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Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.

Ralphie May almost died in November 2011 of a pulmonary embolism


Ralphie May, one of the most successful comics to come out of  “Last Comic Standing,” almost died this past November, 2011, after contracting serious pneumonia on a cruise ship, then suffering a pulmonary embolism where a blood clot from his leg got lodged in an artery.

While in the hospital, May stayed awake for 11 straight days. “I was afraid if I had gone to sleep, I wouldn’t have woken up,” he said in an interview last week to promote his upcoming show at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre this Saturday, March 17, 2012.

He even wrote goodbye notes to his family on his iPad in case he didn’t make it: “People say at the end of your life, the happy moments flash before your life. I was so close to death and I felt regret. I put my career before my babies and wife. I compromised my health. I should have been in a hospital instead of a ship.”

May has since stopped smoking marijuana, which he said damaged his lungs. He is taking blood thinners to avoid future clots. And he learned that his weight has less to do with food consumption but more to do with extraordinarily low metabolism. So he’s taking thyroid replacement drugs and testosterone to alleviate that problem. As a result, he’s now losing weight. (He’s below 400 pounds after peaking more than a decade ago at a whopping 800.)

After a couple of months of recuperation, May is now back to full working mode to promote his fourth Comedy Central special, “Too Big to Ignore,” which debuted March 4, 2011 and drew a very respectable 1.5 million viewers.

“This was the best one,”  May said. “I’m so grateful and fortunate that they believe in me. Most comics can’t produce the amount of material I produce. I do like two hours of new material every year.”

May, whose brand of politically incorrect humor has edge but never seeps into hostility, was bemused how much bleeping occurred because he knew on stage that he was being taped for basic cable, not HBO.

“I didn’t know they’d bleep words they bleeped… I wish I had been better informed. I would have chosen better words. The standards change so rapidly.”

May grew up in Chattanooga but has deep ties to Georgia. His late father Winston May ran the Georgia Poultry Federation and lived in Roswell for many years.

May, 40, himself grew up worshiping the Braves and still has a cherished Dale Murphy autographed ball to his name.

While in Atlanta this weekend, he said he and his comedienne wife Lahna Turner plan to visit Rathbun’s and especially Gladys Knight’s Chicken & Waffles. “That’s a little taste of heaven!” he said.

The couple has been together since he was barely scraping by, pre “Last Comic Standing” in 2003: “My wife is my teammate. She’s my best friend. I love her. I have temptations. Women whisper the nastiest things in my ear all the time. But we talk four, five times a day when I’m away. She gets hit on all the time, too. I realize the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. It’s just more grass.”

And they both have a sense of humor about their kids by naming them after months to match his last name. His four year old daughter is April June May. His two year old son is August May. “I wanted something unique,” he said. “My name is Ralphie. How many Ralphie’s do you know? It’s unique.”

His thoughts on fellow big Atlanta comic Bruce Bruce, who is performing at the same time as May at the Atlanta Civic Center Saturday: “I have nothing but mad respect for him. If he sells out and his fans are looking for something to do that night, come on over and see me! We fat guys have to help each other!”

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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