The World's Heaviest People

Human beings have been getting remarkably fat since prehistoric times (to judge by such artifacts as the celebrated Venus of Willendorf), and accurate weighing is mostly a twentieth-century phenomenon, so the heaviest man or woman ever must always remain a matter of conjecture. Every age and culture has a tale of some remarkable heavyweight, but how much these Paul Bunyans of bulk have grown in the telling is impossible to say. A few such stories have come down to us from classical times. The Roman physician Galen, writing in the first century, cites the case of one Nichomachus of Smyrna, who was so heavy that he could neither move nor be moved from his bed. Other authors tell of a Roman senator who was able to walk only when two slaves carried his belly for him, and of a latter-day Egyptian pharaoh whose belly was broader than the span of a man's outstretched arms.

Dionysius of Heracleia was notorious for his appetite, and eventually grew so weighty that he could scarcely budge: he suffered from apnea or narcolepsy besides, prompting his doctors to prick his flesh with needles whenever he fell asleep on his throne. A contemporary poet has him declare that he aspired to end his days "on my back, lying on my many rolls of fat, scarcely uttering a word, taking labored breaths, and eating my fill," for of all the ways a man might die, an excess of luxury was the only truly happy death. Nevertheless, he lived to what was then the ripe old age of 55, earning a reputation for fairness and generosity that competed with his size as an object of astonishment.

A man observed by the celebrated Dutch physician Hermann Boerhaave took his meals at a table that had been cut away in a semicircle to accommodate his circumference: not having slaves to help him, he used a sling worn around his shoulders to carry his belly. A Gentleman's Magazine of 1789 acquainted readers with a man who hadn't left his bed under his own power for three years: to change the sheets, he was hoisted up with pulleys. (He was said to be in good health, aside from a rheumatic complaint typical of his 80-plus years.) In 1889, an attempt was made to put a young French woman of Plaisance on exhibit, "but eight men could not move her from her room, and as she could not pass through the door the idea was abandoned." And for each of these stories, hundreds - if not thousands - more must have been recorded only in local legend, and then forgotten.

The Guinness Book of World Records was for many editions the definitive source of information on the heaviest contemporary men and women. But in recent years, the book that made stars of the McGuire twins has curtailed its annual list. Perhaps the editors simply ran out of space, or perhaps they got disgusted with the increasing exploitation of such individuals by diet centers and TV talk-show hosts (each of whom needs his own super- heavyweight to meddle with, the way monarchs once needed court dwarfs). In either case, it seems time for someone else to take up the torch, and Dimensions seems the obvious home for such an enterprise.

Here, then, is a list of every known individual who has staked a claim to a weight of 900 pounds or more, in descending order of magnitude. Estimated (or possibly exaggerated) peak weights are marked with an asterisk, while unverified (or unverifiable) stories are marked with two. New entries, photos, and updated information are always welcome. Those looking for a higher moral purpose in this catalog of wonders may note how often these lives have been cut short by venal, inadequate, or positively clueless medical care. How much healthier would the lives of lesser fat people be, if biographies like these were the subject of discussion in professional journals rather than supermarket tabloids? - KJN



Carol Yager in 1994, near her peak weight of 1600 lbs

  *   1.  Carol Yager (1960 - 1994) of Flint, MI; 5 ft 7 in, estimated to have weighed more than 1600 lbs at her peak. She had been fat since childhood. In 1993, she was measured at 1189 lbs when admitted to Hurley Medical Center, suffering from cellulitis. She lost nearly 500 lbs on a 1200-calorie diet, but most of that weight was thought to be fluid, and she regained all of it and more soon after being discharged. Her teenage daughter, a boyfriend, and a group of volunteers helped take care of her. Despite extravagant promises by diet maven Richard Simmons and talk-show host Jerry Springer, Yager received little practical assistance in return for her media exposure (though Springer continues to profit from her appearance on his show, having rebroadcast that episode at least four times). She was refused further hospitalization on the grounds that her condition was not critical, despite massive water retention and signs of incipient kidney failure, and these problems led to her death a few weeks later.


