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‘Super Size Me’ filmmaker Morgan Spurlock dies from cancer at 53

PETER CASEY-USA TODAY SPORTS
                                Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock in the garage during practice for the Ford Ecoboost 400, in November 2015, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Spurlock, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker who in “Super Size Me” documented the physical and psychological effects of eating only McDonald’s fast-food meals for a month, has died at 53.
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PETER CASEY-USA TODAY SPORTS

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock in the garage during practice for the Ford Ecoboost 400, in November 2015, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Spurlock, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker who in “Super Size Me” documented the physical and psychological effects of eating only McDonald’s fast-food meals for a month, has died at 53.

Morgan Spurlock, a documentary filmmaker who gained fame with his Oscar-nominated 2004 film “Super Size Me,” which followed him as he ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days — but who later stepped back from the public eye after admitting to sexual misconduct — died Thursday in upstate New York. He was 53.

His brother Craig Spurlock and said the cause was complications of cancer. He declined to specify where he died.

Morgan Spurlock was a playwright and a television producer when, during a Thanksgiving visit to his parents in 2002, he saw a TV news report about two girls who had sued McDonald’s, claiming it had misled them about the nutritional value of its hamburgers, fries and sodas, which caused them to gain significant weight.

“A spokesman for McDonald’s came on and said, you can’t link their obesity to our food — our food is healthy, it’s nutritious,” he told The New York Times in 2004. “I thought, ‘If it’s so good for me, I should be able to eat it every day, right?’”

A self-described attention hound with a keen eye for the absurd, Spurlock hit on an idea for a documentary. He would eat nothing but McDonald’s food for a month, and if a server offered to “supersize” the meal — that is, give him the largest portions available for each item — he would accept.

“Super Size Me” follows Spurlock, and his ever-patient girlfriend, through his 30-day odyssey, splicing in interviews with health experts and visits to his increasingly disturbed physician. At the end of the month, he was 25 pounds heavier, depressed, puffy-faced and experiencing liver dysfunction.

The film, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, blended Michael Moore’s David-vs.-Goliath confrontational style with reality TV and the incipient health-and-wellness craze.

It grossed over $22 million, made Spurlock a household name and helped spur a sweeping backlash against the fast-food industry — though only temporarily; today, McDonald’s has 42,000 locations worldwide, its stock is near an all-time high, and 36% of Americans eat fast food at least once a day.

But the film also came in for significant criticism. Some pointed out that Spurlock refused to release the daily logs tracking his food intake. Health researchers were unable to replicate his results in controlled studies.

And in 2017, he admitted that he had not been sober for more than a week at a time in 30 years — meaning that, in addition to his “McDonald’s only” diet, he was also drinking, a fact that he concealed from his doctors and the audience, and that most likely skewed his results.

The admission came in a statement in which he also revealed a series of incidents of sexual misconduct, including an encounter in college that he described as rape, as well as repeated infidelity and the sexual harassment of an assistant at his production company, Warrior Poets.

The announcement, which Spurlock posted on Twitter, came as he was gearing up for the release of a sequel to his 2004 film, “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” on YouTube Red.

He stepped down from his production company, and YouTube dropped the film. It was released in 2019 by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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