Brian “Liver King” Johnson Admits to Steroid Use After Allegations Spark Industry Backlash

"I am as sorry as a man can be," Johnson says.

Brian Johnson, known to his 1.7 million Instagram followers as the voracious Liver King, has come clean about his history of performance-enhancing drug usage. 

On the evening of Dec. 1, 2022, Johnson published a six-and-a-half-minute video to YouTube titled “The Liver King Confession…I Lied,” in which he admits that “recent events” have motivated him to open up about his prior and current steroid usage. Johnson’s candid remarks come roughly two days after a now-viral exposé was published on YouTube by two fitness content creators.

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A Nov. 28, 2022, YouTube video published by the channel More Plates, More Dates titled “The Liver King Lie” sparked a flurry of reactions across social media.

The video, a collaborative project by channel owner Derek (surname withheld by request) and Zack Telander, displayed a series of apparently leaked emails from Johnson in which Johnson outlines his history of past and current drug usage.

The Allegations

Over the course of the hour-long video, Derek and Telander argue that Johnson has misled his audience and fanbase regarding his history of steroid usage. They showcase what appears to be a series of correspondence between Johnson and an unknown bodybuilding coach during the summer of 2021. 

Derek and Telander used the e-mails as proof of their argument that Johnson has made disingenuous comments and misled his fans about his involvement with performance-enhancing drugs — something that Johnson has repeatedly and passionately denied during podcasts and other media appearances. 

The e-mail screenshots provided by More Plates, More Dates allege an ongoing conversation between Johnson and an unnamed source. They detail extensive background information on Johnson’s health status, dietary habits, and drug usage.

Specifically, the correspondence details Johnson’s alleged prior and current history with pharmacy-grade human growth hormone, which reportedly cost over $11,000 per month, in addition to various other compounds and peptides. 

In the News 

The More Plates, More Dates exposé garnered a surge of interest in the social media fitness ecosystem; the video has racked up nearly three million views in the 72 hours since its publication (as of the morning of Dec. 2). The video has amassed nearly 20,000 comments, with more added by the minute. 

The event has also been covered by media outlets like Rolling Stone and The New York Post, as Johnson’s public brand has grown rapidly since the Liver King caricature burst onto the scene in mid-to-late 2021. 

The Response

In the wake of the allegations and subsequent widespread media attention, Johnson took to his own YouTube channel to address the issue directly. He confirmed that he has indeed used anabolic steroids in the past and continues to use them today.

Johnson linked his admission with his ongoing mental health issues involving self-esteem and exercise addiction, as well as his intent to use the Liver King brand as a means of helping others who suffer from similar issues: 

“Primals! I’m making this video to apologize … Yes, I’ve done steroids and am on steroids, managed by a trained hormone clinician. The ‘Liver King’ public figure was an experiment to bring awareness to the 4,000 people a day who [die by suicide], and the 80,000 people who try… When I talk about the 85 percent of people who suffer from self-esteem issues, that’s me. I’m part of that statistic, which is why I do 12 to 15 blood-burning workouts a week, just to feel like I’m okay … [hormone replacement] has helped in a profound and significant way.” 

Johnson stated that he felt he was able to separate his drug usage from his business ventures, stating that his health history had little to do with his “ancestral message.” He also remarked that, because he is not a competitive athlete, his pharmaceutical history was not relevant information; a belief he now acknowledges as an error. 

Johnson did not note whether he intends to alter his steroid usage or what, if any, adjustments he intends to make going forward. He specified that, at the time of the video’s publication, he is still supplementing with exogenous testosterone therapy. However, he is “grateful for the recent events that have shed light on this complicated topic.” Johnson closed the video by stating the following:

“I am as sorry as a man can be, and all I can do is take extreme ownership right now, be better, and lead myself to a better life as a better human.”

Checking the Facts

During his admission, Johnson cited several facts and figures about mental health that, in part, motivated him to pursue and expand the Liver King brand as a way of reaching at-risk populations. Here’s how his statements stand up to scrutiny: 

  • Johnson claims that 4,000 people die by suicide each day. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 703,000 people die by suicide across the globe each year, amounting to 1,926 per day. (1) The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) suggests that 130 people per day die by suicide in the United States. (2)
  • The WHO acknowledges that “many more” people survive suicide attempts than those who are successful. (1) The AFSP notes that there were 1.2 million attempted suicides in the United States in 2020. (2)
  • Johnson cites that 85 percent of the population experience self-esteem issues. While that figure is frequently cited, a direct source is difficult to corroborate. Research does suggest that self-esteem is a challenging issue to track statistically, but factors like race, gender, age, and body type seem to impact self-esteem, particularly in adolescents. (3)(4)
  • Self-esteem and self-image have been linked to depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation and behavior. (5)
  • Some research indicates that there may be a strong connection between low self-esteem and steroid usage, particularly among men. (6)

Johnson does not appear to be reporting exact figures in his claims. However, the larger message regarding self-esteem and the importance of mental healthcare is largely rooted in well-supported scientific evidence

Editor’s Note: If you or anyone you know are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day by dialing 988 as well as online.

The Community Reacts

The gavel swings heavily in the court of public opinion. The More Plates, More Dates video has attracted a significant amount of media attention to Johnson and his business, as well as a mixture of condemnation and support from his fanbase and peer group. 

In the comments section below Johnson’s apology video on Instagram, he’s since received praise for claiming “ownership” over what some users call a redeemable wrongdoing. Others have lambasted Johnson for linking his actions to larger mental health concerns.

The e-mail correspondence provided by Derek and Telander contained an outline of Johnson’s apparent goals for the Liver King brand — to amass “one million followers by March 2022” alongside his other commercial ventures — but the screenshots make no direct claims about Johnson’s purpose for creating the Liver King brand beyond scaling it as a business. 

Speaking to BarBend over text, Telander notes that he feels Johnson “missed the mark” with his apology, stating that he wished for more vulnerability from Johnson outside of the Liver King persona. Derek declined to comment. 

BarBend will continue to update this article as the situation unfolds. 

References

1. Suicide. (2021, June 17). The World Health Organization.
2. Suicide statistics. (2022, October 14). American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 
3. Hagen, R., Havnen, A., Hjemdal, O., Kennair, L. E. O., Ryum, T., & Solem, S. (2020). Protective and Vulnerability Factors in Self-Esteem: The Role of Metacognitions, Brooding, and Resilience. Frontiers in psychology11, 1447. 
4. McClure, A. C., Tanski, S. E., Kingsbury, J., Gerrard, M., & Sargent, J. D. (2010). Characteristics associated with low self-esteem among US adolescents. Academic pediatrics10(4), 238–44.e2. 
5. Michal (Michelle) Mann, Clemens M. H. Hosman, Herman P. Schaalma, Nanne K. de Vries, Self-esteem in a broad-spectrum approach for mental health promotion, Health Education Research, Volume 19, Issue 4, August 2004, 357–372
6. Börjesson, A., Ekebergh, M., Dahl, M. L., Ekström, L., Lehtihet, M., & Vicente, V. (2021). Men´s experiences of using anabolic androgenic steroids. International journal of qualitative studies on health and well-being16(1), 1927490. 

Featured Image: @liverking on Instagram