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Mercury Toxicity in Fish


News about Jeremy Piven's recent diagnosis of mercury toxicity (probably in part due to eating large amounts of fish) might encourage CH to finally allow me to keep a post here about fish. Lately the moderators have been a little "delete-happy." ;-) If for no other reason, people might want to take a look at the kind of fish they are eating and how it might impact themselves as well as the environment. I'll try to keep it vauge, but I encourage folks to look into the issue. Granted, we all don't have the money to eat as much sushi as Mr. Piven reportedly does, but it should be noted that pollution in combination with the decline in certain species of fish is a real threat and a real issue.

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  1. I agree with you Haagen Dazs. As our waters become more polluted do we think our fish will not be effected? I live in a beautiful town where the crab and some fish have been cautioned for eating because of dioxin from a closed down paper plant. People still eat it, but I just cannot go there. In the Keys of Florida runoff from sugar agrabiz is killing the reef - cutting off a vital link in the food chain.

    With all the causes out there and predictions of dire consequence from inaction, I am appalled that nobody seems to be giving a rip about tossing trash in the ocean, over fishing, raping the sea bottom. Many shellfish beds that have been harvested forever have been shutdown due to E-Coli and ASP. Gross and terrifying.

    if you are gonna have passion it should be for the things necessary for life.

    OK off the soapbox. I will also make no snide comments about Jeremy Piven.

    - - I just read the Huffpo. It could also be the herbs he was taking. Who takes those anymore?? Did you see his doc on his spiritual trip to India? Maybe he needs to lay off the herbs. Oh.. I said I would not go off on Piven. It is so hard to resist.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Sal Vanilla

      I think too many people are quick to assume that Chinese medicine is pure quackery. When I lived in Japan, doctors would prescribe traditional and Chinese medicine equally and you could get both in a traditional pharmacy. Yes, some Chinese herbs may be adulterated with mercury, but certainly we've seen in recent times that traditional medicines have been adulterated with other items as well.

      1. re: queencru

        I don't /didn't call them all quackery. BUT I do know that they are not regulated, we often do not know what is in them or what the components effects on our bodies are or their interactions with medications. There have been plenty of cautions out there for say... herbal weigh loss tea, wu wei zi (used widely to ward off illness), Jin Bu Huan - prescribed for minor complains - has been killing people. It has to do with lack of knowledge by practicioners and consumer and an odd belief that if it is ancient chinese anything it has to be good, Sometimes not true. Best to be cautious.

        1. re: Sal Vanilla

          Sal Vanilla, you are absolutely right. It constantly amazes me how people are willing to swallow anything if they are told it will help them lose weght/increase their energy/grow a bigger penis/etc. without having any concern or knowledge about what it is exactly that they are ingesting.

    2. I was wondering if his mercury poisoning was due to fish of some kind. Is it, indeed, because of sushi? If so, it will be very interesting to see if his illness sheds more light on the plight of our fish.

      1. Jeremy is a great guy..both of us are drummers and I only wish the best for him and a speedy recovery...the snide comments from the cast are in extremely bad taste.
        Maybe it was from the sushi but I think it is from the Chinese Herb pills he had been taking.

        14 Replies
        1. re: Beach Chick

          Seems some suspect it is not mercury poisoning Piven is suffering from. But if so maybe mercury poisoning symptoms include bad acting. In that case Keanu Reeves, Kevin Costner and Nicholas Cage should studiously avoid fish.

          OK seriously, did you notice who his doctor was. Carlon Colker, a nutritional supplement hawker.

          1. re: Beach Chick

            >>Maybe it was from the sushi but I think it is from the Chinese Herb pills he had been taking.

            and you think this because.... ?

            1. re: cimui

              There have been noted concentrations of mercuric compounds in some Chinese herbal remedies:


              This article is from 1995, but there are current examples of such articles available from a variety of journals online.

              1. re: ferret

                that may be true, but there are similar articles about mercury content in fish. i'm just wondering why beach chick would think that "sushi" (sashimi) is safe while herbal medicine is not?

