I twirled the syringe between my fingers. Holy shit, IV drugs-- bloated heroine junkies, puking, purple, dead on the toilet. Images of anti-drug propaganda flowed through my mind as I pondered the actual mechanics of what I was about to do. I looked down at the veins popping out of my forearm just begging to be poked, and then back up at the syringe. I had no idea how to do this. "Will you do it for me?"
"Don't be such a fuckin' pussy," he spit back at me. "Just make a fist, point the pin up toward your body, and slide it in. You'll feel it go into the vein. If you see the syringe fill with blood when you pull back on the plunger, you're in."
"I knew that!" I said rolling my eyes. I didn't know how to make myself do it.
"Don't tell me you're having a moral dilemma because of the delivery method," he said. "A drug is a drug."
Since a hypocrite I'm not, the needle slipped right in and in five seconds I felt like puking. Once that dissipated, I felt pretty good-- just like he described. The next morning I did another hit before we headed out to the gym and I had an amazing workout. And so, my three-year battle began. I eventually won mine. I don't think Dan ever won his. I don't even think he really tried to fight it. Did Nubain contribute to his illness? Is that one of the things he was going to tell me in New York? I'll never know.
What many of you don't know and probably won't believe is that Dan didn't even really like bodybuilding. He once told me during an interview, "The funny thing is that I don't even care about bodybuilding as a sport. I don't follow it; if there's a bad decision at a contest, I don't care. My delight is solving problems; they happen to be centered in bodybuilding. If someone poses a problem and I solve it, but they say the solution is immoral, that's not my problem. It's your sport; you deal with it. I mean, if a natural bodybuilder asks me to help him, he's got to know that I'll also be helping his competition pass the test. Both are interesting problems: One is to extract maximum performance without cheating, and the other is how to cheat."
This acumen was unique during that era, and as such, an endless parade of bodybuilders, powerlifters, Olympic athletes and various actors and entertainers passed by my window on their way to the Guru's door. They paid handsomely for the information you couldn't get anywhere else. There were also the weirdoes. Between him, me and the chick who wrestled schmoes next door, we were privy to a cross-section of humanity that few would believe exists. Mike Christian once said that he wanted to plant himself in a lawn chair in our front yard just to watch the show go by.
Then there were the babes. At the time, we were both single, bodybuilder chicks were in style, and there was an endless supply of them convinced Dan could unlock the secret of their success. They were right. There were so many that Dan took me under his wing and made me his protégé to handle the overflow. Unlike the men we worked with, the women took the advice we gave them and followed it, and they appreciated it. Dan admitted that for some of the most avant-garde things he tried-- metformin, injectable Lasix, vanadyl sulfate, dilantin, Clenbuterol, Fastin, etc.-- the women were all docile human lab rats, and they knew it. We learned a lot from them. Everyone learned a lot from them. Vanadyl became hugely popular, metformin is now FDA approved and given for contest prep, and competitors don't even think about dieting without clen.
Some of the women were very appreciative. Sex may not have been a motivator in our work with them, but in many cases it was a tantalizing fringe benefit. They weren't always the hottest things on two feet, but as Dan would always say, "The best looking dog doesn't always make the best pet." He had a thing for redheads with very pale, almost transparent skin through which you could see the blue of their veins. I wasn't as picky and as long as they didn't talk too much and went home right after I got my nut, I was happy. We both hated annoying things. One of his regulars used to favor this skin-tight tennis-ball-green spandex dress with a huge rose printed on the front. Dan hated that dress and implored her not to wear it. For whatever reason, she would not comply. One afternoon, I was working at my desk when I looked out the window and saw the green dress saunter up Dan's front steps. She definitely had a way with those hips, but that dress was hideous.
I heard the door open, then immediately slam shut. Then some crashing and banging - something definitely broke - then some yelling; a little screaming; furniture being thrashed about; some cries of pain. Awww! No!, No!, NO!!, NOOOO!!! Some more screaming; then a little moaning. Then, yes!, yes!!, YES!!! YESSSS!!!! followed by the high-pitched squeal of a woman having a big woow-ah. A little while later I saw the girl leave wearing one of Dan's button-down shirts. I had to hear this one and went next door.
