Ralphie May was known for his self-deprecating comedy, but the story of his larger-than-life weight was anything but funny.
The 45-year-old comedian died this week after reportedly suffering cardiac arrest, shining a light on his short and often troubled life. May gained nationwide fame through his 2003 run on the NBC reality show Last Comic Standing, where he often made light of his enormous size. A report from the Sun Sentinel noted that Ralphie May once weighed 800 pounds, but the start of his struggles with weight came through some tragic circumstances.
When May was 16-years-old, he was in a car accident that left him with 42 broken bones and put him in a coma for 10 days. That led May’s weight to balloon to more than 800 pounds, the report noted.
May underwent gastric bypass surgery in late 2003 and was able to drop down to 350 pounds, the Sun Sentinel noted, but his weight loss stalled from there. May said he had a goal to reach 200 pounds, but ended up struggling and reportedly reached over 400 pounds again.
In the months after his surgery, May confessed that he believed his weight was holding back his career.
“I think there’s a bias against fat people on network television,” May told the Houston Chronicle (via the Sun Sentinel) around the time of his surgery. “In general, it’s endemic [to] the industry.”
But Ralphie May continued in his attempts to lose weight. In 2005, he appeared on the VH1 reality show Celebrity Fit Club, where he was able to lose another 27 pounds.
Ralphie May’s weight contributed to other illnesses. In 2011, he suffered a serious health scare after contracting pneumonia, TampaBay.com noted. May was on a tropical cruise at the time, and when the boat docked in Tampa he was rushed to a hospital where he spent nine days recuperating. May was unable to travel, so had to move in with in-laws in Sarasota, the report added.
Despite the struggles with weight, Ralphie May was known for his prolific touring and shows that could be exhaustive. As May explained to the Sacramento Press, he felt it his duty to give back to fans who would dish out their hard-earned money to see him perform.
“My average fan works for about $20 per hour, if they are lucky enough to have a job,” he said, “and then factoring in insurance, taxes and such, they’re maybe bringing home $15 per hour. If my tickets are just under $30, it took them about two hours of their life to make the money to come see my show. Why shouldn’t I give them two hours too? That way I am not any better than anyone else.”
After his death this week, the focus has not only been on Ralphie May’s weight but his prominence in the world of comedy. A number of fellow comedians have spoken out to offer their condolences and remember May as a loyal friend and influential comedian.
[Featured Image by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Bud Light]