Once the world’s heaviest man, Manuel Uribe dies


Manuel Uribe, once the world’s fattest man in “The Guinness Book of Records.” (Edgar Quintana/AFP/Getty Images)

The man, if nothing else, knew how to make an entrance. Draped in white silk and resting in his bed of white satin, the world’s heaviest man was carted down a Mexican highway leading into Monterrey on the back of a flat-bed truck. The year was 2008. And Manuel Uribe, who had not left his bed for six years, was about to get married.

Uribe, whose weight plunged from a world record of 1,230 pounds to 867, would never get out of that bed. He died in one on Monday at the age of 48. The cause of death has not been confirmed, but the Associated Press reported that he was believed to have suffered from both a liver and cardiac condition.

His was an entirely modern existence, combining morbid obesity with a celebrity spawned by that weight. The profoundly obese have a certain voyeuristic appeal in today’s pop culture, which has produced a string of reality TV shows from “Heavy” to “My 600-lb Life.” And Uribe, a man with a handsome white smile, was among the first to capitalize on that. He broke into the global consciousness in the mid-aughts with his entry into “The Guinness Book of World Records” and then later solidified his role as one of the world’s most famous fat men in “The World’s Heaviest Man.”

The show documented his bedridden existence and efforts to lose weight — and endowed Uribe with a strange fame, one grounded in sadness as much as triumph. Under television’s glare, he lost a lot of weight, but he was never able to shed the obesity that defined him in both life and death.

It wasn’t always that way, however. Born in 1965 in Nuevo Leon, he claimed he was overweight as a child, but not morbidly so. He married young when he was a thinner 280 pounds. “I used to eat normal, just like all Mexicans do … beans, rice, flour tortilla, corn tortilla, french fries, hamburgers, subs and pizzas, whatever regular people eat,” he told ABC in 2008.

But then, he said, something took over in his body, and he started to put on hundreds of pounds. He blames his lack of exercise. “I worked as a technician, repairing typewriters, electronic calculators and computers.” he told ABC. “So I worked on a chair. It was a sedentary life.”

Though the onset of such obesity combines a host of other factors including genetics and diet, a 2009 study in Clinical Cardiology found that the morbidly obese are sedentary for 99 percent of the day. Such obese individuals, the study found, walked only 2,500 steps per day, significantly less than the 10,000 steps that healthy people take per day.

For Uribe, however, his average number of steps sank even lower. His wife “asked me for a divorce,” he said. “I was very depressed. … Everything ended on account of my obesity, because I spent a lot of money trying to see doctors, going on diets, and I just gained more weight.”

In the summer of 2002, he got into bed — and never got out. His mother and friends then had to feed and clean him as they watched his weight soar into four digits.

In 2006, after he could no longer see his feet, he pleaded for help on Mexican television and soon became a subject of national interest. The government appointed several doctors to help him lose weight. He eventually succeeded in shedding pounds, and by the time he was transported via flat-bed truck to his wedding in 2008, he was no longer the world’s heaviest man.

“He’s a person full of love,” his wife told reporters. “It’s a privilege to know him because he truly is a divine person.”

Indeed, from his bed, he began to assist other morbidly obese people in Mexico, lending diet advice. He “inspires me with courage and the will to live,” 990-pound Jose Luis Garza told the Associated Press. “I understand that this is matter of life and death and that I have to follow the instructions that are given to me.”

Terrence McCoy writes on foreign affairs for The Washington Post's Morning Mix. Follow him on Twitter here.
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