                1. re: cimui

                  i'm with cimui...assuming the issue really *is* mercury toxicity (of which Mamet & the Hollywood gossip machines apparently aren't convinced), i'd be willing to bet it's from his frequent sushi consumption, not the herbs.

                  if it was melamine toxicity i might think otherwise ;)

                  there were reports earlier this year about heavy metals in herbal remedies, but the contaminated products were from India, not China.

                  i think it's good that the issue of the physiological and environmental impacts of seafood consumption has been resurrected...it's just unfortunate that it always seems to require some sort of health crisis or tragedy to do it.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    and i'd be willing to bet he eats a lot more sushi than chinese herbs: the former tastes a *heckuva* lot better than the latter!

                  2. re: cimui

                    Wow...didn't know that I was going to get so flamed for a comment that was in print from his Dr.

                    'Piven's doctor said the increased mercury levels were due to the 43-year-old actor eating too much sushi and injesting Chinese herbs'.
                    They tested the herb pills and found them to be of moderate levels of mercury.


                    1. re: Beach Chick

                      hey beach chick, i didn't mean to flame. i was (and am) sincerely curious why you'd assume one was safe, but the other wasn't, when there are published reports out there about mercury in both sources, and the OP's article mentions both sources, too.

                      (i'll refrain from commenting about fox as a news source! :)

                      1. re: cimui

                        LOL..I was going to put a caveat about Fox News Source.. ; )

                        I eat a lot of sushi and wasn't trying to say that sushi doesn't have its mercury sources...he had six times the level of mercury.
                        It just seemed to me that when reading that article and other sources that it was the herb pills..
                        I could be SO frigging wrong and will own up to it..

                        1. re: Beach Chick


                          i'm sure the two in combination aren't terribly great for you -- but based on the trials and travails of one struggling b'way hopeful i know, b'way by itself can give you its own kinds of poisoning without any external aid whatsoever.

                          really appreciate the OP's post, though. unfortunately for me, the lower-mercury stuff like salmon is exactly the kind of fish i don't like all that well in raw form and i *love* tuna in all its mercury-loaded variations. i realize tuna fish are rather large, but i wonder if anyone's ever thought about farming them in mercury free environs. too big for someone's backyard pool?

                            1. re: paulj

                              holy tuna casserole. i can't imagine what the tuna might cost given real estate prices in japan, in general. i guess we'll get an update on whether the tuna were able to reach full growth sometime this year. can't wait. :)

                              (but a bit perturbing, that quote about how sending tuna off to slaughter is a bit like sending the daughters away to be married!)

                            2. re: cimui

                              Just bought a pound of Big Eye today and going to make my cherished Poke with seaweed ...I have it marinating as I type.
                              I'll cheer to you!

                        2. re: Beach Chick

                          As somebody who deals with Chinese herbs, it's probably a combo of both. Chinese herbs vary widely in quality. It's important to get it from a reliable supplier like Mayway who regularly does testing of heavy metals on their herbs. And I had a patient who ate fish every single day for years and took no herbs. He had astonishingly high levels of mercury in his blood.

                2. ok, i'll have to stay out of any substantive discussion on this subject given that i only know how to regurgitate what i read in mainstream newspapers, but this is the funniest thing i've read all week:

                  "I talked to Jeremy on the phone, and he told me that he discovered that he had a very high level of mercury," Mamet said. "So my understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer."

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: cimui

                    I read that this morning. I laughed so hard cereal leaked from my mouth.

                    1. re: cimui

                      That should win quote of the year.

                      Does he seriously use that guy as a doctor? He doesn't even seem capable of playing one on television.

                      1. re: dolores

                        ...but he did stay in a holiday inn select last night.

                        i thought this was interesting: "But let’s assume Piven's claims are well-intended. According to his doctor, he ate sushi twice a day. But he would have to eat about 108 pieces of tuna sushi rolls every week for his entire lifetime in order to introduce any new health risks from mercury." http://www.consumerfreedom.com/news_d...

                        also a wealth of info links: http://www.MercuryFacts.org/

                    2. "pollution in combination with the decline in certain species of fish is a real threat and a real issue."

