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Gladiator: A True Story of 'Roids, Rage, and Redemption Hardcover – February 10, 2009

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About the Author

Dan Clark began his career as an athlete, playing football for the Los Angeles Rams and in Europe. He later starred as Nitro on the extraordinarily popular reality television show American Gladiators. Clark then turned to acting and screenwriting. He wrote, directed, and starred in the independent film Looking for Bruce. He recently hosted ESPN Classic's American Gladiators marathon, and he continues to consult on the revamped American Gladiators franchise. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is working on his next book.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Being "Nitro"

Come at me the wrong way tonight and you may not walk out of here alive.


I can't see the audience yet, but I can hear the expectant buzz of excitement as they call out my name. The buildup is infectious. My heart pounds as I pass through the entrance, turn a corner, and catch my first glimpse of thousands and thousands of fans dressed in red, white, and blue. They seem to stretch out forever.


Totally pumped, I burst onto the arena floor of Madison Square Garden as fifteen thousand cheering fans slam to their feet. It is a fantastic world like no other -- breathtaking, infinite. I lose myself in the reverberations smashing into each other, a wonderful chaos, as one noise rises above the uncontrolled fervor of screams and whoops. A chant.


All eyes are on me. I luxuriate as the people in the stands lose sight of who they are. Dignity and restraint are tossed aside because standing before them is a hero upon whom they can project their thrills, dreams, and insatiable demands.


I stand in the midst of the pulsating frenzy, lapping up and sucking in each and every drop.

I look up and catch my breath. There I am, larger-than-life, plastered on the giant JumboTron screen that dangles above the arena like a suspended star.

God, let me die right here.

I begin to run the outer perimeter of the arena in a prebattle ritual. The lyrics to a song by The Who blast from a two-hundred-watt amp and dance in my head.

No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man...
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies

I spot my opponent for the upcoming event. The hair on the back of my neck and my arms stands up, my heart thumps, and my ears ring loudly with each step toward my opponent -- until I am standing across from him.

Like all the ones before him, he is scared. He closes his eyes and sucks in a stiff breath of courage. I can see his eyelids flutter and I sense the terror that churns inside him. He might have been captain of the football team. Hell, he might even have been the best athlete in his state. But now he is standing in front of fifteen thousand people, trying to beat me.

He thought he had what it took to get here. He'd put his money where his mouth was, and now he is going to pay the price.

The chant explodes again.


My body vibrates, my heart rattles against my ribs, and every muscle in my body tightens. I am about to explode into my opponent as hard as I can, to hurt him, to punish him, with my rage and my 235 pounds of solid muscle. At this moment I feel revulsion toward my opponent, absolute hatred. All I want to do is wipe the stupid look off his face.

"Contender, are you ready?" Mike Adamle's voice booms out of the speakers.

"Gladiator, are you ready?"

My heart pounds. Louder. Harder. Faster. Get ready, here I come!

The whistle blows. I blast into my opponent with reckless abandon, instantly overwhelming and dominating him. My shoulder slams into his ribs, sending the "football captain" flying in the air before landing in a painful, broken heap at my feet. The world slips away, and for a moment the voices are quiet. The universe is mine. Nirvana. The world makes sense. For one moment in time, everything is in sweet, simple order.

This is my refuge, the reason that I compete. It is all about the rush -- the hits, the legal acts of physical violence that make the crowd roar and make me grin from ear to ear. The rush lasts for only an infinitesimal period of time, but while it is happening, I revel in a make-believe world where normal rules do not apply. I know that when it is over and the cruel reality of life sets in, the joke will be on me, but I don't care. Everybody craves the incomparable power of being a Gladiator -- the potent experience of rising to the heavens, however briefly, igniting and blowing up any dark, hidden places within.

When the referee gives me the victory sign, I fling my arms wide open, tilt back my head, and scream, somehow trying to expose the truth about my beautiful but fucked-up world. The fans are oblivious. I exit the arena while they cheer, and I head into the locker room, where I sit, my head slumped, my body still shooting adrenaline. But even then, when my dreams have become a reality, behind the cheers is a dark secret, a hidden agenda of a life being torn apart and wasted.

