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Richard Piana (September 26, 1970 – August 25, 2017) was an American bodybuilder and businessman. He won the Mr. California title and other competitions in Los Angeles in 2003 and Sacramento in 2009. He had his own nutrition line called Rich Piana: 5% Nutrition. He publicly admitted that he had been using anabolic steroids and synthetic human growth hormone as part of his bodybuilding regimen during his 25-year career in competition, starting when he was 18 years old and ending around 2014. He said steroid use was a necessary part of competing at the highest levels of bodybuilding, and that it was a risk he was willing to take. He died at the age of 46 after a sudden cardiac arrest that may have been caused by his use of bodybuilding enhancement drugs.
|— Bodybuilder —|
|Born||September 26, 1970
Glendale, California, U.S.
|Died||August 25, 2017
Clearwater, Florida, U.S.
|Height||6 ft 0 in (183 cm)|
|Weight||221–315 lb (100–143 kg)|
|Pro-debut||Mr. California, 2003|
Piana was born in Glendale, California, on September 26, 1970. He was of Armenian (by mother) and Italian descent (by father). He said that growing up around Armenians caused issues due to his Italian ancestry. Raised in Sacramento, California, his enthrallment with bodybuilding began when he was six. He would go to the gym to watch his mother train for her bodybuilding contests. Alongside her, Piana was also heavily influenced by Bill Cambra, an "old-school" bodybuilder. At age 11, Piana began weightlifting. Four years later, he started competing in bodybuilding contests. For his senior year in high school, he lived with his father in La Crescenta, California. By the age of 18, Piana already had several titles under his belt, including Mr. Teen California. He continued to compete on and off for about 25 years, winning competitions such as the 2009 NPC Sacramento Pro and the 2009 Border States Classic Championships.
Piana won the Mr. Teen California at age 18, and in 1998 he was named Mr. California. At various points, he won the NPC California Championships, NPC Orange County Championships, NPC Los Angeles Championships, NPC Sacramento Championships and NPC Border States Classic. He later appeared in commercials and television series, including a cameo as The Incredible Hulk in an episode of Scrubs. He played an oiled-up muscle man named Marcus in an episode of "Malcolm in the Middle", but had no spoken lines. He took jobs in commercials, TV shows, and movies, which were his major source of income in his early years. He was one of the main focuses of the 2017 bodybuilding documentary Generation Iron 2.
In a 2014 YouTube video, he admitted that he had used anabolic steroids over the course of 25 years – since he was 18 years old – and specifically stated that everyone should be aware that using steroids will do damage to their body, but also said that he was willing to take the chance. He said he had experienced some side effects, such as hair loss, gynecomastia (enlarged breasts, which he had treated with medication), and signs of liver toxicity, but said he had not had acne or major problems thus far. However, he said "I am totally 100% aware that damage is being done to my body by the choices I am making", that "I know for a fact that doing what I am doing is going to cause damage", but also said "I have made a choice and I am willing to deal with that – I am willing to take those chances". In another video in 2016, he backed up his decision but advised viewers not to use the drugs, stating, "If you have the choice to do steroids or stay natural, stay natural. There's no reason to do steroids. You're only hurting your body and hurting yourself." He then clarified that professional bodybuilders have no such choice, since they cannot win at that level without using the drugs. He said "If you want to become a professional bodybuilder, guess what – you're probably going to have to fuckin' do 'em. You're not going to have a choice." He said that when he was competing at the national level, he was taking 20 international units per day of Serostim, a synthetic form of human growth hormone, which would cost about $8,000 per month at ordinary prescription prices (although he was sometimes getting it for free or for about $2,000 through connections with people who had prescriptions for it to fight HIV infection). He said that during his bodybuilding career he "lived and died for bodybuilding".
Piana quit bodybuilding competitions in his last few years and spent his time as a social media personality and promoting his business, called Rich Piana: 5% Nutrition. The meaning of "5%" in the name of the brand is that "5% represents the percentage of people that are out there actually doing whatever it takes to fulfill their dreams, to accomplish their goals, and to live the type of life they want to live."
In his post-competition life, he promoted his brand and frequently spoke about the use of steroids and hormones and the associated consequences. He made appearances at fitness expos, and in videos posted on YouTube, he gave advice about diet and fitness routines. He had 1.2 million followers on Instagram and hundreds of thousands of followers on YouTube.
Piana was married twice. His first marriage ended in divorce after he had an affair. He then had a longstanding on-again, off-again relationship with fitness model Chanel Jansen. He then married Icelandic bodybuilder Sara Heimisdóttir in 2015. They separated in 2016 and he later accused her of using him to qualify for U.S. residence and stealing money from him. His second marriage was annulled as having occurred under false pretenses, and he resumed his relationship with Jansen, who was his partner at the time of his death.
Piana collapsed from a sudden cardiac arrest while receiving a haircut from Jansen at his home. He was standing at the time and hit his head when he collapsed. Jansen called the 911 emergency operator, and followed their instructions to try to perform CPR until paramedics arrived about 10 minutes into her call. The paramedics confirmed that his heart was not beating properly. His heartbeat was eventually restored, but only after so much time had passed that brain damage had set in from lack of oxygen. After the discovery of crushed white powder along with a straw and a credit card on the table in his home, paramedics administered Narcan, a medication used to counteract a possible opiate overdose. There was later speculation about possible recreational drug use, foul play, or other unknown factors involved in his death. However, Jansen denied that cocaine, heroin, or other recreational drugs were involved – saying he had sometimes snorted a high-caffeine pre-workout supplement and that he did not use recreational drugs. Twenty bottles of testosterone (an anabolic steroid that is the primary male sex hormone) were reportedly found in his home.
Jansen later said his brain had been deprived of oxygen for over 30 minutes. She also said that in the last few days before his collapse, Piana had exhibited some unusual symptoms including shortness of breath and nausea, and said she was later told these may have been warning signs of an impending cardiac arrest.
After spending two weeks in an induced coma to try and reduce swelling to the brain, Piana died on August 25, 2017, at the age of 46. An autopsy revealed "significant heart disease" and that his heart and liver weighed over twice the average amount for an adult male. Jansen said Piana was well aware that his organs were enlarged, and that this was a known side effect of the steroids and hormones he had been taking, but said he wasn't aware that this put him at risk for a sudden cardiac arrest. The autopsy was ultimately inconclusive on the cause and manner of death. No toxicology analysis was performed for the autopsy, and no access to any toxicology analysis from the period of his hospital treatment was made available to the medical examiner for study. The hospital had discarded the specimens needed for a toxicology analysis to later be performed, despite specific requests to preserve them for analysis. This led to speculation about a possible cover-up of the true circumstances and cause of his death. The autopsy report said there was no evidence of recent injury, appearing to rule out physical trauma as a significant factor in his death.
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