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The dangerous life of Instagram’s playboy king
The Life Every Guy Wants takes a lot of work. Meet Dan Bilzerian, multimillionaire poker player.
This photo of a topless woman hanging out with a sea lion is going to be a problem for Dan Bilzerian, multimillionaire poker player. Thing is, Instagram, where Bilzerian has built something of a mini-empire as a bro hero, doesn’t like nudity very much: It’s been known to delete accounts after photos of boobs and artsy shots of pubes get caught in the filter.
Bilzerian’s photos get deleted often, he tells me. He sounds mournful. “I had some super-hot chicks in Cabo naked in the pool. The shot was blurry. You could see some butt crack, I guess.” Thanks to Instagram, he’ll never be able to prove it.
There’s the good life, and then there’s the Dan Bilzerian life.
He’s a high-stakes gambler who drives an Italian supercar with a license plate that reads SUCK IT. He moonlights in action movies; he displays his automatic weaponry in a tabletop shrine. This is the guy who, when Alex Rodriguez was accused of illegal gambling, defended the MLB pro’s honor by insisting that while he was at the game, A-Rod wasn’t. Bilzerian’s lifestyle is so machismo-fueled and extravagant—he won $385,000 racing a ’65 Cobra, for Christ’s sake—that a glimpse of it would hospitalize the Entourage writing staff with priapism. Fortunately for Bilzerian’s legion of admirers, most of his exploits are well-documented online.
Regarding that sea lion photo, he won’t give me much backstory—except that he slept with the lady in it. He’s careful to note that no animals were harmed in the making of his Instagram feed; professional wild-animal herders brought the seal to the luxury penthouse pool. This kind of thing happens all the time. Bilzerian has another “fuckin’ lunatic buddy” who “got fucked-up and got a tiger shark” and tried to give it to him as a gift. “I gave him a Ferrari, so I figured it’d be something cool,” he explains. “I go to his house and he’s got two tiger sharks in his pool. One ended up dying.”
Instagram might be our culture’s most fertile breeding ground of celebrity worship. Lesser Kardashians didn’t rise to their level of fame because of Facebook—they did it by filtering their lives down to nothing but glam and luxury on the photo-blogging service. If the dozens of Instagram-inspired Daily Mail articles about Kendall Jenner’s bikinis aren’t proof positive of this, just look at the noxious Rich Kids of Instagram inspiring a TV show.
Instagram makes it easier than ever to live vicariously through others. It’s reality TV in your hand. On Bilzerian’s feed, the Life Every Guy Wants is just a scroll or two away.
Projecting that image, though, sure takes its toll.
With the thick beard and throngs of women at his side, Bilzerian resembles a much younger version of one Internet celebrity: Jonathan Goldsmith, better known as the beer brand Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World. Gossip blog the Dirty has been calling Bilzerian “Fake Equis” for years, implying that he’s all swagger, no substance. For what it’s worth, its coverage is mainly limited to guesswork about whether Bilzerian’s lady friends have implants. And the editor won’t stop calling Bilzerian, asking him to hang out.
It’s “a fucking joke,” Bilzerian says. “I ignore everything on the site.” But he knows its readers and what they say about him: “‘Oh, this guy’s life sucks, he doesn’t have anything meaningful…’ Meanwhile,” he mocks, “they’re reading thedirty.com.”
Recently, Bilzerian has been getting more press from mainstream media. In mid-November, he made a GIF of the World Series of Poker go viral by simply appearing in the background. Even if you didn’t follow the game, you might’ve seen this highlight: He’s sitting in the front row, bathed in blue light, his eyes locked on the action while a gorgeous brunette companion (Andreea Bolbea, who’s “just a friend”—a very good one) strokes his beard like it’s a tiny panther napping on his face. Bilzerian became the envy of every bro on the Web, especially during No Shave November.
Poker—and betting on nearly everything else in life—is Bilzerian’s sine qua non, his essential condition. But it hasn’t been without a few serious repercussions, both financial and physical.
In August 2011, Bilzerian flew between Maui and Las Vegas twice in a three-day period to play around-the-clock poker. He forgot to sleep, and then his heart gave out. He landed in the hospital with what he thought was a heart attack, but it turned out to be a pulmonary embolism. It would have been Bilzerian’s third heart attack in five years, and the man was barely 30.
When he was 25, seven years ago, Bilzerian went on what his PR rep, Steve Honig, describes as a “four-day, very active snowboarding trip—traveling, not sleeping, hanging with friends, doing all kinds of…” Honig trails off. The trip ended in a double heart attack. “If you’re familiar with his lifestyle, he’s a bit of a daredevil,” Honig says. “His body was absolutely overloaded after four days, and the heart condition happened.”
“Daredevil” is putting it lightly. According to Bilzerian, his return home from his Las Vegas hospital in 2011 (after witnessing someone die in the bed next to him) consisted of more poker, plus aerobics both regular and sexual. Bilzerian tweeted that he checked himself out and defied his doctor’s orders:
I cked self outta the hospital,doc said I should stay b/c I could die in my sleep if I go home.I’ve been gambling all week. I bet I’ll live
— Dan Bilzerian (@DanBilzerian) August 26, 2011
Just woke up.Docs think it was a minor heart attack or AGE.First thing I did when I got home was shower,& sex.Still have chest pain,gambling
— Dan Bilzerian (@DanBilzerian) August 26, 2011
And a day later: “Going for a run. I’ll bet a million dollars I won’t die. Any takers?”
He was fine. Today, Honig says, Bilzerian is in perfect health, “no issues.”
Bilzerian’s life has always been high-risk and high-energy, capped with major setbacks and stumbles before poker gave him penthouse suites and yacht parties and $3 million to blow on a single dice game. His father, Paul Bilzerian, is a former corporate takeover artist who was sentenced to four years’ jail time, plus a $1.5 million fine, in 1989. He filed for bankruptcy in 2001. Speaking about his childhood, Dan Bilzerian says, “I didn’t get to enjoy much of it.”
