Dr Mehmet Oz is really, really tall. Like, 1.85m-tall. Known commonly as Dr Oz, the Turkish-American heart surgeon and controversial talk show host, 57, also has a larger-than-life personality to match his height.
In town recently to film an episode of Ch 5’s Body and Soul, Dr Oz waltzed into 8 DAYS’ photo studio and right in front of the photographer’s camera. Snap! Snap! Snap! In five minutes, the photoshoot was done. And Dr Oz, all gleaming white teeth, barely even adjusted his suit.
“Mike! Get back in your cage!” he yelled playfully when he spotted Gold 90.5FM radio jock Mike Kasem, whose dad, American deejay Casey Kasem, go way back with Dr Oz.
Obviously, Dr Oz is a people person. But, like President Donald Trump, he’s not well-liked by everyone. In fact, he is regularly the target of hostile articles about his questionable theories on alternative medicine, and the subject of a Congress investigation into his claims on a weight loss pill. The fallout led to Oprah Winfrey dropping Dr Oz’s radio show, The Daily Dose with Dr Oz, from her network.
Not that any of this fazes him. After all, Dr Oz’s job as a cardiothoracic surgeon is to deal with matters of the heart, and that includes the public’s ruffled feelings. But he also has fans who love him – too much, in fact, that Dr Oz says he regularly gets medical questions from strangers in even stranger places, like the toilet. He tells us more below.
8 DAYS: Welcome to Singapore, Dr Oz. You’re here to film an ep of Ch 5’s health show Body and Soul. What will you be sharing with Singaporeans?
DR OZ: I brought all my demonstrations, including a really cool one which shows how bad lifestyle habits damage your body and cause weight gain, irritability and heart problems. Body and Soul is popular because it talks about important information in accessible ways.
Last month, you were appointed by President Donald Trump to be in his Sports, Fitness and Nutrition Council.
The council is focused on celebrities who have made fitness a big part of their lives. I know Ivanka Trump well, and I’ve had both her and President Trump on my show. They know I’m serious about the topic of fitness. I’m one of the few doctors in the council; it’s mostly athletes. But I’m not a political person. I’m just doing this to make sure kids are healthier.
People are going to associate you with his politics.
For sure. It has already happened. I’m not getting involved politically; my passion has always been helping children be healthy. It doesn’t matter [which politician is] helping me. If achieving my goals means having people being angry at me, then I’m going to go with that. I’ve also had Obama’s team on my show, and Michelle Obama has appeared on my show several times.
What do you make of Trump’s well-publicised fast food diet?
I’ve talked to him about that. He said he eats fast food ’cos it’s clean. The food is not the best, but at least it’s [hygienic]. When he’s travelling, he doesn’t want to experiment with a restaurant that may not have a very clean kitchen. But if you go to a McDonald’s or Burger King, they are going to be very clean ’cos the company needs to make sure every outlet is [up to standard].
You get a lot of hate online for your views on alternative medicine. Do you feel misunderstood?
No. People believe what they want to believe. I’ve always embraced alternative medicine. I’ve always thought that traditional Chinese medicine has a role, which is why I pushed acupuncture on my show. I’m not saying it’s the same as cancer chemotherapy, which I also featured on my show. But there are different ways of healing around the world. I understand people get nervous about that. They are comfortable with doing things their way.
As a doctor, I take care of my patients first even if they don’t like what I’m saying. My job is to tell them what they need to hear. People may not like me, but over time they’ll respect me. And they might even grow to love me.
Is it frustrating that people don’t get your best intentions?
It is frustrating. My mission to better people’s health gets slowed down when I’m jumped on by [detractors]. I've been attacked by companies who don’t like what I say. But if you don’t want to deal with arguments, don’t get into the media. That’s why I do my show. I just [renewed my show’s contract] for three more years. People like my show, if not I wouldn’t be here (laughs).
How often do you get approached on the streets for medical advice?
All the time. The most common question is, “How do I lose weight?” Or they’d tell me private things, like they’re not having enough sex. The worst place to ask me a question is in the toilet. This guy beside me at the urinal told me he couldn’t [urinate] properly and asked me about his blood pressure. I couldn’t just leave my urinal (laughs).
I get questions sometimes when I’m stuck on a flight. Do I wish that I can sit in a private pod? Yes! But it takes very little time to answer people’s questions, and it makes their lives better. I became very good at giving short answers. It takes time [to turn people down], they get mad and you’d feel bad, so you might as well just answer it.
Do celebs call you up for medical advice too?
Always. I can’t say some names ’cos they are private, but Barbra Streisand calls me sometimes. They feel unwell, they’re scared and I’m someone they know socially, so they call me and I’d direct them to the right doctors. Hugh Jackman came on my show to talk about his skin cancer, and I was just talking to [Gold 90.5FM DJ] Mike Kasem about his father [the late radio jock Casey Kasem].
Ever wish people would ask you about other things besides their health?
I talk about sports and politics, but what I’m most excited about right now is the topic of loneliness. A lot of entertainers have talked about that, and there is a couple of scripted shows I’m working that are based on [the topic]. I’m also going to do more cooking on my show. People want more basic information on cooking healthy food. I don’t want to be a chef; my goal is just to share recipes that are easy and don’t cost too much.
Some folks know you through Oprah Winfrey, who regularly featured you on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Oh, yes. She appeared on [The Dr Oz Show] when it first started too, and we talked recently. She’s great, really good to talk to when you have a problem. She’s my partner (laughs).
The Dr Oz Show airs weekdays, Ch 5, 9am & 3pm; Season 6 of Body and Soul premieres July 25, Ch 5, 9.30pm.