Brian Johnson, who rocketed to internet fame as a fitness and masculinity influencer calling himself “Liver King,” is facing the wrath of acolytes after another bodybuilder presented what he says is evidence that Johnson has been using steroids.
Since August 2021, Johnson — a boastful, heavily bearded man with a bulging physique and apparently not a single shirt to his name — has built an Instagram following of 1.7 million by showcasing what he calls the “ancestral lifestyle.” This program consists of nine “tenets,” one of which calls for a diet of “primal fare,” including animal lungs and testicles. Johnson achieved infamy with videos where he feasted on raw liver, threw giant spears, and demonstrated extreme workout techniques, positioning himself as a modern caveman warrior and guru. These performances served as marketing for his online business, Ancestral Supplements, where you can buy capsules containing beef organs, fish eggs, bone marrow, and other animal products.
Throughout his year of success selling this routine (as well as cow intestine pills), Johnson has consistently brushed aside accusations that there is something less than natural to his muscled physique. When Joe Rogan alluded to his possible steroid use, Johnson said he was simply happy to be exposed to a wider audience. This year, casually accused of taking PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) by the hosts of the Barstool Sports podcast Pardon My Take, he replied, “I’ll be honest, I take PEDs: I prioritize, execute and dominate every fucking morning.”
But Johnson now faces a more detailed allegation that he’s been juicing behind the scenes. It comes from another popular fitness entrepreneur with his own supplement business: a guy named Derek (he’s never revealed his last name) who has made a reputation for himself as a trusted anti-PED crusader through his “More Plates More Dates” YouTube channel, where he often speculates as to whether jacked dudes are “natty or not” — that is, all-natural or on steroids. It has 1.51 million subscribers.
On Monday, Derek released a video called “The Liver King Lie,” which has now been viewed 675,000 times in under 24 hours. The hour-long exposé recounts the history of Johnson’s virality before delving into a number of emails Johnson allegedly sent to an unnamed bodybuilding coach in mid-2021, before he had officially launched his Liver King brand. In these messages, Johnson appears to relate his plans for gaining a million social media followers within a few short months by pushing his body to its absolute limit, aided by a human growth hormone regimen that was costing him $11,000 per month. Derek also shared an even earlier, unread email that he found in the depths of his own inbox, in which the future Liver King apparently asks for a consultation and expresses interest in acquiring HGH. The request, if Johnson really made it, would indicate that he was woefully unaware of Derek’s interest in unmasking steroid users professing to be naturally buff.
Derek did not reply to a request for comment, so it remains unclear how the majority of the emails, if authentic, wound up in his possession. Johnson did share a statement with Rolling Stone, but neither confirmed nor denied that he had written the messages.
Johnson wrote in an email to Rolling Stone that his “message has always been about” the thousands of people who attempt or die by suicide each day, noting that “our people are hurting at record rates with depression, anxiety, autoimmune, infertility and low ambition in life… our young men are hurting the most… lost, weak and submissive.” He pitched his Ancestral Living brand as the “solution,” and emphasized: “This is my fight!”
“In a weird way, I’m grateful for the recent events that have shed light on this complicated-as-fuck topic,” he continued. He also offered to give his thoughts on a “long-form podcast,” which unfortunately was not an option on deadline. The statement did not answer questions about the latest steroid allegations, the authenticity of the email images in Derek’s video, or whether Johnson would seek to assure followers that he had always maintained a purely “natural” approach to physical fitness.
Johnson also took to Instagram on Tuesday, sharing a clip of himself chewing raw liver in a snowy field. “What up primals?” he asked his viewers. “Liver King here. We just took down a Mongolian yak. And where do you think we’re gonna start? Of course, the liver first, because liver is king!” After taking a bite, he bellowed one of his catchphrases: “More!” At no point did he acknowledge Derek’s video from the day before.
If Johnson is attempting to ignore the steroid scandal, the bodybuilding community isn’t willing to go along with him. This video and other recent posts are deluged with negative comments from former fans and longtime haters. “Must be nice to spend 15k+ a month on drugs,” reads the top-voted reply on a workout clip Johnson shared Monday, with another user chiming in, “I’m guessing your [sic] huddling in your primal cave with your team… trying to figure out how the fuck to get outta this one?” A disappointed follower wrote, “while I do believe what you preach in general you should’ve just been honest man.”
On the liver video that dropped after Derek’s YouTube takedown, a user commented, “You could have just done what a lot of bodybuilders do and never talk about drug use,” adding: “Not surprising, but still disappointing.” Another predicted that “dudes [sic] just gonna play it off like it’s not over for his bs.” Indeed, it would seem that short of refuting the email evidence, Johnson can only double down on his schtick.
In Reddit’s bodybuilding forums, many noted that suggestions of Johnson’s reliance on steroids had helped propel his fame — it was a long-running joke that made his wellness concepts the subject of both ridicule and fascination.
“He could have conquered the fitness industry if he wasn’t such a mega fake natty,” groused one redditor. “People don’t care about juice, they do care about juice lords lying about their juiciness though.”
Nonetheless, most expected the Liver King to weather the storm through sheer denial. “Feel like he is just going to keep lying about being natty though, he has kind of put himself into a corner with how many times he has claimed natty in very public settings,” wrote a user on r/nattyorjuice subreddit.
“I don’t think it will affect anything,” another concurred. “I kinda view him as a troll more than anything, and the whole natty thing was just marketing. All press is good press, as they say.”
So the million-dollar question becomes: can an alpha-male influencer, facing a pronounced backlash for allegedly injecting extreme amounts of the growth hormones, sustain his gimmick by messily devouring lumps of fatty meat on camera? It’s still enough to make us gawk, perhaps, but where it comes to the business side, Johnson may be facing leaner times. Good thing he picked up those survival techniques from the ancestors.