                      It really is Haagen Daz.... I've been mentioning a book lately that I've recently read by Taras Grescoe entitled "Bottomfeeder: Eating Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood." He describes his travels around the globe trying to learn why certain species are poluted, diminishing, over fished and on the road to extinction. On the way he reveals the laying waste of a vast resource due to greed. The book is worth a read if nothing more than just to keep one informed about what's happening to our seafood...where it's coming from, and how to ultimately stop decimating this important tier in the food chain.


                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Gio

                        And, of course, one can always refer to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium list of over-fished and/or contaminated fish. This is exhaustive and updated.

                        1. re: pikawicca

                          Right.... that's a good reference and there's a printable download that you can take to the market to make sure you buy ethical and sustainable seafood....with less mercury.

                        2. re: Gio

                          Fantastic book. My favorite of 2008.

                        3. I played with mercury (Hg) as a kid as well. Hg is not a carcinogen. Ingested by children, Hg inhibits mental / cognative growth and development. Effects on adults are varied, but all negative. We've worked in the Amazon where slash and burn agriculture exposes soils to rains and leaching of naturally occuring Hg into the rivers where it becomes concentrated in fish higher and higher up the food chain. The health effects of consuming such fish and ingesting the Hg are serious! My uninformed guess is that playing with Hg as kids is less dangerous (unless swallowed) than eating foods high in Hg content.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            I had not heard of mercury leaching from the soil, but have read of it being a pollutant from unregulated gold mining. Mercury has been used for a long time to increase the yield. It is supposed to be recovered and reused, but it can easily get into the tailings and water. Gold mining in the American (and Canadian west) had this problem. I don't know how polluting it its to mine the mercury itself (from cinnabar?)

                            I believe that in fish, mercury gets concentrated as it passes up the food chain. So it is more of a problem in the larger fish such as the various tunas.

                            Weren't there some particularly egregious cases of mercury poisoning in a bay or two in Japan in the 1950s, presumably from some local industrial pollution.

                            A couple of centuries ago mercury salts were used to 'treat' certain 'social' diseases. Mercury poisoning was also an occupational hazard for hat makers (used I believe in processing beaver skins) (mad hatters).

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              But the question is the mercury content of fish eaten, not by Amazonian villagers, but by American celebrities. The feds recommend that pregnant and nursing women and small children avoid tilefish, swordfish, and shark, and limit their intake of other fish to 12 ounces per week.

                              Assuming this recommendation is accurate, how many pounds of sashimi would an adult male need to eat in a day for his mercury levels to hit 600% of normal?

                              In the1980s, Robin Williams said that cocaine addiction is God's way of telling you that you have way too much money. It strikes me that mercury poisoning from sushi bars - to the extent it happens - is kind of the same thing.

                              This is not to minimize the poisoning of our food supply or the depletion of the oceans. But maybe a different poster boy would be in order...

                            2. Sounds like Piven's story is (excuse the pun) pretty "fishy" ...


                              1. I don't know the specifics of Piven's case--and it sounds he was eating mass quantities--but I've felt funny after eating big sushi meals at midlevel places and noticed some memory problems in the days afterward. Not exactly scientific, but I also wonder at the fact that the surge in autism diagnoses in recent years has coincided with the adoption of sushi as a regular indulgence by the masses. These days, I must say I avoid it and tuna or stick with vegetarian sushi.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: newhavener07

                                  The link between mercury in vaccines and autism has been disproved and autism rates have actually gone up since they removed the mercury.

                                  1. re: Humbucker

                                    There are still environmental factors that are most likely partly responsible for the rise in autism. Mercury is one of the many toxins in water and air that may lead to mental retardation and other developmental disorders.

                                    1. re: ginael

                                      The alleged rise in autism and other developmental disorders has not been scientifically established. Much if not all of the increase in the number of diagnoses is attributable to changes in diagnostic practice, not prevalence of disease.

                                      Environmental toxins are a serious threat, and they need to be dealt with aggressively. But IMHO, unscientific scare tactics tend to undermine the arguments for change.

                                  2. re: newhavener07

                                    Don't know too many kids (the group most diagnosed with autism) to be huge sushi consumers.