Rare photo of Jon Minnoch in 1966, at about 700 lbs

  *   2.  Jon Brower Minnoch (1941 - 1983) of Bainbridge Island, WA; 6 ft 1 in, estimated as weighing "probably more than" 1400 lbs in 1979, at which point it took 13 people just to roll him over in bed. Minnoch, like many of the heaviest people, suffered from massive edema: his weight was augmented by at least 900 lbs of fluid at its peak. The former taxi driver had always been unusually heavy, reaching 400 lbs in 1963, 700 lbs in 1966, and 975 lbs in 1976, but he claimed to have been in no way handicapped by his size until a 500-calorie diet sapped his muscle strength and left him at the brink of death. Subsequent hospitalization brought him down to 476 lbs in 1981, mostly through the loss of 12 to 14 pounds of fluid per week. He was readmitted later that year after regaining 200 lbs in seven days. Although physicians at University Hospital in Seattle persisted in treating him with a 1,200-calorie diet, he weighed about 800 lbs at the time of his death. Other details of his physical condition were withheld from the press. Minnoch was the father of two children by his 110-lb wife, Jeannette.


Roselie Bradford at about 800 lbs

  *   3.  Roselie Bradford (b. 1944) of Sellersville, PA; 5 ft 6 in, measured at 1053 lbs, but estimates that she weighed more than 1200 lbs at her peak two years earlier, a claim accepted by Guinness. Already over 300 lbs when she dropped out of college, Bradford became an exercise instructor, running seven miles three times a week, but continued her steady gain in weight. At 374 lbs she underwent an intestinal bypass operation, which caused serious complications. She was back to 350 lbs when she married her husband Bob in 1973, reached 500 lbs after the birth of her son, and as her body grew, so did her appetite. After contracting septicemia in the early 1980s, she spent most of the next decade in bed, eating - as much as 15,000 calories per day. It wasn't unusual for her to put away three large pizzas in 40 minutes (washing them down with diet soda), then ask for dessert. At her peak, she measured eight feet wide, and took up two reinforced king-size beds. Her bustline measured over 100 inches, and her hips carried 200-lb "saddlebags" that hung down her thighs as far as her knees. "People would visit me and sit on the bed, not realizing they were sitting on part of me," she recalled. When she fell out of bed, rescue workers used an inflatable cushion designed to right overturned cars to get her back into place. After being treated for symptoms of heart failure, she was eventually persuaded by Richard Simmons to embark on a five year diet, an experience she described as hellish. Tortured by hunger, by fast-food commercials, and by dreams in which she ate without limit, she nevertheless got down to under 300 pounds, setting a world's record for weight loss. She later sued the Star tabloid for suggesting that she couldn't have intimate relations with her husband at over half a ton.


Michael Edelman, at over 900 lbs, smooches girlfriend Brenda Burdle

  *   4.  Michael Edelman (1964 - 1992) of Pomona, NY; Guinness listed him at 994 lbs, but his mother estimates that he weighed some 1200 lbs at his heaviest. He had already reached 154 lbs at age seven, and left school at ten because he could no longer fit into the desks. After that he spent most of his time in bed, or sharing massive meals with his 700-pound mom. Michael liked to start the day with four bowls of cereal, toast, waffles, cake, and a quart of soda, and end it with a whole pizza with the works for a bedtime snack. Mother and son tried every new diet that came along, "but after a few days, we'd reward ourselves with a chocolate cake. Then we'd call for a pizza and that would be it." When the two were evicted from their Wesley Hills home in 1988, Michael had to be moved by forklift. After his exposure in the press, dozens of hospitals and diet promoters vied to get him in a weight-loss program, but Michael was determined to get thin on his own. He appeared in three different tabloids in one week when he publicly vowed to lose enough weight to consummate his relationship with 420-lb Brenda Burdle, but the couple grew apart when they both gained weight instead of losing it. After the sudden death of Walter Hudson (below), with whom he had formed a long-distance friendship, Michael developed a pathological fear of eating. He rapidly lost several hundred pounds, taking nourishment only when spoon fed. At about 600 lbs, he literally starved to death. (Link - 1)