I walked into his living room and found Dan reclined in his Lazy-Boy wearing his famous bathrobe and house slippers, reading a magazine. The floor lamp was across the arm of the couch, the bulb smashed all over the cushions. Some books had been knocked off the shelf and were scattered on the floor; two of the kitchen chairs were knocked over; and there were little strips of tennis ball green material tied at each table leg. "She definitely has a flair for decorating," I said, surveying the damage. "What happened?"
"You know I hate that fuckin' dress, John." He flipped a page and smirked slightly, just like a kid who knew he got away with something like shoplifting.
"But, you're such a passive guy, Dan."
"Ah, yes," he said, closing the magazine and looking up at me smiling like the Cheshire cat. "Usually."
"So, I imagine you inflicted some sort of punishment on her?" I asked a little sarcastically.
He held his finger up to his chin like he was reliving it just one more time, and then said rather of matter-of-factly, "I ripped that ugly God-damned dress off her, tied her to the table with it and fucked her in the ass."
"Well done," I said, patting him on the shoulder. "And where is she now, the emergency room? The police station?"
"No, no," he chuckled. "She went to the mall. I gave her 100 bucks and told her to buy a few more of those dresses."
The other sexual exploits he told me of were no less distressing, if not completely outlandish. However, the women who didn't fear him, adored him. You ladies know what I mean. If you all put your heads together you'd have a best seller, even if reality is only half the story.
As much as such antics may piss off the feminists, his other antics really pissed off the cops. Dan's empirical knowledge of steroids and related chemistry eventually got the attention of the legal community and Dan became an expert witness in many steroid cases. One could speculate that Dan testified at too many steroid trials where his testimony got the guy off. I went to some of these trials as an observer to see the Guru in action. It was obvious the prosecutors hated him. One especially poignant anecdotal incident involved the prosecution's expert steroid witness. When this expert was cross-examined by the defendant's attorney as to the source of the steroid information that qualified him as an expert, the witness for the prosecution pointed to Dan in open court and said, "I read his books." The next sound the court reporter entered into the record was the DA's head hitting the table.
Not long after that, I was up in San Francisco for the weekend with one of our charges who was competing in the California Championships. I called up Dan to consult with him after the pre-judging and one of the many wayward bodybuilder chicks who was crashing on the Guru's couch answered the phone. She told me the cops were there yesterday. They kicked in the door, guns drawn, and tackled Dan. They handcuffed him, searched his house and dragged him off. Again. This time for almost 31 months.
Now you have to remember that this was before GHB and Clenbuterol carried the severe sentences they do now. In fact, at the time, GHB was still legal and they didn't even know what Clenbuterol was. They arrested Dan because he didn't label the bottles of GHB he sold and someone complained about it to the FDA. His original charge was just a misdemeanor. Then it dawned on the DA that he wasn't going to do any time, so they charged him with conspiracy to defraud the FDA - a felony. They created a catch-22: Since the FDA wrote the labeling law, it was subject to the FDA's interpretation. Since there was no possible way to label the GHB he sold, or the Clenbuterol for that matter, he just left the label off - many bottles. His was a dress rehearsal for other GHB cases. Now look at what they do to you. What's worse is what it did to Dan.
He was never the same after that beef. In fact, the stress leading up to his trial was such that it could have contributed to the mild stroke Dan suffered just before he began to serve his sentence. The stroke impaired his ability to speak and to write. It didn't stop him, though. While in prison, for the second time, Dan wrote his acclaimed book, Bodyopus.
Under the circumstances, calling Bodyopus just a book is like saying Mount Rushmore is just a stone carving. Dan told me that writing that book was the hardest thing he ever did in his life. The entire first draft was written long hand because they wouldn't let him use a typewriter. It was made even more difficult because of the stroke. Bodyopus is 500 pages long! It was the same for his columns in Muscle Media 2000 and his fan mail, which continued to come in and which he continued to answer, uninterrupted while he was in prison. I remembered the letters he wrote me at the beginning of his incarceration; scrawl, barely legible, incomplete sentences. His phone calls were tough to understand, too. Even after he got out, he still had trouble speaking for quite awhile.
