Remember when rock stars used to be bad examples? Especially in matters of health? Hard to remember that far back, now, perhaps, but there was a time when, if we were to think of a 50-ish rocker, we'd gently hum that Pink Floyd song about being "shorter of breath and one day closer to death."
But Anthony Kiedis, who turns 50 this week, represents the new paradigm of the anti-geezer, middle-age-defying rock god. He's buffer than buff, held up as the model of healthy living by Men's Fitness magazine, and very likely to outlive the cockroaches that will outlive the apocalypse.
Asked about approaching the big five-oh, Kiedis recently told England's Q magazine: "I like the idea of defying the convention of what it is to be in your 40s, or 50s, or 60s. Discovering surfing at this stage of my life is definitely going to keep me active till the day I die. So, yeah, I accept the challenge… In the same way that [the late American exercise and nutritional guru] Jack LaLanne did—doing things in his 70's that no man on earth could do: pulling tugboats across the San Francisco Bay with his teeth."
Whatever other purposes the Red Hot Chili Peppers' frontman has used gym socks for over the years, he has clearly used them in a gym.
So when Men's Fitness put him high atop their ranking of the "best rock star abs," it represented a long journey down the road of health from the guy who, when the Chili Peppers were starting out in the 1980s, once told an interviewer that "the only exercise I ever get is sex." Because you can't aspire to pulling a tugboat across the bay based solely on that regimen.
What's most remarkable is that this 50-year-old remains that musclebound body while eating a mostly vegetarian diet. We say "mostly" because Kiedis has admitted to some exceptions."I'm not a true vegan," he told Maxim in 2008. "I dabble in sustainable fish and dawdle in the consumption of eggs. Steak doesn't speak to me, and tempeh is so-so."
So far, PETA, which named Kiedis the world's sexiest male vegan, has refrained from retroactively stripping him of that title, Lance Armstrong-style.
He's also regarded as one of rock's sexier single dads. His son, Everly Bear, turned 5 last month, and they're regularly photographed together, whether it's at beach outings or book signings. The boy was only 9 months old when Kiedis and the child's mother, former model Heather Christie, split up. ("Anthony is a great dad and I will love him forever for giving me the gift of life. I really hope he finds what he's looking for," Christie, then 22, told People magazine after the 2008 split.) Since then, the rocker hasn't been publicly linked with any one gal for long.
But maybe fitness is his real first love.
When he was turning 40, Kiedis was already being asked about how he kept it up. His answer then: "I take my dog, Buster, and run in the Hollywood Hills. And I swim if I'm near a clean ocean or a pool that doesn't have chlorine." (He is a sustainable fish, so to speak.) "I'm a vegetarian. I start every day by drinking water, then an enzyme protein powdered thing and then a pot of green tea. I'm trying not to eat late at night; James Brown once said the secret to his success was not to eat after 6 p.m."
Scoring after 6 p.m. was another thing, back in the day. In his autobiography, Scar Tissue, Kiedis pointed out the irony of how, in the '80s and '90s, he was maintaining a lot of the staples of keeping his body healthy while at the same time ravaging it with a level of drug abuse that might have easily killed someone less fit.
"It's weird," he wrote in the memoir. "I was such a survivor and so wanted to be a part of life while I was trying to snuff out the life that was inside of me. I had this duality of trying to kill myself with drugs, then eating really good food and exercising and going swimming and trying to be a part of life. I was always going back and forth on some level."
But by the time his book was published in 2004, he was able to write, "I spent most of my life looking for the quick fix and the deep kick. I shot drugs under freeway off-ramps with Mexican gang-bangers and in thousand-dollar-a-day hotel suites. Now I sip vitamin-infused water and seek out wild, as opposed to farm-raised, salmon."
In his autobiography's introduction, he described getting shot up with a needle in the present day. "Three years ago, there might have been China White heroin in that syringe. For years and years, I filled syringes and injected myself with cocaine, speed, Black Tar heroin, Persian heroin, and once even LSD. But today I get my injections from my beautiful nurse… And the substance that she injects into my bloodstream is ozone, a wonderful-smelling gas that has been used legally in Europe for years to treat everything from strokes to cancer. I'm taking ozone intravenously because somewhere along the line, I contracted hepatitis C from my drug experimentation. When I found out that I had it sometime in the early '90s, I immediately researched the topic and found a herbal regimen that would cleanse my liver and eradicate the hepatitis. And it worked…"
An armchair psychoanalyst might make an obvious observation: Kiedis is an addict, and he's transferred some of his former mania about drugs to his diet and exercise regimens. That may explain something, although it's worth noting again that he was already something of a health nut even when he was at his lowest.
Kiedis spoke of that nadir when he recently engaged his producer buddy Rick Rubin in conversation for Interview magazine.
"I was bouncing on my trampoline yesterday for about 25 minutes straight— which I've never done in my life," he told Rubin in the Q&A. "But I started thinking about topics to discuss with you as I was bouncing. One of the things I thought of was a message that Yehuda Berg, a Kabbalah teacher] had sent me last week on the topic of transformation. He asked, 'Why are we here? What the hell are we all doing, running around?' And he said that the reason we're here is to transform. Then I started thinking of some of the miraculous transformations that I've witnessed from my circle of friends." When he first met Rubin in 1985 or '86, he said, "I think that you literally walked in on one of our lowest, darkest, most drug-addled points. To me, it was odd—and remarkable—that we were still showing up and practicing, because both Hillel and I were very involved in pursuing self-destruction and copious consumption of narcotics to the point where you didn't know what was going on when you walked in that room. And now we live a block away from each other and we get to go surfing together."
Kiedis had been through some harrowing times. In his book, he describes an automobile accident in which "my hand had been shoved up into my forearm." In the worst agony of his life, he got himself to a hospital emergency room, where the usual pain-relief efforts brought no results: "I felt nothing. I turned to the nurse and said, 'Unfortunately, over a lifetime of misbehavior, I've attained a rather enormous resistance to the opiate family of drugs. You're probably going to have to go ahead and double that dose right away.' Another shot. Nothing… They wound up giving me seven doses of morphine before I got some relief."
A different kind of needles helped him out in the '90s. "Flea turned me on to an old Chinese acupuncturist named Zion," he recalled in Scar Tissue. "He not only fixed my back, he gave me a new exercise regimen—swimming—that I'd stick with up to the present day."
So if you're looking to have Kiedis' bod at 50, to recap, here's a short list of tips: chlorine-free swimming, drinking lots of water in the morning, surfing, vegetables, salmon whose lineage has been carefully tracked, acupuncture, Kaballah instruction, more swimming, and—for the love of Flea—dinner before 6. Also, coming up with good genes might not hurt.
This is not to neglect the importance of exercise equipment, especially when there's no ocean around.
The writer Dean Wareham, in his memoir Black Postcards, described his memories of sharing a hotel workout room with Kiedis and the rocker's then-girlfriend.
"Anthony worked out on the rowing machine and his girlfriend rode the stationary bike," Wareham wrote. "It was quiet, until Anthony spoke. 'Baby? Do you think we should get some of these exercise machines for the guest house?'
"'I wanted to put a sewing machine in the guest house, honey'," spoke Kiedis' girlfriend.
"'I think some exercise machines would be cool, baby'," Kiedis responded.
Staying fit: it can be hell on a relationship, even if it's heaven for the abs.