Becoming A 'Gladiator'? Watch Out For Side Effects Fulfilling the masculine dream of having arms like Goliath probably isn't worth the downside of steroid use. Vicarious satisfaction is probably better, as author Marc Acito discovers upon reading Gladiator, the autobiography of one-time American Gladiators star Dan Clark, known to television audiences as Nitro.
NPR logo

Becoming A 'Gladiator'? Watch Out For Side Effects

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123774641/123821350" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Becoming A 'Gladiator'? Watch Out For Side Effects

Review

Becoming A 'Gladiator'? Watch Out For Side Effects

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123774641/123821350" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Whether you are in line at the grocery store or online at a Web site, tabloid gossip is easier than ever to indulge in, but snacking on celebrity dish is different from devouring an entire book.

For our series My Guilty Pleasure, we invite authors to recommend a book they're embarrassed to admit they read. Well, today, writer Marc Acito admits to an obsession with the juicy tell-all memoir.

Mr. MARC ACITO (Writer): Starting when I was in the second grade, my father would drop me off at the library on Saturday afternoons while he went to his office. It was the 1970s, when children still roamed free, like wolves. In my case, I headed straight for the adult biography section.

You see, biographies for children focus on people who discover life-saving drugs and make the world a better place, but adult biographies focus on the dissolute, the people who do life-threatening drugs and die half-naked on the toilet. This is the world I wanted to know about: the pill-popping, bed-hopping lives of Elvis and Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe.

My latest favorite in the genre is "Gladiator: A True Story of 'Roids, Rage and Redemption." The title alone made me want to read it: boy meets drugs, boy loses mind, boy finds peace. It's almost mythological.

Indeed, I hadn't even heard of the author, Dan Clark, who went by the name Nitro on the TV game show "American Gladiators." Clark's story is as compelling as it is pathetic and uplifting, a tale of someone so desperate to make it big he literally makes himself big.

Clark's book does what the best stories do - sweeps us away into another world, one in which he almost gets shot trying to smuggle muscle-building drugs over the border from Mexico. While I wasn't like most second-grade boys, I am like most guys and that I'd love to have arms the size of ham hocks, to have a body that looks like a bad allergic reaction.

But the sad irony of steroids is that two of the side effects are the shrinking of some crucial male anatomy and the development of what Clark calls chesticles, both of which he writes about in graphic, wince-inducing detail. So I chose to experience his misguided life vicariously without adding his mistakes to my own.

But why was I so ashamed to read Clark's book that I wouldn't even buy it, then avoided the librarian by using the self-serve? For the same reason few of us like to admit how much we enjoy the reality TV revolution that "American Gladiators" helped spawn.

A book is an accessory, and there's something inherently unattractive about our appetite for celebrity dish. And I worry there's something unhealthy in our wanting to know how people with more ambition than talent find success, then taking pleasure in their failures.

Then again, what would a guilty pleasure be without an overdose of guilt?

BLOCK: Marc Acito admits to taking chocolate protein powder before he lifts weights in Portland, Oregon.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.