I lock myself in an empty stall, and there I am, all alone, the crowd still shrieking from my victory as I sit on the toilet in the shadows and cry for a long time.

Who am I kidding? I know that each time I slam a syringe into my ass or swallow a steroid, it is nobody's fault but my own. I also believe each and every time that I can never stop.

You're asking me why?

Look at the world that has opened up to me.

I have this picture of myself in the back of my head as a chubby kid. And now, girls are hanging on to me, agents wine and dine me, and Warner Bros. wants to make a movie with me.

I pull up to Roxbury, the hottest club in Hollywood. A line of people spills out onto Sunset Boulevard, all waiting to get in. The doorman knows who I am and I slip inside and nod to Sylvester Stallone as I head up the stairs to the VIP room. Everyone is here: Denzel, Van Damme, Snipes, and some rookie seven-foot-two-inch basketball player they call Shaq. The atmosphere is anything-goes. The girls, the armpieces, the hopefuls, the I'll-do-anything-to-get-close-to-celebrity types, pack the room. They're all ripe for the picking. Hell, it is harder to go home alone than it is to take someone with me.

One afternoon, I'm having lunch at Mezza Luna in Beverly Hills when Steve Martin arrives at my table, introduces himself, and tells me he's a huge fan. As I stand up, shake his hand, and tell him I'm his biggest fan, he brings me over to Dustin Hoffman's table and introduces me to the actor and his wife. A few nights later, I'm at the home of the late billionaire Marvin Davis. Tony Bennett is the entertainment, and Cristal Champagne is on ice as I'm introduced to former presidents Ford and Carter. As I'm leaving, Merv Griffin calls out, "Dan, there's someone I want you to meet." It's Ronald Reagan.

-- -- --

I was living the all-expenses-paid life everyone dreams about. I could walk into any place in Hollywood like I was a fucking movie star. I went from looking at the world to watching the world look at me.

The thing is, I love my country. I'm proud to have been the star of a show with the word American in the title. American Gladiators. A hit show that aired in more than forty countries with over 12 million weekly viewers. Madison Square Garden was the first stop in our 150-city live tour and I loved it, but somewhere inside, I knew it was all a lie, that I was deceiving people. But I told myself it was okay because they didn't really want the truth. They wanted to be entertained. That I was addicted to steroids, drugs that not only altered my consciousness but also altered my appearance, was the secret hook that drew the crowds, and everybody ate it up. If only someone had told me the truth back then when I was Nitro and thought I was indestructible.

Of course, the question is, would I have listened? Would I have done things differently if I'd known then what I know today? It's hard to say, but these days you should see me wake up in the morning...or maybe you shouldn't. As a result of twenty years of steroid use, I walk with a limp, I have seven scars on my face, two destroyed knees, and I can't walk up a flight of stairs until I chug a couple of cups of black coffee and a handful of anti-inflammatory pills. What strapping eighteen-year-old athlete could ever imagine ending up with a herniated back disk and a neck that pops like fireworks on the Fourth of July from a mere turn of my head? And those are the obvious problems. The real prizes are a pair of shrunken testicles and surgical scars across my nipples from having breast tissue removed from my chest.

It wasn't always like this...

Copyright © 2009 by Dan Clark


In Search of an Identity

What are the worst three words a child can hear?

We're getting divorced.

I am four years old in 1968, and my father has just returned to California from a two-year work stint in Vietnam. He walks into the living room of our box-size home in the severely depressed belly of Orange County, California, and announces, "Your mother and I are getting a divorce. You and your brother are going to Minnesota with me. Your sister is staying here with your mom." My father, Wally, is massive, forceful, and relentless. We are all insignificant and powerless in his wake.

So this is it. No explaining. No comforting. No choices. My brother, Randy, two years older than me, is my idol. My hero. My rock. My chubby-cheeked, ebullient little sister, Christine, is two years my junior.

