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Gazette-Mail editorial: A super-sized, complicated life gone

Charleston Gazette-Mail

West Virginia native and Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock died last week at the age of 53 after a bout with cancer, and it almost seems like no one noticed.

Perhaps it’s because Spurlock, despite his successes, leaves a complicated legacy behind.

Spurlock’s breakthrough moment was the 2004 documentary “Super Size Me,” during which the filmmaker supposedly ate nothing but fast food from McDonald’s for 30 days while also limiting his exercise. Not only did Spurlock gain 25 pounds during the experiment, but the film suggests he also suffered severe damage to his liver, skyrocketing cholesterol and a decline in mental health because of his diet.

The documentary came at an important time and raised some serious questions about the average American’s diet, lack of exercise and what it was doing to the nation’s health. The message was especially poignant in Spurlock’s native West Virginia, where a high rate of obesity, including in children, and related illnesses like diabetes were (and still are) running rampant.

Five years after Spurlock’s documentary, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver would show up in Huntington — labeled at the time as the most obese city in America — to film a reality TV series trying to get the community to eat healthier foods.

McDonald’s discontinued its “super size” option — which included extra large fries and an extra large drink in its combo meals — not long after Spurlock’s film was released.

Spurlock went on to release other successful films, but “Super Size Me” was, without question, his biggest success. However, the film also became something of a lightning rod on the topic of honesty in documentaries. 

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