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Posted at 10:42 AM ET, 01/15/2009

Insta-Poll: The Curious Case of Jeremy Piven

By Liz Kelly

Jeremy Piven. (AP)

Jeremy Piven, he of "hug it out, bitch" and Page Six party boy fame, sat opposite Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" today to set the record straight about his hasty departure from a Broadway production of "Speed the Plow." As reported last month, Piven and his doctors claimed the "Entourage" star was a victim of mercury poisoning -- a supposedly debilitating condition the self-described "macro-psychotic" acquired by eating way too much sushi and relying on Chinese herbal medicines.

Piven describes his symptoms:

"I was so sick for most of the run of the show. Some days I would sleep right until the time I had to go to the theater. I didn't know what was wrong with me. I was exhausted. Finally, I went to a doctor at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut just so it wouldn't turn into a circus. He said, 'you've got to stop working.' My heart rate was 47. My mercury level was off the charts. I hadn't had a real break in 20 years of acting.'"

New York mag's Vulture blog describes Piven's symptoms:

"Not only had he been making a habit of showing up only minutes before curtain, but during a matinee performance of the show on Saturday, he temporarily disrupted the play to impatiently stare at his watch (while tapping his feet!) when a few theatergoers arrived to their seats late. Then he failed to show up for Tuesday and Wednesday's performances..."

The New York Post adds:

"Sources said that Piven hasn't been too sick to party after performances - hanging out at bars into the wee hours, despite his grueling schedule of eight performances a week."

But what brought Piven to "GMA" today, almost a month after his diagnosis? Well, a series of unfortunately fishy circumstances:

Exhibit 1: Piven reportedly first told the show's producers he was suffering from mono, then Epstein-Barr.

Exhibit 2: "Speed" playwright David Mamet remarked to Variety: "My understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer."

Exhibit 3: Piven's former "Plow" co-star is on record as saying that with Piven gone, "Today was the first time I really enjoyed playing this show."

Exhibit 4: issued a press release saying Piven, who would be the first documented case of mercury poisoning on record in the U.S., would have had to eat 108 pieces of sushi a week to feel any adverse affects from the heavy metal.

Exhibit 5: Some experts have said that someone suffering from "acute Mercury poisoning," as claimed by Piven would not have recovered sufficiently to bounce around the red carpet like a ping-pong ball at Sunday's Golden Globes ceremony in Los Angeles.

So, based on the evidence, let's issue a snap judgment.

By Liz Kelly  | January 15, 2009; 10:42 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, Insta-Polls  
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Comments is a mouthpiece for the mercury industry, so not necessarily objective. Liz (or Dr. hodie, or anyone else), can you provide a neutral expert source on the topic?

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 15, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Considering that I have been known to wolf down a good number of sushi in a sitting, 108 pieces does sound that hard to do, especially in a week's time. The bill on the other hand would be a different matter.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | January 15, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

"Mercury poisoning"... its the new "exhaustion".

Posted by: Osteph | January 15, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Jeremy Piven is a not a victim of mercury poisoning, he is a victim of not understanding the difference between "mercury poisoning" and "mercurial".

Posted by: byoolin1 | January 15, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

My unscientific diagnosis, without actually examining the patient is that Jeremy Piven is suffering from a combination of "Small Man Disease" and a raging case of "Hyper-Inflated Sense of Self Worth." The former is unfortunately hereditary and cannot be treated except with a pair of shoes lifts, perhaps borrowed from wee Tom's closet. The latter is treatable and it appears be getting a taste of that medicine right now. One hopes. It's likely a spoonful of sugar will have little effect on the bitterness of the pill he needs to swallow.

Posted by: pras40 | January 15, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Yep, that's true, Nosy -- which is why I didn't just rely on MercuryFacts for the piece. Check out the link to the Daily Beast's take on the medical side of this -- several docs are on record with similar views.

Posted by: Liz Kelly | January 15, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

The latter is treatable and he appears to be getting a taste of that medicine right now.

That's why I love my editor. (Don't tell him I said that.)

Posted by: pras40 | January 15, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Jeremy needs to go back to what he's good at. Being John Cusack's wingman in really crappy movies.

Posted by: ChaoticCracker | January 15, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

"Mercury poisoning"... its the new "exhaustion".

Posted by: Osteph | January 15, 2009 11:56 AM

I was just gonna type that so I guess great minds think alike osteph!

Posted by: wadejg | January 15, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

First I will give the disclaimer that I cannot diagnose or rule out a condition based on tabloid reports BUT you are right to dismiss claims as the facts are not in context. However, mercury poisoning certainly wouldn't be at the top of the differential diagnosis list.

Posted by: hodie | January 15, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

methinks, you are a true clinician! I concur with the diagnosis of small man syndrome.