My mother, Kazuko, whom my father met while he was in the marines in Japan, can do little to protest. She's been in the United States for only a short time, barely speaks English, and doesn't understand the customs and laws of this country. She doesn't know it's customary for the mother to get custody of the kids, and she doesn't know my father's threats of deportation are empty slings of intimidation.

A few days later, I'm standing in the airplane aisle watching the flight attendant closing the plane doors. I'm squeezing my eyes shut as hard as I can, with nothing but the blindness of hope that I can still keep this divorce nightmare from happening. That is when I still dreamed. That is when I thought I could make a difference. That is when I still believed. A flight attendant approaches me, shattering the illusion: "Young man, you're going to have to sit down."

I open my eyes to discover I'm still on the plane with my father and my brother already seated to my side. I see my mother, her eyes full of sorrow, on the tarmac ho... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416597328
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416597322
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,360,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Dan Clark began his career as an athlete, playing football for San Jose State University where he was a standout defensive lineman. He then went on to play for the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL, and in Europe.

Clark is best known from starring as "Nitro" on the smash hit reality show "American Gladiators."

The original series aired in over 40 countries, with reruns on USA Network, TNT, Spike, and currently ESPN Classic. The revival airs on NBC. When American Gladiators returned to the U.S. airwaves on ESPN Classic on April 1, 2007, the network aired a marathon of episodes.

After American Gladiators, Clark turned to acting, appearing in such motion pictures as Death Becomes Her, with Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, and Goldie Hawn; and Equilibrium, with Christian Bale. He has also guest starred in TV series including Ellen, Walker, Texas Ranger, California Dreams, V.I.P., Married... with Children, Who's the Boss?, Saved by the Bell, and The Brothers García.

Clark was the writer/director/producer of the independent film Looking for Bruce. He is also an award winning screenwriter who has written several screenplays for various studios, producers, and production companies, including a bio-pic Battle of Harlem, about the first African American police officer in the NYPD.

An in-demand speaker and fitness expert, Clark has appeared on a variety of talk shows including: The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, CBS Morning News, Today, The Tyra Banks Show, Sean Hannity, Fox News, Red Eye, Access Hollywood, Inside Edition, E! and Entertainment Tonight. He has also graced the cover of TV Guide and numerous other magazines.

Clark enjoys all sports, yoga, acting, writing and martial arts (he has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do) and is often called on to perform his own stunts. Since 2002 he has also been a mentor in the Young Story Tellers program, which is dedicated to increasing literacy among inner city youths.

Dan has also been an honorary member of the President's Council on Physical Fitness, volunteered at Special Olympics, and is the founder of Ten Thousand Pounds, a program that tackles the epidemic of childhood obesity through educating, motivating, and empowering Americas youth.

Clark makes his home in the Hollywood Hills and can often be found walking his Labrador Retriever, Ella, at nearby Runyon Canyon Park.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer F. McKenna on February 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book was delivered this morning and I finished it early this evening. I was riveted and could not seem to pull myself away. I was a fan of the American Gladiators and specifically Nitro. I had no idea the pain he felt, only that he brought fun and entertainment into my family's home every week. The book is very easy to read and gives insight into the world of sports in a way that most don't offer. The constant struggle between man and social stigmas is potrayed very eloquently in this book. All of us know what traumas in childhood can lead to, but not many of us are willing to put that in writing for all of the world to read. Anyone struggling with their past and addiction should read this. Thank you Dan for recognizing that you were and still are a role model for young people. As a teacher, I appreciate the Epilogue and the message it sends to young people as well as the message it sends to other sports figures urging them to recognize the impact they have on the young people who look up to them.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. R. on March 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
For a child of the 80s and 90s such as myself, there was no denying the instant appeal of the American Gladiators TV show. Unbelievably proportioned real-life superheroes clad in patriotic colors engaged in physical combat against mere mortals. It was more than simply man vs. man, it was also man vs. himself, as competitors and Gladiators were put through rigorous physical obstacles unseen before on the nighttime TV landscape. Perhaps no Gladiator personified the intensity of the show better than the Gladiator known as Nitro. More than just a spandex wearing caricature, Nitro seemed blessed with an imposing physique, athletic prowess, and a gift for trash talking that would put most professional wrestlers to shame. But behind the arrogant and macho exterior laid real life personal issues that masked a lifetime of pains.

