Sun, Aug 06, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Gurus who failed to fix themselves

As Scott Ian, lead guitarist of thrash metal band Anthrax, said after stocking up on antidote during the 2001 anthrax-in-the-mail scare: "I will not die an ironic death." And who would? You want your death to provoke weeping in the streets, not wry chuckles.

One of life's more grimly enjoyable ironies is the misfortune that rebukes the principles of a life devoted to some form of self-improvement -- particularly if those principles have been sold to consumers at considerable profit. Schadenfreude is not one of humanity's more appealing traits, but for those who feel preached at by faddists, some feeling of poetic justice is hard to resist whenever a lifestyle guru turns out to be fallible.

The example of Robert Coleman Atkins comes to mind. Atkins, the man responsible for halitosis across six continents, ate a carb-free, high-protein, Atkins-diet breakfast as usual on April 18, 2002, before his morning routine was interrupted by a sudden, non-fatal heart attack. A year later, after he slipped on an icy New York pavement, fell into a coma and died, medical records confirmed that he was suffering from heart disease.

And what was God trying to tell us with the fate of Jim Fixx, author of The Complete Book of Running, which sold more than 1 million copies in the 1970s? It rapidly stopped selling when the 52-year-old New Yorker died while out jogging in 1984.

Or of Euell Gibbons, who became famous in the US in the 1960s for his series of books about healthy eating (including Stalking the Healthful Herb)? Despite never knowingly ingesting a single toxin, Gibbons ascended to the Ironic Death Hall of Fame at the age of 64 by dying of a heart attack.

Another health champion floored by a bad heart was Jerome "JI" Rodale. An early evangelist for organic farming in the US, Rodale founded a successful publishing empire on a range of health food books and Prevention magazine, which advised readers on nutritious eating. Appearing on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, he boasted to the audience about how healthy he was, before slumping in his chair and appearing to go to sleep.

"Are we boring you, Mr Rodale?" bantered the host.

Having died of a heart attack, Rodale declined to reply.

The show was never aired.

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