Lance Armstrong stripped of his Tour de France wins, his Olympic medal, and admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs for his competitions. Now word from Deadline is that JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot is looking to adapt the scandal into a movie with Paramount Studios. Frankly though, his story has already played out, somewhat on television already. Seeing Armstrong’s path of destruction unfold and build to this past week’s confession reminded me of Breaking Bad’s Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the infamous high school chemistry teacher turned into drug kingpin. Both led unremarkable lives with few highlights before being dealt a health scare. I don’t know if Armstrong drives a Pontiac Aztek, but we’re going to explore this comparison further, and be warned, there will be spoilers for those who are not up to date on Breaking Bad.
After being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Walter White big secret is that he cooks crystal meth. A fish out of water, White was unprepared for the criminal world he was entering, justifying his actions as a means to prepare his family before he dies, and pay for his chemotherapy.
Armstrong’s secret was that he used PEDs on all seven of his Tour de France wins, though psychologically, never believing he was doing anything wrong by doing so. He denied use of PEDs for years and was fueled with his desire to win at all costs.
Both committed heinous acts in their worlds. For White, he brought the world of crime into his blue-collar home and eventually endangered those close to him. Armstrong was viewed as one who competed honestly, never failing a drug test during his long win streak.
At first, viewers didn’t find him making meth as reprehensible but instead endearing, as he became the underdog to his own story. Cancer freed Walter to act without any consideration to consequence. It was rationalized as survival, until the harsh world of drugs became a series of obstacles. His ego grew and eventually became corrupt. Walter got respect for what he could do with his knowledge and who doesn’t love it when science wins? Yeah, science!
In the fall of 1996, a 25-year old Armstrong was diagnosed with stage-three testicular cancer; it later spread to his lungs, brain, and abdomen. He had a tumor surgically removed and received chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free in February of 1997 and was back training remarkably a year later. He turned his status as a victim into a survivor, and it was just the beginning of his legend.
In both instances cancer was the impetus to their individual rise. Their brush with the big C became a major part of the reason why White’s and Armstrong’s separate stories became compelling as it was two drastic but proactive attitudes in dealing with the disease. No one could call either a quitter.
Legends are Born
White’s process, using clean chemistry and industry grade raw materials produced methamphetamine with alarming purity. Once he began using phenylacetone with methylamine, instead of organic pseudoephendrine found in cold medicine (which is now limited by pharmacies because) his meth was marked with a signature blue tint, and to help stare down drug lords in the face, he took on the alias, “Heisenberg” and made the most sought after product in the drug world.
After beating cancer, Armstrong started the Lance Armstrong Foundation, supporting people affected by cancer and began an unprecedented run on the Tour de France, winning the grueling multi-stage race seven straight years. His foundation sold yellow rubber “Livestrong” bracelets, which alone raised over $325 million over the years he dominated his sport. People were inspired by the idea that someone could beat cancer and outperform everyone in his field soon after. He became a hero and an inspiration to many fighting cancer and made wearing bright yellow a fashion statement as much as wearing pink for breast cancer.
Both White and Armstrong got a taste of extreme success in a short period of time and would lead to a hunger of power and control.
EDITOR’S PICK: Lance Armstrong Blandly Confesses to Oprah
Greed and Ruthlessness
Walter White couldn’t stop at just setting his family up in riches. He knew his worth and didn’t want to answer to anyone or share his earnings; nothing was out of bounds, including killing off drug kingpins, manipulating friends and family, and poisoning children. Others who helped him along the way, such as Mike Ehrmantraut were collateral damage; Jesse Pinkman was repeatedly used as a pawn and his DEA Agent brother-in-law Hank Schrader nearly died.
Those inside and outside the cycle world began to question Armstrong and whether he was using PEDs. He took offense, passing drug test after drug test, though many suspected he stayed ahead of the tests. Armstrong vehemently denied any accusation and began to destroy the lives of those confronting him on the matter. He took sports journalists to task, berating them with his side until they were left with no choice but to believe him, and labeled those who didn’t believe him as traitors. He lied in court and sued those around who wanted to reveal the truth, burying them and taking their money. Some were considered enemies and detractors, but many were former friends. He sued so many that he claimed he lost count.
Both men stopped at nothing to eliminate anyone who got in their way, and have lied so much that they lost touch with reality.
Family Comes Second
After chemotherapy, White’s tumor shrunk by 80% and went into remission, and began acting strange. Walter began to connect to his son by being the cool dad, while his wife Skyler was suspicious of him and threw him out of the house. Still, Walter Jr. started a donation fund for his father, not knowing Walter was dripping money into it. No one was safe around Walter and the main reason he used to parade–that he risked his life and reputation for family–dissolved when it was revealed that he just wants to stick it in the face of his former business partners who took his scientific concepts and turned them into a billion dollar enterprise. He soon compromised his household and once his wife discovered his secret, their relationship couldn’t be saved. At one point, Skyler was a hostage in her own home, riddled with guilt, and desperately trying to keep her two children away from the monster that her husband has become.