“I didn’t take a conventional path,” he adds. “I wasn’t super-cool in high school.” He was kicked out of two different schools in seventh grade, spent eighth grade at a military boarding school, then “went to Utah to live with Mormons for a year.” (Don’t ask.) Senior year, Bilzerian was kicked out and thrown in jail, he says, for having a machine gun in the trunk of his car. (Bilzerian remains a staunch gun-rights advocate.) He got his GED.
Next was the military. “I got my head kicked in.” Bilzerian made it 99 percent through training to be a Navy SEAL, but two days before graduation, he was thrown out of that, too, for pissing off an officer. “I called him a pussy,” Bilzerian admits. “What’s the worst he could do, throw me in the ocean?” But the force picks only a select few, and “when he did my peer eval, [the officer] said I was only out for myself.”
Bilzerian went to the University of South Florida on the GI Bill. He loved it. “Everything’s been great since college,” he says. That’s where he started playing poker. The highlight reel: “I went broke after sophomore year, gambled away all my money, sold some guns, turned $750 into $10,000, flew to Vegas, turned 10 thou into $187,000, went back to school, played better.”
What was the turning point? Going broke. “I respected the money. You have to go broke to respect the money. I had a style where I could make a lot of money if I had self-control.” But it’s getting harder now, he says, because amateur players are way better than they used to be. “People just put in a lot more hours.”
Not that he’s struggling now.
I had to ask about a few more photos on Bilzerian’s Instagram feed. How about this one, the crashed Ferrari? It was on a first date, in 2008, in Beverly Hills: “‘Let’s see how fast it goes,’ this and that. I come around the corner sideways, I’m going through three lanes of traffic when some chick pulls out of a side street, gets into my lane, deer in headlights, sees the car, and real loud—she just stops. Blocks all three of my lanes.” Wham.
And this NSFW Instagram video: “Oh, that was a big argument we got into over dinner!” he says. To settle a contest with a friend over which is better, sideboob or underboob, they convinced a woman to cut her shirt and jump up and down for a while. “We had to do a couple takes.”
And the guy in the hot tub wearing $15,000 Louis Vuitton alligator boots? His name is the Unicorn, and he is a legend. Once, at a L.A. Kings game, he bought out the entire front row, right on the glass. Before he even sat down, though, he got into a fistfight with some guy and was thrown out of the arena. Later on, says Bilzerian, two “chicks got insanely naked and asked him to come in the Jacuzzi. He’s such a maniac he jumped in, boots on.”
Two people have gotten tattoos of Bilzerian’s face—one of them after losing a bet. (The loser got the face of Dan’s brother, Adam, tattooed on his other calf.) Another friend, Bill, took a $550,000 dare and got a “gay rainbow tattoo” on his back (below, right). Bilzerian also notes that he once got a homeless man to “hang around naked at a Hawaiian luau. If you say a price, you gotta do it.”
Oh yeah, and then there are all the goats. Goats are everywhere on Bilzerian’s feed. He doesn’t just love the animals—he calls himself the Goat. THE GOAT is the license plate on another luxury car. He held an informal goat-photo contest on Twitter, handing over $1,500 to two different people. He’s got a bit of a celeb idol himself: Jose Canseco, who was pulled over last week with two diapered fainting goats in his car. “That was the greatest thing of all time!” Bilzerian says. “I thought I was the only person to ever put a goat in a car. You know you’ve made it when you have a goat in a fucking Lamborghini and he’s shitting on the seat.” But Canseco’s goats were wearing diapers. “The diaper, that’s brilliant.”
He’s careful to say that all this—the stories, the rumors, the staged photo ops, the parties, what he presents online—“isn’t necessarily accurate.” He posts “interesting stuff, not lunch or, ‘Hey, I’m going to work out.’” (Although sometimes when he does work out, it makes for some great photo ops—depending on who else is around.) Bilzerian won’t tell me the craziest thing he’s done that’s not online, but Honig suggests the time Bilzerian swam in a lake filled with alligators in Tampa, Fla.
“I’m a crazy lunatic,” Bilzerian shrugs, “but a lot of the time I’m just sitting at home watching movies.”
He strikes me as casually concerned about his image. He’s bored with the “asshole” brand, although that’s how he describes himself in his Twitter bio. Instead, he wants to be known as the “Gentleman of Poker.” He wants to lie back, hang out, let younger friends enjoy the Bilzerian life, even use his riches to do some good in the world.
He’s been finding more constructive ways to spend money. He recently teamed up with rapper the Game to donate $10,000—the maximum you can give before you’re taxed, he explains—to Typhoon Haiyan relief. “I was like, ‘Yeah, fuck it, that sounds like a good idea,’” he says. By Christmas, Bilzerian plans to give away $100,000 to people in need. He calls it the Robin Hood Project. One beneficiary was a couple who adopted four kids, including “a crack baby, one with fetal alcohol syndrome, one ended up getting leukemia. I gave them $20,000.” Another woman “lost all her limbs; I’m trying to make her house more handicapped-accessible.”
He warns, “It’s not the stuff I tweet about and post on Instagram.” But really, it’s all there, it’s all public, and he’s using social media to get the word out. Growing gracefully into his 30s is going to be part of the Bilzerian life.
Photos via Dan Bilzerian/Instagram
A former assigning editor for the Daily Dot, Cooper Fleishman's work focused on the web culture and niche internet communities. He joined Mic as a senior editor in 2015. His work has been published by HyperVocal and the Good Men Project, and he previously copyedited for Rolling Stone, Men's Journal, and Us Weekly.