Jeremy Piven suffered “shocking levels” of mercury in his system from eating too much sushi and Chinese herbs, forcing him to leave the Broadway play Speed-the-Plow, his doctor tells PEOPLE.
“I pulled Jeremy from the show,” says Dr. Carlon Colker. “I’m an unpopular character right now.”
Responding to skepticism over the decision to leave the play – playwright David Mamet joked that Piven was leaving show business to “pursue a career as a thermometer” – the doctor says the decision was purely medical, and one that Piven, 43, initially resisted.
“He’s disappointed that I had to pull the plug,” says Colker. “But I think he’s hurt more by the comments that he’s not trying or that he walked away. He’s been working straight for 30 years. He doesn’t walk away; I tore him away from it.”
Colker, an internist and attending physician at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City and Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut, says Piven initially came to him after the show’s run began in late October, complaining of severe fatigue.
“This was very, very unusual for him,” says Colker, who is also CEO and medical director of Peak Wellness in Greenwich, Conn., with another facility in Beverly Hills. “He’s known as the iron horse – he’s been working nonstop for 30 years, and he works 17-hour days.”
After a battery of tests failed to reveal what was ailing the three-time Emmy winner, Colker checked his “heavy metals” and was “absolutely stunned” to find mercury at a level “almost six times the upper limit of normal and allowable,” says the doctor. “It’s the highest level I’ve ever seen.”
Colker attributes the high mercury count to Piven’s habit of eating sushi, often twice a day, compounded by certain Chinese herbs he was taking “for general health.” Piven was ordered to put a moratorium on the fish and the herbs, and his doctor sent a letter on Dec. 10 revealing the health problem to the Speed-the-Plow production staff.
While Piven decided to continue with the show, his symptoms did not abate – and after a spell of dizziness led to a three-day hospitalization, Colker says he decided to put the curtain down on Piven’s Broadway run. The actor will be replaced by Norbert Leo Butz and William H. Macy.
“It is very serious. Mercury can kill – it can absolutely cause cardiac arrest, kidney failure, even psychiatric problems,” says Colker, who was first interviewed by Entertainment Tonight. “He is going to be OK. This is completely reversible,” adds Colker, who believes Piven will be “rockin’ and rollin’ and ready to be his old self for Entourage” by March. He just needs to really lay low and rest.”
• 2006: Jeremy talks about his hard-partying ways