In this autobiography, Dan "Nitro" Clark attempts to unravel the convoluted mess that was once his life, while making certain to remind the reader that his addiction to steroids is far from over. The narrative jumps around chronologically, but some constants are his guilt over the untimely death of his brother, his addiction to steroids and its effects, and his obsession with women. In fact, Clark can be quite graphic in detailing the depths he sunk to in pursuit of some of these vices, which at times tend to overshadow the message of redemption and hope. Fans of the Gladiators TV series hoping for juicy, behind-the-scenes tidbits will be sorely disappointed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By drebbles VINE VOICE on March 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Haunted by childhood demons and feelings of insecurity, Dan Clark turned to steroids at an early age to try and develop a football career. While he never became a star football player, he did become famous as Nitro on the hit TV series "American Gladiators". Clark enjoyed the perks of his success, at least on the surface, but underneath it all he was becoming increasingly dependent on steroids despite the devastating effects they were having on his body and actions.

"Gladiator: A True Story of 'Roids, Rage, and Redemption" is the brutally honest, tough to read at times, account of Dan Clark's struggle with his self-esteem, a devastating childhood event, his family, his battle with steroids (both in using them and trying to get off them), and fame. I went into this book thinking I was going to dislike Dan Clark but it was just the opposite - I liked the guy, felt sorry for him, and hope he can keep his act together. Part of the reason for this is how he comes across - brutally honest about his past and his faults, with self-deprecating humor mixed in with the honesty. He never makes excuses for what he did, just states them matter-of-factly and says what a fool he was.

There are several eye opening bits in the book - starting with his messed up childhood; how he got the steroids in the first place; and how the producers of "American Gladiators" handled testing for steroids. Clark's description of what the steroids did to his body is tough reading as are his attempts to stop taking the steroids and how that affected his body. The chapter titled "'Roid Rage" is a scary example of how steroids can affect your personality. Clark is now outspoken on the devastating affects of steroids and parents will want to read his eye opening epilogue.

"Gladiator: A True Story of 'Roids, Rage, and Redemption" is a nicely written, brutally honest, sad account of a man struggling to get over his addiction to steroids and move on with his life. Well done.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Schtinky VINE VOICE on March 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Born to a Japanese mother and an American father, Dan Clark's life didn't begin well. His father took him and his older brother Randy away from his mother and little sister when Clark was only four years old. A man on the airplane told him "Big boys don't cry", and Dan has never forgotten those words. Dropped off to live with relatives for a few years, the boy's father returns and uproots them again to go live in Vietnam with his new family. Just before leaving Vietnam, at the tender age of ten years old, Dan witnessed the electrocution death of his old brother Randy, the one person he always looked up to and was inseparable from. After this kind of childhood, Dan learned to block out his emotions.

Starting with a football injury, and an offer to "rapid recovery", Dan began taking steroids. Steroids were perfectly legal at the time, and he quickly learned that the way to win on the team - and get noticed - was to "gain" (meaning pump up on steroids to get big). Trying at first for college and then pro football, Dan doesn't quite make it but never gives up. Never did he dream he would become the sweetheart of the nation on a groundbreaking TV Reality show called American Gladiators, in the persona of 'Nitro'.

This is Dan Clark's 'Rags to Riches' story, and the price he paid to get there. Over twenty years of steroid use left him with painful breast tissue that had to be removed, urinating blood, shrunken testicles, multiple injuries, an overdose, and an inability to feel emotion other than the constant rage that ruled his life both on and off stage. His love of contact sports came from having a legal outlet for that rage.

I personally never once watched American Gladiators, so I wasn't a fan of the show. But I do like to read books on addictions.
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