                                    1. re: pikawicca

                                      Okay, I can't contain myself any longer...you don't have to eat sushi to be poisoned OR exposed to mercury. Coal-fired power plants are a major emmiter of mercury into our environment. I happen to be in the midst of reading the very interesting book: Poisoned Profits (sub-titled The Toxic Assault on Our Children) by journalists Philip and Alice Shabecoff, which takes a hard look at the effects and causes of the escalating rates of autism, birth defects and cancer in our children, and the concurrent dismantling of our environmental protections. Pretty scary stuff...

                                      1. re: clamscasino

                                        Yeah, but again, this doesn't make sense in the Jeremy Piven case. Does he live on top of a coal plant and nobody else in NYC does? Of course not. His exposure to environmental contaminants should be about the same as that of everyone else in his environment.

                                  3. I find it hard to believe that Piven eats so much sushi as to cause mercury poisoning and that his case is so rare. He's either mainlining sushi or we have millions of undiagnosed mercury poisoning cases in America from sushi eaters. Both of these are unlikely.

                                    The theories of another environmental factor unique to Piven or an over-eager doctor make more sense.

                                    16 Replies
                                    1. re: taos

                                      Piven would have to list all of his fish sources and I'm guessing he would probably have to have been eating a lot of fish from a bad source. I'm in the south SF/Bay Area where mercury (Quicksilver) mines were prevalent - the runoff has contaminated the local water system with mercury where no fish should be eaten that are caught out of the local freshwater. I imagine what happened to Piven was plausable, but I'd find it hard to believe if he were just eating restaurant sushi...I'd look more towards those "herbal chinese medicines" they mentioned in the article than the sushi.

                                      1. re: Bunson

                                        More recent news report indicate that he may have just been fishing (pun intended) for a medical excuse to get out of his contract for the play he was in. He hooked up with some shady doctor who came up with the mercury-fish diagnosis.

                                        1. re: taos

                                          >>he may have just been fishing (pun intended) for a medical excuse to get out of his contract for the play he was in.

                                          Bingo. That was my first thought.

                                          He got a lot of nice free publicity from the stunt, though.

                                          1. re: dolores

                                            Fish ...ALL Fish have mercury in it, but what they fail to tell y ou is that it is an Organic form of Mercury.

                                            You could eat Swordfish, which has some of the highest levels of mercury every day for your entire life and still would not have enough mercury to make you sick.

                                            1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                              What is your point? Organic mercury compounds are no safer for human consumption than plain mercury.

                                              1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                                Yes, most fish have traces of methylmercury, an organometallic cation. But it bioconcentrates in piscivorous and in longer living fish; and is as dangerous as metallic mercury in terms of mental and motor development of unborn babies and children. And, again, adults largely dependent on fish protein in parts of the Amazon - where naturally occuring mecury is leached into to rivers and moves up the food chain to bigger fish - are seriously affected in terms of mental and motor skills.

                                            2. re: taos

                                              I think you are correct, taos. The other thing that crossed my mind was, Why did he get tested for mercury in the first place? That seemed odd right from the start. Mercury poisoning tends to start small, and work up to really serious. That's why I am so skeptical. You don't clear the mercury from your body spontaneously, like with vitamins or minerals. It accumulates over time, and only rather aggressive treatment clears it from your tissues.

                                              Then I read about the doctor, and it just made sense that the doc was just coming up with something, anything, to hospitalize Piven and put him on bedrest.

                                              I tend to think this has little to do with Piven's diet, medication regimen, or any other environmental factor. I once performed in a small play in a small theater in my small town, for a run that lasted several weekends. I was EXHAUSTED! I would spend all day in bed on a Saturday, but get up Saturday night to perform again. I couldn't believe how tired I was ... and I was left with some balance problems, an impaired sense of smell (some of that still hasn't returned), and just a general overall feeling of malaise. Took months to repair the balance issues. And this was a tiny thing compared to a successful Broadway run!!

                                              Oh, and I don't think I ate any sushi during this time, nor more than normal amount of tunafish. Bet if I had wanted to, though, I could have found a doctor who would find an exotic diagnosis for me .... as opposed to just pure exhaustion.

