Before his death, bodybuilder Rich Piana was outspoken about his near 30 years of steroid usage despite admitting time and time again that the drug “can kill you.”
The former Mr. California’s death was confirmed Friday morning in a Facebook post by his estranged wife Sara Piana — just two weeks after TMZ Sports reported he was placed in a medically induced coma after passing out in his Florida home, where 20 bottles of testosterone were reportedly found by police.
With an Instagram following of 1.2 million users and hundreds and thousands of viewers following his YouTube channel, Piana had a large audience of fans — many of which were young men, who would flock to bodybuilding and fitness conventions to meet the 46-year-old star.
But though Piana was open about his drug use, he maintained that he was “not bragging” or encouraging steroid use in others. Instead, Piana claimed he used his platform to educate those who were going to use them on how to use the drugs “properly.”
“If you have the choice to stay natural or do steroids, stay natural. There’s no reason to do steroids, you’re only hurting your body, you’re hurting yourself,” he explained in an April 2016 YouTube video. “If you want to become a professional bodybuilder, guess what – you’re probably going to have to f——’ do ‘em. You’re not going to have a choice.”
Piana first got into the drug at a young age, trying the common cycle know as “test and deca” — a practice that mixes testosterone with the anabolic steroid deca durabolin for bulking — when he was just 18 years old.
“I went from weighing 185 lbs. to bouncing up over 200 lbs. in eight weeks and competing in a show and taking first and winning the overall,” he said of that initial cycle in an April 2014 YouTube video.
That weight gain came with a significant shift in Piana’s strength. When he graduated high school, he said he was bench-pressing 315 lbs. After the steroids, his bench went up to 405 lbs.
“I actually got pretty dramatic results,” he explained. “That was my first cycle. I have to be honest. The truth is, I was hooked, man. I was hooked. Because my body just grew in front of me. It was growing and my strength was exploding.”
“I was going to be one of the top bodybuilders of the world and I was not going to stop. I was hooked and I knew I was hooked. At this point, I knew this was all that mattered to me. ”
The drugs were an expensive undertaking for Piana. When he was competing on the national level, Piana said he would take 20 International Units of Serostim growth hormone a day – which, if bought through the prescription of a doctor, would cost him roughly $8,000 a month.
“Obviously, I wasn’t going through a doctor and I wasn’t getting it from a prescription,” he admitted in a July 2014 YouTube video. “Serostim is prescribed for HIV and a lot of the guys that are prescribed the growth hormone don’t take the growth hormone because they can sell it for a decent amount of money. Serostim goes between $400-$600 a kit. So I was paying about $2,000 a month for my growth hormone.”
As he got older, Piana said he learned that “more doesn’t always equate to better.”
“When I was younger that’s what I believed, but I’ve learned now how to get better results with taking less and not being as obsessed,” he said. “I would sit down with a pen and paper and spend 8 hours at the dining room table figuring out that cycle. And now there’s no thought whatsoever. I don’t waste more than 5 seconds thinking about it. It’s not that important to me. And I’ve just learned how to get the best results without taking everything under the sun.”
He was honest about the side effects — though claimed he mostly didn’t experience them, and knew how to treat them with he did.
“I’ve had no side effects,” he said in a March 2014 YouTube video, dismissing common occurrences like acne. “My hair is starting to thin a little bit, but I’m 43 years old. Is that due to steroids? Yes is it because my dad still has a full head of hair. It’s just something you got to take into consideration.”
There were occasions where he had his liver checked by doctors and his enzymes were high. To avoid liver toxicity, he would do what he could to bring them down — even staying off the drugs for awhile. “That’s all part of the game,” he said.
As for gynaecomastia (male breast enlargement) — the other common side effect of anabolic steroids consumption — Piana said he had it in the past, but had taken drugs to make it temporarily go away. “I’ve never had surgery,” he said.
That being said, Piana said he was aware that he was taking serious risks with every cycle.
“I am total 100 percent aware that damage is being done to my body in the choices I am making. I know for a fact that doing what I’m doing is going to cause damage,” he said. “For every positive I’m getting from these steroids, there’s a negative that’s going to come along with it.”
“But I have made a choice, and I’m willing to deal with that. I’m willing to roll the dice. And that’s something that you have to be willing to do. But if your choice is to go down that road, don’t sit and think that nothing’s going to happen and that everything’s going to be great. I don’t think that way about anything. Anything’s possible. Whatever happens, when it happens, then I’ll deal with it.
“I’m not saying this is the right choice,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m smart. I’m not saying this is what you should do — what anyone should do. I’m just saying what I’m doing.”
He continued, “That’s my advice to everyone out there. Do your research and learn as much as you can about anything before you do it. There’s always a better way to do something. If you have the choice to do natural or do steroids, stay natural. There’s no reason to do steroids. You’re only hurting your body and hurting yourself. But if you want to become a professional bodybuilder, guess what? You’re probably going to have to f—— do them. You’re not going to have a choice — you’re going to have to do them. That’s the boat I was in. I was competing on stage and I was getting to point where I was going to keep getting blown off the stage if I didn’t do them. So I took that step and that’s the road I chose. And here I am.
“I’m happy with everything I chose and happy with the way everything went in my life,” he said. “And I would have not done anything different. I’m completely happy with the choice I made of deciding to take steroids. My health is fine, everything’s good. It’s been what? 31 years I believe that I’ve been doing this and everything’s great.
“Is this a road I think you should take? Absolutely not,” he said. “But in doing this for over 25-years of taking anabolic steroids, obviously I know what the f— I’m doing,” he explained in a December 2014 YouTube video. “Why do I have a full head of hair? Why do I have no acne scars? Why do I have a flat waist? Cause I know what the f— I’m doing. I’m not abusing this s—.”
“You need to be aware, educated, and willing to do whatever it takes to remain healthy and keep the body healthy. Remember this is longevity. We want to be doing this in our 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s,” he continued. “I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life. … It’s important for me to live a long life.”
He added: “Bodybuilding is not my main objective in life. It’s just something I do on the side. So I would never in a million years risk ruining my health or ruining my future do to bodybuilding.”