Walter Hudson, weight unknown

      5.  Walter Hudson (1944? - 1991) of Hempstead, NY (born in Brooklyn, NY); 5 ft 10 in, measured at 1197 lbs (though the industrial scale broke in the process of weighing him). His chest was measured at 106 inches, his waist at 110. Hudson was discovered by the press in 1987, when he became wedged in the door of his bedroom and had to be cut free by rescue workers. An agoraphobic, he'd spent most of the past 27 years in bed. Hudson lived with his family, where his appetite was always indulged, and gave every indication that he was content with both his weight and his situation. "I just ate and enjoyed it," he said. Despite his massive size, Newsday reported that he was extraordinarily healthy: his heart, lungs, and kidneys all functioned normally, while astonished doctors noted that his cholesterol and blood-sugar levels "showed the chemistry of a healthy 21-year-old." Even so, activist-turned-nutritionist Dick Gregory managed to convince Hudson that losing weight was necessary to save his life. Gregory used Hudson to promote his Bahamian Diet, and claimed that his protegé lost at least 200 lbs (sometimes claiming as much as 800 lbs) under his care, but when Hudson refused to perform for the cameras on cue, Gregory summarily abandoned him. Other celebrities and diet promoters also claimed to have helped him lose massive amounts of weight, though Newsday noted that Hudson never seemed to look any thinner. (Gregory threatened to sue his rivals for $50 million.) Hudson himself gave conflicting stories, sometimes claiming to weigh as little as 480 lbs or as much as 1400. He only allowed himself to be weighed once. Hudson died in his sleep after years of intermittent starvation dieting, a few weeks after announcing wedding plans. His body was found to weigh 1125 lbs, and his massive coffin required twelve pallbearers. (Links - 1, 2)




  *   6.  Francis John Lang, aka Michael Walker (b. 1934) of Gibsonton, FL (born in Clinton, IA); 6 ft 2 in, believed to have reached a maximum weight of 1187 lbs. Lang had weighed only 150 lbs as a soldier in Korea. He blamed his masssive weight gain on prescription drug abuse, claiming that his narcotic of choice had the side effect of giving him an uncontrollable appetite. Though unable to walk (a handicap that kept more than one fat lady out of the side show), Lang found a unique way of capitalizing on his situation: he had a mobile home built with observation windows, and traveled the country putting himself on display at carnivals and fairs. Lying nearly nude on an oversize circular bed, he preached to the curious about the evils of drugs, using his own body as the moral lesson. His peak weight, claimed for him by Christian Farms of Killeen, TX, in the summer of 1971, was unverified, but Guiness Superlatives found photographic evidence to be reasonably conclusive. In early 1972 Lang was hospitalized in Houston for a suspected heart attack, at which time he was estimated to weigh between 900 and 1000 lbs. His symptoms proved to be caused by an inflamed gallbladder, probably aggravated by his weight loss, and the examining physician declared his heart to be "unusually normal." By 1980, Lang had reportedly reduced to 369 lbs. (Link - 1)

 **   7.  Johnny Alee (1853 - 1887) of Carbon (now Carbonton) NC; said to have reached a maximum weight of 1132 lbs. Alee developed a ravenous appetite at the age of ten, and put on pounds so rapidly that by age 15 he could barely support his own weight. Grown men couldn't get their arms around one of Alee's thighs, and he could no longer squeeze through his own front door. Getting from his armchair to the dinner table, with plenty of help, was all the mobility he could manage. He was said to have died after falling through his cabin floor, and his postmortem weight was determined on the coal company scales. Guinness was never able to verify this story.




      8.  Robert Earl Hughes (1926 - 1958) of Monticello, MO (buried in Mt. Sterling, IL), 6 ft 1/2 in, weighed 1069 lbs in February, 1958. Hughes began life at a healthy 11 1/2 lbs, and progressed to 203 lbs at 6 years, 378 lbs at 10, 546 lbs at 13, 693 lbs at 18, and 947 at 27. His weight made him a national celebrity: even his custom-made blue jeans made news. At his peak, he claimed a chest girth of 124 inches and a 122-inch waistline. His untimely death was due to kidney failure following a bout with measles: unable to fit through the door of a hospital room, he'd been treated in a truck trailer parked outside. The story that he was buried in a packing case made for a grand piano is untrue. His coffin was built to order, and he was eulogized as a man whose heart was as big as his body. Life magazine called him a relatively light eater. (Link - 1)

 **   9.  Mohamed Naaman (b. 1946) of Kenya; 6 ft, a tabloid story says he attained a maximum weight of 1055 lbs, though he managed to reduce to a mere 770 lbs, with an 87 1/2 inch waistline. "I've had to learn to drink tea without milk," he says. Naaman is the father of 21 children by five wives.