                                              1. re: k_d

                                                To be clear, I'm not saying there is no connection between environmental mercury and mercury in fish and consumption of that fish in high quantities and comprised health, as Sam Fujisaka pointed out. However, an adult living in New York City who eats a lot of sushi would not show up with an isolated case of mercury poisoning as a result of that.

                                                1. re: taos

                                                  If everyone is so worried about the Mercury levels in fish, the solution is simple, STOP EATING FISH...case solved!

                                                  1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                                    Right. And the best way to deal with pollution in the air is to stop breathing.

                                                    The reason that some fish has excess levels of mercury is that we've been using the oceans as a garbage dump for far too long. The solution is not to stop eating fish, it's to stop polluting the water.

                                                    Meanwhile, limiting fish intake is a simple and sensible precaution.

                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                      <"Meanwhile, limiting fish intake is a simple and sensible precaution.">

                                                      Especially if you limit your fish intake to fish lower on the food chain. Pacific Halibut,. Herring, Sardines, fresh Anchovies, Jellyfish, Artic Char, Mackerel, Mullet. Oysters, Mussels, Clams......

                                                      The following site has a Mercury calculator so you can measure the amount of Mercury in the seafood you eat per week. Also, other current information about Mercury in fish:


                                                      1. re: Gio

                                                        Good resource, but you have to wonder about an organization that reports Jeremy Pivin's alleged mercury poisoning by sushi as if it were gospel fact.

                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                          Good point Alan. I have my screen set so that I didn't even see that on the left first time around. I was focused on the calculator....Gotta be more careful than that!! Thanks for the alert.

                                                      2. re: alanbarnes

                                                        All I am saying if people are that worried about Mercury poisioning then don't eat the fish...I eat fish about 4 times a week, my family are fishermen and we are on several boards that pertain to the fishing industry and work with many Marine Biologist about Mercury levels and fish with the most and least Mercury...Fish do not get Mercury from pollution, they have it naturally it is an organic form, especially swordfish, however it would be my bet that pollution is probably adding to the situation

                                                        1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                                          While it's true that some mercury occurs naturally, industrial pollution is placing unprecedented amounts of the metal into the water, and thus into the food chain.

                                                          I don't know about the fisheries in Bermuda, but here in Northern California the levels of mercury in fish are much higher than the amounts that would occur naturally. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, miners used mercury to extract gold in hydraulic mining operations. This mercury continues to make its way down streams and rivers to San Francisco Bay and the Pacific. As a result, fish that live in San Francisco Bay have much higher levels of mercury than the same species that live in other, uncontaminated waters.

                                                          Similarly, sediment cores in the Northeastern US have established a correlation between emissions from coal-burning power plants and mercury levels in the water. And of course, the more mercury that's in the water, the more mercury will bio-accumulate in the local fish.

                                                          So your claim that mercury in fish does not come from pollution is simply incorrect. Pollution is not the only cause of mercury in fish, but it is the reason that there is so much mercury in fish.

                                                          1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                                            Re: "they have it naturally it is an organic form".

                                                            Again, yes, the mecury bio-concentrates as methylmercury, an organometallic cation. But, NO, mercury is NOT some "natural" inherent quality of fish. Occurance in fish depends on mercury in the water, either from mercury leached from soils or from pollution (as is the case in the NE US) and, in both cases, on conversion of inorganic mercury to methylmercury by anerobic micro-organisms living in aquatic systems. If the waters do not have mercury, then the fish do not. Pollution - largely coal burning - where you live supplies waters with mercury where, again, it is converted to methylmercury by micro-orgnisms! If some aquatic system somehow did not have the particular anerobic micro-organisms, then there would be no methylmercury in the waters. That the mercury is transformed from an inorganic to an organic form is not only meaningless to this discussion; but could be less of a problem if it were not so transformed. And, again, the longer living fish that eat other fish will concentrate more mercury.

                                            3. in case anyone's interested, Piven was on GMA this morning talking to Diane Sawyer about it. he said fish has been his only source of dietary protein for 20 years, and that he believes that was the cause of his high mercury levels (whether or not you/i/we believe he even had mercury poisoning is another issue).

