The Short Life of Robert Earl Hughes, Who Weighed Half a Ton By His Late Twenties

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Jane R. LeBlanc is a freelance journalist who writes for the Dallas Observer where she covers the local comedy scene and anything strange and interesting. She has written for Denton Live, Mayborn magazine, Spirit magazine and the Denton Record-Chronicle. She has a humor blog, Everyone Hates You, where she pontificates about everyday life. You can find her online.

Inspired by a single black and white photograph from the mid-20th century, Robert Kurson explores the short life of Robert Earl Hughes, a young man born in 1926 with a youthful face, a steel-trap mind and a disposition that drew people in. He was also a Guinness World Record holder weighing more than half a ton by his late 20s. Staring at the photograph for much of the day, one thought repeated in Kurson’s head — ‘I knew the heavy man was lonely.’

In ‘Heavy,’ which appeared in Chicago Magazine in 2001, Kurson not only tells Hughes’ story, but that of his own father, a man he worshiped as a young boy and whose weight caused a young Kurson to worry that a ‘person could get lonely being fat in America.’ Through interviews with Hughes’ friends and family members, Kurson lifts Hughes from the pages of yellowed newspaper clippings and into the living, breathing world once more. He finds that ‘it is in the crevices of their memories, where details drop almost accidentally, that their recollections resonate.’ The author’s own memories take us into the mind of a son who was acutely observant of the world that surrounded him and his father. Kurson offers a revealing look into the lives of these two men, who are connected despite the separation of time and circumstances, and takes us into the hearts of those who loved them most.

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