DR. OZ HAS BEEN PREACHING this gospel of health and self-help for several years now, injecting it into books, crowds and television shows like some gooey, life-promising vaccine. Leaning on his many, well-polished laurels, he’s moved beyond his area of specialty—the heart—to explain the ins and outs, ups and downs, of the entire body. His message is a seductively simple one—eat a little less, exercise a little more, get a second opinion—though at times it seems like two or three parts common sense to one part medical expertise (with a dose of spiritual alterna-speak thrown in for good measure).
His ambition is huge, his bank account is bulging; increasingly, he seems like the TV doctor who also plays one in real life instead of the other way around. Yet his ultimate message isn’t about him, it’s about you: He wants nothing more, he says, than to create a “movement” of Americans who recognize that only they are the masters of their health.
“For the American public,” he told The Observer during an interview in his office, “I hope the epiphany is that, yes, we’ve made huge advances in science, but it’s not the Holy Grail. It’s not by itself going to take you to the Promised Land. Only you can do that.”
The Promised Land. It’s an enticing concept, no matter how you get there, and thus far, the good doctor has been doing a fine job of winning converts to his cause. He hasn’t quite created a movement just yet, but thanks to an uncanny ability to combine medical skill with marketing savvy (he has an M.B.A. as well as an M.D.), he has done what few members of his inward-looking medical profession have managed to do—he has turned himself into an industry.
Indeed, the 47-year-old surgeon, who was once named People Magazine’s “Sexiest Doctor,” is everywhere these days: beaming from the flaps of his best-selling books, YOU: The Owner’s Manual and YOU: On a Diet; lecturing his less-successful Harvard comrades at their 25th college reunion; praising his employer, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, in local radio spots; writing a men’s health column in Esquire; and, of course, touring the country with his co-guru, Dr. Michael Roizen, a Cleveland Clinic anesthesiologist who earned his motivational-speaker stripes by coming up with a way to test people’s RealAge®, and who advises people to “get control” of their genes by walking 30 minutes a day and learning to manage stress (which, he notes, adds 32 years to your age). Dr. Oz’s Reiki-master wife, Lisa, is also part of the act, discussing “energy, spirit, and relationships.”
Call it Oz-Fest II.
All this in addition to the hefty amount of time he spends instructing his good pal Oprah Winfrey about how to “get younger and healthier,” warning against the dangers of belly fat and deliniating the proper shape of poop. (You have to know? It should be S-shaped.) It’s a service that has earned him both a place among that circle of helpfulness known as “Oprah and Friends” and even a special title: Ms. Winfrey has dubbed him “America’s doctor.”
“Dr. Oz recognizes that the spiritual is connected with the medical,” Ms. Winfrey told The Observer, via her publicist. “I love him because he likes to combine Eastern and Western medicine like acupuncture and massage. He has a true passion for the human body and has helped me understand things about the way it works.”
Dr. Oz is quick to return the favor. During our interview and his lecture, he dropped Ms. Winfrey’s name reverently into conversation, like a communion wafer or a slot-machine coin, calling her a “wonderful teacher” and the “best.” He used her purple “Oprah-patented” surgical gloves to cradle enlarged hearts and “light, fluffy” lungs during the show-and-tell section of Oz-Fest. And in one of the more creative acts of co-branding perhaps ever concocted, he used her heart—quite literally—to educate his audience about, well, Oprah’s heart.
“This is the inside of someone’s chest,” Dr. Oz told his Javits Center audience as he pointed to a pulsing, three-dimensional image on the JumboTrons. “See the little ribs coming out of the side, and the heart? You may not recognize this person, but her name is Oprah Winfrey. That’s what Oprah’s heart looks like.” (From what we could tell, Oprah looked pretty good!)
Ms. Winfrey’s heart has done wonders for Dr. Oz’s cause, winning him converts and credibility among the vast, Oprah-mom demographic. “We’ve seen him on Oprah, and he’s very informative,” said Theresa Bosco, a 58-year-old grandma who took a seven-and-a-half-hour train ride all the way from Rochester, New York, just to hear her favorite TV doctor speak. “Being a cardiologist, I think he tells you how it really is.”