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March 2008

Doc Hollywood
What's it like to see your work onscreen but never be able to take credit
for it? Ask plastic surgeon Raj Kanodia, Hollywood's best-kept secret.

By Joan Kron

Raj Kanodia is down on one knee in his Beverly Hills operating room, eye level with the table, studying the new profile he has just fashioned for a young woman. He goes up and down on his knee several times, filing and making the tiniest adjustments to the nose with a fine rasp each time he rises. Then he puts away his tools. "No one will know she ever had it done. The character is still there," he says with pride.

Kanodia is the sculptor of the moment in Hollywood—especially with celebrities. The 60-year-old ear, nose, and throat doctor takes a minimal approach to cosmetic surgery, which has earned him respect and admiration from patients who want their facial manipulations to go undetected. "I just finesse," he says. "I can't stand a turned-up nose."

And the noses he has allegedly shaped belong to some of the biggest stars today. He is the man who, by all reports, streamlined Ashlee Simpson's nose in April 2006. Cameron Diaz has never stated point-blank that Kanodia changed the shape of her nose, but she has admitted that her nose was broken four times (once while surfing in Hawaii with Justin Timberlake) and that Kanodia changed her life. Now "it's the nose it always wanted to be," she said in US Weeky). And when High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale admitted to her own nose surgery, Kanodia was inundated with media phone calls asking him for comment, which he refused.

During his 27 years in practice, Kanodia has treated his share of famous faces and has started to become well-known himself. When women see him in restaurants, they swivel around, lean over booth walls, or rush over to greet him. His popularity only grew after he appeared on the TV series Dr. 90210. (In one episode, he removed three moles from Cindy Crawford's body.) Last summer, when Kanodia was shopping for a tie in Paris, the saleswoman asked, "Aren't you that doctor on TV?"

However, he wasn't on TV for long. At first, Donald Bull, the executive producer of Dr. 90210, considered Kanodia the guy to get. "He has an underground reputation, not a flashing billboard," Bull says. "He brought a sense of international sophistication." But after only five segments, Bull dropped Kanodia because he was too "balanced... almost serene. There were not enough problems in his life." So Bull told Kanodia, "Get engaged, break a heart, and we'll get you back on the show in a second."

And then there was Ashlee Simpson. "Prior to Ashlee Simpson, the general public did not know Kanodia," says Joseph Sugerman, an ear, nose, and throat specialist in Los Angeles who treats the voice and breathing problems of patients such as Christina Aguilera, Mick Jagger, Barbra Streisand...and Simpson. Sugerman doesn't perform cosmetic rhinoplasty—he limits his nasal surgery to the interior of the nose.

"It was just a matter of time before [Kanodia] became public. He's a craftsman. Meticulous." Sugerman began to notice patients talking to one another about their procedures by Kanodia: "'Your nose looks great, who did it?'" That's what led Sugerman to begin referring patients to him: "I was struck by how beautiful and attentive Raj was to the inside of the nose for breathing." Too frequently, Sugerman explains, cosmetic nose patients say, "'I look great, but I can't breathe....' [Raj] takes care of them irrespective of fame and has such pride in his work."

When word leaked that Kanodia had straightened Simpson's nose, the surgeon was shocked, given all the precautions he and his staff had taken. "The news was never revealed by us," he says. Simpson was operated on during a weekend and even entered the building through the garage with her parents. Simpson's operation, widely reported and alluded to by her father on foxnews.com, has multiplied Kanodia's citations in Google to dozens of pages.

In his offices on Camden Drive, Kanodia bounces from room to room dressed in a white linen jacket, a blue brocade tie, dark trousers, and white high-tops, with a diamond-studded pendant around his neck in the image of Ganesh, a Hindu god of protection.

It's Thursday, his injection and consultation day, and patients are crowded in the waiting room. The room is fragrant with champaca, a kind of magnolia that he brings every day from his garden and places around the office in small dishes. In one room, he consults with a couple from Washington, D.C., and their teenage daughter, who wants her nose thinned and the bump removed. Her father, a psychiatrist, says he found Kanodia's work "artistic."

Approximately 50 percent of the patients who seek Kanodia's help are accepted for surgery. "If I'm not going to get a final result to enhance balance in the face, if I have a vision and can't accomplish it, or if the patient's expectation is too different from mine," he says, "then I won't do it." He rarely operates on people who have had surgery elsewhere and are dissatisfied (called secondaries). He will only correct an extreme hooked nose—called a "Cyrano"—if the patient realizes that the projection can never he fully reduced because the excess skin will never shrink enough around the newly adjusted nasal framework. "I can only tweak what God gave them," he says. His mantra is "just a little, just a little." He considers his work so subtle that he says he can fool mothers.