Posted by: hodie | January 15, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Maybe the mercury seeped in through his scalp from that furry thing perched on his head?

Posted by: milesdy | January 15, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 15, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

What would happen if some star just came out & said:

"Yeah I missed all those performances because I was out doin' hookers & blow & blow OFF OF hookers instead of rehearsing."


"Yes I'm a $cientologist, you wanna make sumthin' of it buddy?!? I got yer Thetans right here!!"


"Yes, I'm anorexic & I'm so full of botox I could infect a small country with botulism with my tears alone."

Would the sky fall? Would the planet implode? I dunno...maybe. Cause it would certainly be earth-shattering or alter the planets orbits or something like that if one of them actually told the truth.

We'd certainly not have this column.

Posted by: wadejg | January 15, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Jeremy Piven's excuse: mercury poisoning=code for Massive Attack of Asshattery.

Posted by: jelo | January 15, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Nicely done methinks...

LTL goes back to lurking and mourning the slow demise of her tan.

Posted by: LTL1 | January 15, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Nosy, perhaps Jeremy suffers from both disorders or one is the symptom of the other. thanks for the link. Also a nice one on Scientific American

Posted by: hodie | January 15, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Dr. hodie, Do you generally find WebMD to offer a balanced on ailments? Is there any other general-readership website you can recommend?

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 15, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I saw part of the interview on GMA this morning. For as sick as he says he was, he certainly has made a very speedy recovery. He had a lot of energy to defend his actions, which run counter to the diagnosis at hand.

Posted by: JLRGG | January 15, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Ack! Should read, "...a balanced view on ailments" (hmmm, maybe I've had too much caffeine!).

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 15, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

I don't know about the mercury because I don't think I've ever eaten enough to be affected but I do take issue with

"I hadn't had a real break in 20 years of acting."

Really Jeremy, really.

Posted by: petalceleb | January 15, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Let's see, where's my armchair and my fake stethoscope? Ah, here.

It sure doesn't seem likely, given what I've been able to glean from the Internets (thank you, Merck Manual), that he would be able to recover so quickly from either acute OR chronic methymercury poisoning. Also, exhaustion doesn't seem to be a symptom of either; acute mercury toxicity gives people severe gastrointestinal symptoms, while chronic toxicity gives people gingivitis and neurologic deficits. Doesn't mean he's not sick (that's a whole nother angle that Gawker covered nicely), just that his diagnosis and his stated symptoms don't add up. Now hold still, Ms Hilton! I have to reapply your leeches.

(Info from the Merck manual, online at

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | January 15, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

OK. I'll admit it. I'm a big fan of Stephanie Miller, the left wing talk show personality. She said she came down with mercury poisoning last October. Her symptoms were severe weight loss, loss of appetite and other g-i ailments. She didn't miss a day of work.

So, yeah. I don't believe Jeremy is telling us the whole story.

Posted by: mdreader01 | January 15, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

He was also taking chinese herbs. Imported herbs and drugs can have lead, so maybe mercury too. And he could have had a prior exposure- a doctor said his level was 6x normal. That can't be good for a body! (And is a front for industry, I'm suprised WPost didn't reveal their funding or background.)

Posted by: jordantl | January 15, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Now hold still, Ms Hilton! I have to reapply your leeches.

Hey, someone could make a fortune removing the figurative leeches from a number of stars like, say, the Spears and Cyrus families.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 15, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Nosy, do you have to chant selections from Kabbalah literature when you remove figurative leeches?

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | January 15, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Bawlmer, maybe $cientology has a process they can buy.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 15, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

He needs to quit importing his ahi grade tuna from Colombia.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 15, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

He needs to quit importing his ahi grade tuna from Colombia.

Posted by: yellojkt


HAHAHA. He also needs to stop dicing it into little pieces and snorting it off his chopsticks.

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | January 15, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

He also needs to stop dicing it into little pieces and snorting it off his chopsticks.

As opposed to the olden days, when he snorted his peas off his knife, of course.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 15, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Could this story have more hyperlinks? I'm surprised there wasn't a link to the word "the."

Posted by: Peaux_Sucent | January 15, 2009 9:55 PM | Report abuse

I think that Piven must have really been scalded by Mamet's comment about him now pursuing a career as a thermometer. Piven got his start in theater in Chicago, Mamet's hometown, and Mamet was a big deal in Chicago and NY when no one knew who Jeremy Piven was. So for Mamet (author of Speed the Plow, of course) to make such a cutting comment--and indicating, if you will, that Piven was now through in the theater as far as Mamet was concerned--probably busted through Piven's self-regard. It's one thing for Access Hollywood to say you might be a jerk--it's another thing when a major figure in your profession and your home town says it.

Posted by: jhpurdy | January 16, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

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