Jarvik May Have Used Body Double in Ads

Congressional committee suspects Lipitor ads featured athletic stand-in.

Feb. 7, 2008 — -- A congressional committee believes the creator of the first artificial heart may have misled viewers by using a body double in advertisements for a popular cholesterol drug he endorses.

Dr. Robert Jarvik has worked as a spokesperson for the top-selling anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor. Congressional investigators believe a body double was hired to make Jarvik look more athletic in television ads for the drug, according to the committee.

In one commercial, Jarvik rows across the water in a canoe.

The committee gave ABC News an exclusive look at a letter it sent in January to Lipitor manufacturer Pfizer, asking for "contracts, e-mails, correspondence, and scripts of television and print advertisements" featuring Jarvik.

It also wanted to know how much Jarvik was paid for his pitchman position. The committee gave Pfizer until Jan. 21 to respond.

When he appeared on "Good Morning America" last month to respond to the controversy, Jarvik didn't give a specific dollar value for his role.

"I'm paid an amount that I think for a celebrity ad would be considered a lot by most people," he said.

But a contract uncovered in the probe has revealed Jarvik was guaranteed $1.35 million for appearing in the advertisements.

The chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., has been a vocal critic of the ads because he said Jarvik "appears to be giving medical advice, but apparently he has never obtained a license to practice or prescribe medicine."

"The question here is, 'How is it being marketed? How is it being advertised?'"

In the commercials, Jarvik says, "Lipitor is one of the most researched medicines. I'm glad I take Lipitor, as a doctor, and a dad."

Yet the man famous for his medical breakthrough is unable to legally prescribe medicine, because he is not licensed to practice medicine. Jarvik ended his training after medical school instead of completing a medical internship.

"I am a medical scientist, not a practical physician," he said on "Good Morning America" last month. "I think it's very upfront. I am a doctor. I have long experience with heart disease."

In the ads Jarvik insists he wants to protect people's hearts — but with cheaper generic drugs currently available on the market, the committee is looking to protect peoples' wallets.