The doctors never figured out what caused his stroke. His blood pressure was high - 160/120, probably a contributing factor. The stress of knowing he was going to prison could have contributed. It may have been the Clenbuterol - who knows? It definitely wasn't steroids, although most people love to think it was. Steroids were also not what killed him. Steroids were what made Dan notorious. Not because they're evil, but because whatever Dan told you to do, to some degree, worked, and there was never a shortage of competitors willing to be the test subject upon which he'd hone his craft. It was amazing to what extent that was so.
I was summoned to some bodybuilder chick's hotel room late one night before a show in LA at Dan's behest. I knew this girl was having problems dialing in earlier in the week and she had compounded matters by falling asleep in the tanning bed and scorching both sides of her body so badly that leprosy would have been a convincing diagnosis. There were about 100 used insulin syringes lying in a pile on the bed along with several empty vials of Esiclene. The girl was hitting poses in the mirror wearing just a thong, and the only thing that looked more revolting than the shriveled remains of her breasts were the huge patches of skin she was missing. In their place were gobs of some kind of cortical ointment that smelled like something you'd be sure to throw away rather than slather all over you body, much less rub over an open wound. But, for all the pain that must have been circulating in her little body, this chick was wearing a mask of hubris. She might as well have been Ms. Olympia.
We stood behind her looking at her reflection in the mirror. Dan crossed his arms in front of him and asked, "So, what do you think?"
"What do I think?" I repeated back. I turned and sat in the chair over by the window trying to figure out what he meant by that question and if he really expected me to answer it in front of her. He narrowed his eyes at her reflection while she hit another pose, waiting for me to answer. I knew he was looking at something and it intrigued him, but I couldn't figure out what; she looked like she had been bobbing for French fries. "I don't know, Dan. I guess if you told me she just crawled across the Mojave Desert wearing that same get up, I'd have to say she looks pretty good."
"Don't you think her legs have come in since Tuesday?" he asked with all the alacrity of a mortician.
Was I the only one who could see this chick looked hideous? "It's hard to tell looking between the patches of missing skin. Dan, you're not seriously going to encourage her to go out on stage, are you?"
Ever the low-comic Tennyson, Dan looked at her and, in a tone so blasé it is etched in my mind forever, he said, "There are only two ways we learn new things in this biz, John. One is through serendipity, the other is failure." As far as Dan was concerned, there was no failure in trying. In bodybuilding, where the winners are so few and the also-rans so many, trying carries a lot of weight. Dan had obviously tried something on this chick and whatever it was, he saw through the detritus and was pleased with the result. He never told me what it was he did to her, but you can be sure many of you benefited from it.
Dan was an enigma wrapped in an anachronism, and admired in so many contradictory ways. He is cherished among a certain part of bodybuilding's core as the 20th century pioneer who popularized the do-it-yourself steroid user. The guy who took steroids out of the hospital and put them in your goddamn bathroom. No pantheon of modern bodybuilding is complete without him.
At the same time, while those in power decried his influence over such a deep underground, others were signing his charges to endorsement contracts. Still, he was reviled by those who thought his magic was black, especially when applied to women. But, for the men and women who understood, magic is magic - they didn't care what color it was, just as long as it worked.
Dan definitely had a tremendous influence on bodybuilding. The sad thing is that if you scraped that dirty outer ring of "steroid guru" off his persona, you were left with a pretty fine human being - a guy who would give you the shirt off his back; a guy who was as multi-faceted and complex as he was warm and caring.
Those of us who knew that were an odd lot to be sure. Along with the assortment of bodybuilding's more colorful constituents, there were various steroid dealers, assorted schmoes and big beefy women. There was also an AIDS researcher, a dude who harvested organs from cadavers, a really weird radio announcer, a drummer waiting for new kidney, various scientists, entrepreneurs, writers, theater people, a college professor and Dan's only family member, Aunt Loraine.
We were the ones who knew Dan wanted to be a daddy; that he collected baby dinosaur dolls; that his love was the theater; that his speakers sounded incredible; that his recumbent bike looked really cool; and so did he in the Lotus 7 replica he kept in Maine at his aunt's house. He only drove it wearing his "motoring shoes" that he bought from a catalog, along with the bathrobe and slippers he had Aunt Loraine send him in prison.
"Eccentric" best described Dan. Curiously eccentric and loved by as many who misunderstood him. Just like most geniuses. What I would give for just one more conversation with Dan Duchaine could only be eclipsed by what I would give to have been able to fly up to New York in December of ‘99.
I really miss him.