A "Kanodia," as some patients call their noses, costs around $18,000. His fee can be higher for an extraordinarily difficult nose, or lower if the patient can't afford it. ("I don't want people to take out loans for this," Kanodia says he gives discounts to about 15 percent of patients.) The son of an Indian insurance company executive and the second of six children, Raj Kanodia moved from Calcutta to Chicago when he was 22, determined to be a cosmetic surgeon. He traces his interest in medicine to when he was around 11; his mother was ill, and a doctor made a house call. "My father treated the doctor with such respect, it left a deep impression," Kanodia says. His fascination with beauty began earlier. By his teens, he said, "I saw that beautiful people were treated differently, and I wanted to be part of that. I would look at people's faces and study why one was more attractive than others." By the time he finished Calcutta Medical College, he says, "I began to focus on the nose, which is a defining feature of the face."

In 1979, after training at the University of Illinois, Kanodia was offered a fellowship with Morey Parkes, one of Hollywood's busiest facial plastic surgeons. "It was like coming out of film school and being offered a job by Steven Spielberg," Kanodia says. "Parkes did everyone—Rock Hudson, Joan Rivers, members of the royal family of Iran." His office was even over Schwab's, the drugstore where Lana Turner was allegedly discovered. Within four years, Kanodia was an associate in Parkes's group. When Parkes retired, in 1993, Kanodia moved to his present location.

Friday is one of Kanodia's two days of weekly surgery, and he is getting ready for a 16-year-old patient who wants her nose reduced and straightened. After her nose is iced for two hours to reduce the inflammation, the patient goes to sleep under general anesthesia, with her "before" pictures posted on the wall. Kanodia begins by fixing her breathing. "Breathing is life," he says.

The doctor employs a scarless (or closed) technique that requires doing all the work through the nostrils. First, he removes the twisted portions of cartilage and bone in the septum (the central divider of the nose), for a better airway. "In five to seven minutes, she'll breathe better the rest of her life," he says. Next, he reduces the size of the turbinates (interior tissues that regulate air temperature) to keep them from swelling. He then sculpts the soft cartilage in the tip of the nose to minimize its bulk. "I'm just tweaking it," he says, as he removes slivers of cartilage. He inserts a rasp to file down a slight bump of bone, then uses pieces of excess cartilage, one on either side of the septum, to keep the side walls from collapsing, a maneuver he equates with "putting bones in a corset."

The final touch is filing the dorsum (the top of the nose bone) with a finer rasp. After the operation, the patient's nose is packed with a sponge and covered with Aquaplast, a resin that is more pliable than plaster when it hardens and can be softened with hot water. Kunodia will remove the cast in five to seven days. A short while later, in the recovery room, the patient is awake. "It was a piece of cake," she says groggily, while her mother, hovering nearby, looks relieved. "If I knew it was this easy, I wouldn't have worried."

The next morning, Kanodia relaxes on the terrace of his Bel Air house, which is next door to Elizabeth Taylor's and down the road from Nancy Reagan's. Over chai tea and lentil pancakes, Kanodia muses about a celebrity patient's denial of surgery in the press when she had obviously had it done. Yet he understands why celebrities are reticent. As Virginia Blum, director of the committee on social theory at the University of Kentucky explains in Flesh Wounds: The Culture of Cosmelic Surgery (University of California Press): "Stars need to keep their surgeries secret to preserve their specialness." But for Kanodia, the issue is still confusing.

"I think they should have the right to say what they want to, because it's a personal matter—everybody should be given that privilege of personal privacy," says Kanodia. "But on the other hand, I feel that if they were more revealing, it would help the general public—the schoolteacher's daughter or regular person, the people who look up to these celebrities. If they said, 'Oh, I had my nose done, and yes, it was to help breathing, but it was also tweaked a little bit, because I wanted the camera to like it even more.' If they were a little bit more forthright, I think it would help a lot of people in making a decision. The general public usually sees the bad nose jobs and says, 'All nose jobs are bad, and I should not seek it anymore.' They don't know about the really good ones. A really good nose job, you should not be able to say that it's been done."

Kanodia stops for a moment. "When I look at the magazines and see models or actresses in a six-page spread, and every page, 'Photographed by so-and-so; hair by so-and-so; and makeup by so-and-so,' I go, What about something else important missing? I don't know if you could say, 'Lips by so-and-so' or, 'Nose by so-and-so.'"

The day may come when that's possible, but he's not holding his breath.

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