    10.  Man, name withheld (ca. 1939 - ca. 1986), of New York State; just under 5 ft 7 in, 1050 lbs. His death was due to complications following a massive panniculectomy ("tummy tuck") to remove fat tissue, performed at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, NY. His peak weight was determined by adding the weight of the tissue removed by the operation (104 lbs) to the patient's postmortem weight of 946 lbs. According to his physicians, he was healthy when he checked in, and his "past [medical] history was unremarkable except for extraordinary weight all his life."

    11.  Carol Haffner (1936 - 1995) of Hollywood, FL; 1023 lbs. Haffner had been a regular at the Seminole Tribe Bingo parlor, where the operators bought a special chair to accomodate her girth. But after the death of her husband, depression and advancing weight kept her bedridden, and she spent her last five years in her trailer - leaving only once, with the assistance of a crew of firefighters, during a hurricane evacuation. Friends said she had been on the phone with talk shows and diet promoters, trying to finance a trip to a Boston- based obesity program, but she'd resisted hospitalization for her breathing difficulties, and died of heart failure two weeks after her 59th birthday.




  * 12.  Mike Parteleno (b. 1958) of Struthers, OH; 6 ft (some sources say 6 ft 3 in), claimed a maximum of 1022 (or 1023) lbs while a spokesman for Dick Gregory's Bahamian Diet. Prior to his association with Gregory, Parteleno claimed to weigh a mere 645 lbs, and was a popular favorite in belly-flop contests.

    13.  Mills Darden (1798 - 1857) of North Carolina; 7 ft 6 in, 1020 lbs. Darden was an acromegalic giant. His wife, who bore him three (some sources say five) children before her death in 1837, weighed only 98 lbs.

    14.  John Finnerty (b. 1952) of Amity Harbor, NY; 1012 lbs. He surfaced in the media only once, when firemen were called to take him to Brunswisk Hospital Center for treatment of bronchitis. "He was laying on a queen-size mattress, and rolls of fat just hung off both sides," said the local fire chief. "He moved like a big bowl of Jello." Finnerty was taken to the hospital on a flatbed truck, and was said to be responding well to treatment. His subsequent history is unreported.

 ** 15.  Jerry Currant (b. 1938) of Los Angeles, CA; 6 ft 2 in, "more than" 1000 lbs. According to the tabloids, Currant was a gourmet chef who kept his weight under 600 lbs until 1983, but then began gaining steadily. Weighed on a meat scale in 1987, he topped 976 lbs, but remained mobile until September of 1988. In 1989 he was diagnosed with colon cancer by a visiting doctor, and transferred to a hospital through a hole cut in his apartment wall. He claimed to have no interest in losing weight.

  * 16.  Sylvanus "Hambone" Smith (1941 - 1997?) of Tifton, GA; 6 ft 2 1/2 in, aprox. 1000 lbs. Smith claimed to have weighed almost 16 lbs at birth, and 275 lbs by age 11. At his peak, he had a 103-in hip girth and 70-in thighs. He worked as a chef until his increasing weight left him confined to bed, then ran a pawnshop out of his home. Smith underwent a stomach-stapling operation in 1981 (at 602 lbs), served as a spokesman for Dick Gregory's Bahamian Diet in 1987 (at 730 lbs), and was attempting yet another drastic weight loss program, sponsored by Geraldo Rivera, at the time of his death. He had also recently married 20-year-old Tammy Humphries, who weighed only 125 lbs. Smith was the father of one son and four daughters by a previous marriage. His children ranged in weight from 312 to 587 lbs at ages 22 to 30.