Armstrong eventually had three children with his first wife during the beginning of his Tour de Jour. The marriage fell apart in the midst of constant separation while training, competing and a rise to fame. But like Walter, he allowed his kids to participate in his crowning achievements, helping hoist one of the trophies he cheated to win. Armstrong dated singer Sheryl Crow soon after his divorce, got engaged and broke it off shortly before Crow was treated for breast cancer because she wanted a family, and he didn’t want one with her at that time. Armstrong has since fathered two more children with his current girlfriend Anna Hansen, a woman he met through charity work. Crow has already been quoted since September of 2012, “I know how hard he worked to win those titles, and you know, it was hard to watch,” adding that he was probably “tired of the whole fight.”
Skyler understood what she was getting into with Walter once she knew what he was up to and tried to rein him in. But she was in over her head, and is praying for his cancer to return. Many will wonder how much Crow knew about Armstrong’s doping, and whether or not the efforts to keep his doping secret was a contributor to their split.
White became unhinged and many viewers found it more difficult each week to root for him. He alienated his family, those working with him, and has been labeled a psychopath. Instead of being a hero of his own story, he’s become the villain. Some think he’s always been a bad person and the cancer gave him an excuse to act on it. Others think he had a taste of greed and it corrupted him. When I’m rooting for Gus Fring, more than I am Walter White, it shows how much of a switch there’s been in his character. He’s always done despicable things. He’s often showed he’s not a nice person, but viewers wanted to get behind him, they wanted him to win so badly, and now, not so much.
For Armstrong, many burned by him on a personal and financial level already hate him. They were destroyed by his fame and lies. Now that the truth has come out, all of those denials were additional lies, and many are questioning how much of Livestrong’s money was actually given to funding the fight against cancer. If he lied about one thing, how is it not possible he could lie about that as well? He’s lost his credibility and many on the fence saw the bully that seemed like an urban legend. He is a man forever tarnished, and his early accusers have been vindicated. Just wait until those who lost money to him in lawsuits take issue.
The gloss has worn off for both the TV anti-hero and celebrated bicyclist. It’s hard to look back on either and root for them, although we haven’t seen the last eight episodes of Breaking Bad, yet.
Hail The Kings and Their Hubris
We haven’t see how or if Walter White is going to get caught, but his secret is out of the bag now. Hank has made the connection of Gale’s meth cookbook and a gift book Walter received from Gale, sitting on the back of the house toilet in the White home. This isn’t the first time Walter’s been overly confident and careless, but he could have walked away two or three times and no one would have ever known. Hank was on the verge of quitting any personal investigation if it wasn’t for a drunk and cocky Walter not wanting Gale to get the credit for his crystal blue. Ego has always been Walter’s Achilles’ heel.
It wasn’t enough that Armstrong beat cancer and won seven straight-PED-enhanced Tours de France. He could have walked away with people whispering on whether or not he had cheated. Nope. He had to comeback one more time to prove all his critics wrong in 2009 -2011, eventually the USADA’s drug testing methods caught up to him. It’s as if he was daring people to catch him. And here we are reacting to his Oprah confession and studios are jockeying for movie rights.
Both Walter and Lance could have walked away but the greed or wanting to prove something to others eventually led or will lead to their downfalls.
What was the point of all this? It was honestly an excuse to revisit Walter White and his descent into a crime lord and we can’t wait until the summer to talk about the final episodes. We could really care less about Lance Armstrong at BuzzFocus, though we find it odd that Bad Robot of all movie houses wants to make the film. His confession was no surprise, it was just a cold, arrogant, calculated, and remorseless display–What’s amusing is this laughable notion that Oprah is some national priest and her venue has become the accepted confession box. It will likely end badly for the once celebrated cyclist. His sponsors are already lining up to get their money back and no one is buying his attempt to save face. If he were to compete in another sport, would anyone really give a damn? He’s already given us reason to forever doubt his integrity.
More importantly, what will Walter White do? Will he admit his guilt? Will Skyler crack from all the pressure? Will Walter’s lies and secrets be exposed to Walter Jr.? Will Walter get away with it? Will he die? Will he put up a fight? Will the cancer return? In other words, the story of Walter White remains much more compelling and more interesting. Something tells me that he has more bad things to do, and he could still win fans back; I don’t think the same could be said about Armstrong. Although if wanted to be an anti-hero, at least Armstrong copied from the best.