Thursday, January 29, 2004

Johnny, we hardly knew ye.

Just as the nation was warming to his craggy sincerity, the question is percolating: Did Sen. John Kerry trade in his Abe Lincolnhood for some Hollywood hocus-pocus, smoothing his signature facial furrows with a few discreet pokes of a Botox needle?

“He has absolutely, absolutely not had Botox treatments. You’d think his opponents would have something else to talk about besides John Kerry’s looks,” his spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter, said yesterday.

But those before-and-after photos of the Massachusetts Democrat, transformed from melancholy hound dog to svelte leading man, were displayed in living color at the Drudge Report ( and elsewhere. …

The photos certainly cast a wrinkle on things.

“I’m telling you, I always thought the mortician did a great job with John Kerry,” Comedy Central’s Colin Quinn joked yesterday. “But I didn’t know that Botox could mix with embalming fluid. Frankly, I like just the embalming fluid. It gives a nicer look.”

Mr. Quinn paused momentarily to envision the new and improved presidential hopeful.

“You know, John Kerry used to look like Keith Richard’s square brother who went to business school. He used to look like Andrew Jackson on the old $20 bill. But now, now he looks like Andrew Jackson on the new $20 bill,” Mr Quinn concluded. “Oh, the wonders of science.”

The effects of Botox — an injectable drug made from botulism bacteria that can strategically relax facial muscles — last only three months. Which means Mr. Kerry, if he indeed received a discreet shot to a creased brow in recent days, would have to repeat his treatment around April.

But it’s not as if Mr. Kerry had, say, gone the Michael Jackson route. Botox is relatively common: 1 million patients worldwide have had Botox treatments in the past 11 years, according to Allergan, its manufacturer.

“So what if he used Botox? It’s his face, his life. If he feels he needs it, that’s fine,” said Dr. Rod Rohrick, a Dallas-based plastic surgeon and president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

“Botox makes people look more at ease. It doesn’t affect their minds,” Dr. Rohrick continued. “Maybe there’s still a stigma attached to plastic surgery in the Northeast driving this discussion, I don’t know. But I do know that baby boomers don’t want to age gracefully, they want to manage their age. And if they want to look more relaxed, that’s perfectly OK.”

But inquiring minds want to know: Can botulinum toxin type A add to Mr. Kerry’s electability?


In theory, a younger appearance could help wrest the youth vote from Sen. John Edwards of South Carolina, in all his mop-top wattage. A more serene bearing might help Mr. Kerry compete with the shrill vigor of Howard Dean as voters try to figure out whether the former Vermont governor is a little unstable or simply a spirited politician.

And of course, Mr. Kerry’s new look could boost his approval ratings among women of a certain age, who may have gone to a Botox party or two themselves.

It’s all hooey as far as Mr. Kerry and his staff are concerned.

In a recent radio interview, the senator flatly denied using the stuff, or even knowing about its particulars, though his wife, ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz Kerry, has acknowledged that she’s had a Botox tweak in past years.

But enough, already.

“With 3 million lost jobs in America and 500 dead soldiers in Iraq, you’d think that everybody would be talking about something other than Botox,” observed Kerry spokeswoman Miss Cutter yesterday.

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