  * 17.  David Ron High (1953 - 1996) of Brooklyn, NY; 5 ft 10 in, aprox. 1000 lbs. High was touted as Dick Gregory's biggest success story in 1986, when he reduced from 823 lbs to 427 lbs on a year-long fast supplemented by fruits and vegetables. (He lost three inches in height as well, shrinking from a peak of 6 ft 1 in.) High had been fat since childhood, and claimed he used to eat just one meal a day - all day. "The pizza shop loved me," he recalled. "I was a great customer - and they even named a pizza after me. It was the only pizza in the world with spaghetti on it!" A decade after his graduation from Gregory's International Health Institute, a team of city firemen needed a hydraulic lift remove the ailing High from the Brooklyn apartment where he'd spent the last five years. He was taken to the obesity center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, where he died after less than a month on another weight-loss program.




  * 18.  Michael Hebranko (b. 1954) of Brooklyn, NY; 6 ft, "nearly" 1000 lbs. Hebranko weighed an average 8 1/2 lbs at birth, but weighed 350 lbs by the time he was 16. Hebranko says his appetite kept pace with his expanding size: "I had a dozen eggs, a loaf of fried bread and syrup for breakfast - then I really started eating." He first came to public view as a spokesman for diet promoter Richard Simmons in 1989, claiming in infomercials and talk-show appearances that Simmons had helped him to go from 907 lbs to less than 200 lbs. In fact, Hebranko actually lost at least 50 lbs to a panniculectomy, and had additional fat tissue surgically removed from his arms, chest, and legs; he also suffered from severe edema, and had lost a great deal of water weight. In 1996, Hebranko made news again when he was taken to a hospital for treatment of a gangrenous infection. Rescue workers had to remove a bay window to make an opening big enough for his 110- inch waistline, and carried him in a stretcher designed for transporting killer whales. He had been unable to move from a loveseat in his home for the previous ten weeks, during which time he had added as much as 150 pounds to his already 850-pound physique, most of it fluid. Simmons tearfully vowed to slim him down again. (Links - 1, 2, 3)

 ** 19.  G. Hopkins (late 18th century?) of Wales; 980 lbs. Hopkins was said to have been brought to a London fair in a sturdy cart pulled by four teams of oxen, where an enterprizing promoter displayed him in a stall alongside some prize hogs that were too fat to stand up. The enormous Welshman astonished the paying crowds as much by his appetite as by his unparalleled bulk. After one stupendous meal, though nearly stuffed to bursting, Hopkins tried to grab a tasty morsel that was just out of reach and toppled off his bench. He landed on a nursing sow, killing the poor animal, and flattening her piglets beneath him "like salted herrings." It took fifteen sturdy men to hoist him back onto his seat, and then only with great difficulty, for his stomach was packed so full of food that the skin around his middle was stretched tighter than a drumhead, and no one could get a grip on it. Hopkins' weight (measured on a steelyard built for weighing fully-loaded wagons) is variously reported: this presumably authoritative figure is taken from a 19th-century medical encyclopedia.




  * 20.  Denny Welch (b. 1960) of Hamilton, OH, 980 lbs. Welch achieved notoriety as a frequent guest on the Jerry Springer Show, first in his role as a female impersonator, and later (as his weight climbed to more than 800 lbs) as the fat man in Springer's TV sideshow. In 1996, after Welch had been unable to leave his bed for four weeks, Springer paid to have a contractor remove a wall of Welch's home and transport him to a Cincinnati hospital for weight reduction, recording the entire spectacle for broadcast. Welch lost about 200 pounds, but by the fall of 1997 he had regained it all and had developed heart and respiratory problems along the way, possibly as a result of his treatment with diet pills. In April 1998 he was back in the hospital, suffering from severe edema and congestive heart failure. His mother told the press that he now weighed 980 lbs., and "his body was so swollen, it looked like it was ready to burst." Welch also faces criminal charges for allegedly showing pornographic videos to minors. (Links - 1, 2)

    21.  "Big Tex" (b. 1902, fl. 1956), presumably from Texas; 6 ft 1 1/2 in, 924 lbs.