                                              11 Replies
                                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                I call B.S. on the claim that fish was his only source of dietary protein for 20 years.

                                                That means not only no meat and poultry, but no eggs, cheese, milk, tofu and other soy products, beans, nuts and most other grains, yogurt, pasta, rice, corn, even most fruits and vegetables.

                                                1. re: taos

                                                  i assumed he meant that it was his only source of *animal* protein...and since it's possible he doesn't do dairy or soy, i wasn't going to jump all over him (or jump to conclusions) based on the semantics of his statement.

                                                  as far as all these claims about how many pieces of sushi one would have to eat "to feel any adverse effects" from heavy metals, i have a hard time swallowing any statement that implies everyone's bodies will respond in a similar physiological manner to ANY substance - individual sensitivities vary. i have several friends (all living in different cities and diagnosed & treated by different doctors) who have suffered from various physical ailments/symptoms that were attributed to elevated serum levels of heavy metals. they all underwent chelation therapy to remove the metals, and each of them experienced resolution of their illnesses as a result.

                                                  do i think Piven's story is sketchy? absolutely - i'm not defending him...but i also don't feel comfortable judging him, considering that i don't know him, or the details of his lifestyle. anything's possible.

                                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                    ghg, did your various friends' docs discover elevated heavy metals in regular or specialized blood tests? were they in industrial areas? ie, is it odd to automatically suspect heavy metals, e.g., like mercury, where you'd go to the doc and say, "hey check my heavy metals, i'm feelin' sluggish."

                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                      alka: they ordered specialized blood, urine & hair tests after ruling out every other possibility. i have three particular friends to whom this happened. one in LA, one in SD, and one in NYC. three different water supplies, three different air qualities, and none have lived in heavily "industrial areas" or done any work that would expose them to potential contaminants (two are corporate types & one's a pilates instructor).

                                                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                        yikes, that's wild! do they have any ideas about sources?

                                                        was it mercury?

                                                        1. re: alkapal

                                                          mercury was highest in all three, though two had elevated levels of lead as well (interestingly they were the 2 from Cali, so i have to wonder if that was from either the water or from eating food grown in contaminated soil). anyway, the primary reason i brought it up on this thread is that all three were told by their doctors that fish was the most likely source of the mercury, and they were instructed not to consume ANY seafood until they finished their chelation treatments.

                                                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                            Cali, Colombia??? We don't have environmental Hg problems here.

                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                              Unfortunately the same is not true of California. We've got loads of the stuff as a legacy of the Gold Rush. So presumably that's the reference.

                                                      2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                        That's possible, but I assumed he meant all protein. Regarding your friends, exactly what illnesses -- not symptoms but actual illnesses -- did the chelation therapy resolve?

                                                        1. re: taos

                                                          like i said, i don't necessarily believe Piven's whole story, i just assumed he was making a somewhat ignorant & inaccurate statement about protein.

                                                          re: my friends...for one, the illness/diagnosis was chronic fatigue, for another, vertigo, and for the third, narcolepsy. and among them the symptoms also included skin rashes, hair loss, pitted edema, and suppressed adrenal function.

                                                          crazy stuff.

                                                  2. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/cele...

                                                    "Exhibit 4: MercuryFacts.org issued a press release saying Piven, who would be the first documented case of mercury poisoning on record in the U.S., would have had to eat 108 pieces of sushi a week to feel any adverse affects from the heavy metal."


                                                    "sushigate" http://www.consumerfreedom.com/news_d...
                                                    sounds like he's weaseling out of a contract to me! hmmm, look at his "2009" projects: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005315/ (check the newsdesk feature on this page. my take: broadway vs. piven: "sushi made me do it!").

                                                    1. Science Friday covered this yesterday on NPR. The audio link is about 30 min, and a pretty good blurb.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: enbell

                                                        Now don't let facts get in the way of a good story!

                                                      2. i guess you all saw that an arbitrator has let piven off the mamet hook.

                                                        quoted mamet, "jeremy is leaving show business in order to pursue a career as a thermometer."

                                                        love it!