The Fonz Is Pimping For Big Pharma

People of a certain age will remember the sitcom Happy Days and its leather jacket-clad mascot, “the Fonz.” Aloof and ever-cynical, the Fonz epitomized late 1970’s cool. But flash forward to today and the Fonz (who was played by the actor Henry Winkler) is now an uber earnest drug pitchman, pimping for Big Pharma.

Selling Drugs Through Fear Marketing

The Fonz is now hawking a drug to treat geographic atrophy, a form of age-related macular degeneration that affected his beloved father-in-law he croons in current broadcast spots. Winkler say$ he “partnered” with the drug maker, Apellis, who happens to make a drug to treat the condition. The “partnership” opened his eyes, pun intended, to the latest disease to be enlisted in the you-might-have-this-disease fear marketing which has become the new normal.

the fonz pimping for big pharma
The Fonz pimping for Big Pharma ad. image by screenshot.

And speaking of fear marketing, if you are not afraid of pneumococcal pneumonia you should be says the former football great Joe Montana in current broadcast ads for Pfizer’s related vaccine. One of the latest public figures to sink to a “partnership.”

Other Drug Pushing Celebrities

Public figures who can no longer get dignified work shilling for drug makers is nothing new. In the past, television personalities Joan Lunden and baseball player Mike Piazza hawked the allergy pill Claritin.

All of this started thanks to The Food & Drug Adminstration, way back in 1998, after it gave a pass for the first celebrity endorsement for a prescription drug TV ad. That was so Schering-Plough Corp. could have Joan Lunden, the former “Good Morning America” host could pitch Claritin.

Here’s the AdAge headline from 1998: FDA gives ok for Claritin to use celebrity endorser: DTC drug ads starring Lunden are latest step into mainstream.

Dorothy Hamill and the track star Bruce Jenner hawked the pain pill Vioxx – a med which ended up causing 27,785 heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths. (Sorry about that)

Actress Kathleen Turner shilled for a rheumatoid arthritis drug on CNN and talk show host Meredith Vieira “educated” women about strong bones neither disclosing the likely “partnerships” with drug makers behind their exultations.

And who can forget. Sally Field, known as the family matriarch in the TV drama Brothers and Sisters, hawking for the bone drug Boniva?

We’re Not Selling Drugs; We’re Raising “Awareness.”

How do drug makers get away with celebrity-based fear marketing to sell drugs? They are just “raising awareness” they plead, (except that no “awareness” is raised until there is a drug to be sold – see Winkler.

Not too long ago, tennis star Monica Seles attempted to “raise awareness” for binge eating disorder and actress Marcia Cross “raised awareness” of migraine headaches. Race car driver Danica Patrick raised awareness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, singer LeAnn Rimes raised awareness of eczema and Paula Deen raised awareness of diabetes.

Winkler is only the latest public figure to shill for drug makers – but what would his former persona, the Fonz, say?

Martha Rosenberg
Martha Rosenberg is the Investigative Health Correspondent for NewsBlaze. Martha illustrates many of her stories with relevant cartoons. She was staff cartoonist at Evanston Roundtable.