    22.  Leonard Brown (b. 1953) of Panama City, FL; 920 lbs. Brown came to public attention in 1994 when he appealed for funds to attend the Complicated Obesity Rehabilitation Program at Jewish Memorial Hospital in Boston. The hospital had refused him admittance because his insurance failed to cover its $50,000 fee. Brown didn't reach super-heavyweight status until after he suffered a near-paralyzing traffic accident in 1973. He eats sparingly, and remains as active as possible, but his injured legs can only carry him a few yards at a time. Six of Brown's siblings are also described as obese.

 ** 23.  Ida Maitland (1898 - 1932) of Springfield, MS; 911 lbs. Mrs. Maitland reportedly had a bust measurement of 152 inches, and died while trying to pick a four-leaf clover. Guinness Superlatives labeled the story "totally unsubstantiated."

    24.  "Mickey Mounds" (b. 1953), U.S.; 910 lbs. Reduced his weight to 364 lbs in February 1989.

    25.  John Hanson Craig (1856 - 1894) of Kentucky; 6 ft 5 in, 907 lbs. A chubby child, Craig weighed 77 lbs at eleven months. At the age of two he weighed 206 lbs, and carried off a $1,000 prize in a "Bonnie Baby" contest held in New York City. He reached 402 lbs at age 12, 601 lbs at 21, 725 lbs at 25, 806 lbs at 30, and his maximum weight at 37, a year before his death. He left one child and a 122-lb widow.

    26.  Arthur Knorr (1914 - 1960) of Reseda, CA; 6 ft 1 in, 900 lbs. He set a record for gaining weight (later broken by Jon Minnoch, above) by putting on 300 lbs in his last six months.




  * 27.  Santiago Garcia (b. 1964) of Baytown, TX; 6 ft 1 in, aprox. 900 lbs. Garcia made the papers in 1994, when he was arrested for selling forged immigration cards. After proving too big for a cell, too wide for the shower, and too heavy for the forklift that tried to load him into a prison van, Garcia was released into the care of his family. (He was later sentenced to a year's probation.) According to the National Enquirer, Garcia "normally eats five meals a day, which include two 32-ounce steaks, a half-gallon of ice cream, a container of cake frosting, a large pepperoni pizza, plus gobs of mashed potatoes, tacos, pork and beans, and eight packages of peanut butter cups." Unlike most super-heavyweights, Garcia hasn't let his size or the stares of onlookers confine him to his home: he travels around town in the back of his sister's van.




 ** 28.  Joselina da Silva (1959 - 1996) of So Paulo, Brazil; 5 ft 3 in, 895 lbs. "J" began piling on weight at the age of 15, thanks to massive daily candy, cake, and Coca- Cola binges. She eventually grew too heavy to get out of bed, and needed the help of a dozen members of the So Paulo Fire Brigade to keep her clean and assist in her other routine necessities. When her situation attracted the attention of the local media, the Chacara Fitness Center (a prestigious fat farm) offered to take on the task of reducing her weight in return for the resulting publicity. Transferred to this facility in November of 1993 (with the help of a construction crew that knocked down her bedroom wall), da Silva underwent a rigorous diet and three extensive surgical procedures to remove fat tissue, and by the beginning of 1995 had reached a low of less than 350 pounds. She moved out of the facility in March and found work nearby as a manicurist. It was only a matter of months before she had regained more than 200 pounds. In September of 1996, she was admitted to a hospital emergency room, and died soon after of aggravated double pneumonia. Her doctor (a prominent plastic surgeon) insisted to the press that her weight was to blame for her death, and also blamed a local candombl faith healer for having convinced da Silva to abandon her diet. Da Silva's friends, on the other hand, said that she never ate more than the prescribed 420 calories per day, in which case she was probably just too weakened by prolonged starvation to fight off the infection. The fire crew that had helped care for her served as pallbearers at her funeral. [Note - though da Silva is officially five pounds too light for this list, many tabloid stories credited her with a weight of 900 pounds.] (Links - 1, 2)



Have you earned a place on this list, or know of someone who has? We'd like to hear from you. Send your e-mail to kjnsoc@erols.com, and all photos, press clippings, and other surface mail to Karl Niedershuh c/o Dimensions Magazine, P.O. Box 640, Folsom CA USA 95763. Those wishing to post their vital statistics anonymously have our guarantee that no confidential information will fall into the hands of Richard Simmons, Jerry Springer, or the Weekly World News.