Ralphie May, comic, dead at age 45 of cardiac arrest

Ralphie May at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in November, 2014 for his new Netflix special out Feb. 27, 2015 "Unruly." CREDIT: Netflix

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Ralphie May at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in November, 2014 for his new Netflix special out Feb. 27, 2015 "Unruly." CREDIT: Netflix

Posted Friday, October 6, 2017 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Stand-up comic Ralphie May died today of cardiac arrest at age 45.

According to TMZ, he passed this morning after performing at Harrah's on Thursday night in Las Vegas. He had been suffering from pneumonia as well.

UPDATE: On December 6, 2017, according to TMZ, the coroner confirmed he died of natural causes stemming from high blood pressure and an unhealthy heart not uncommon for people with morbid obesity. He had no drugs or alcohol in his system.

May came in second during the inaugural season of NBC's "Last Comic Standing" in 2003 but ultimately became far more successful than the winner Dat Phan .

His brand of humor had a politically incorrect edge but never seeped into hostility.

“I’m even handed," he explained in a 2015 interview. "I just point out the stupidity we all do. The people I make fun of most are white people. They’re the dumbest ones. They really are.”

And May was well-liked by people in the comedy community.

"He seemed like a big, jolly guy, very genuine," said Chris DiPetta, former manager for the Punchline Comedy Club, now in Buckhead but formerly in Sandy Springs. "He wouldn't hurt a fly."

Kathleen Madigan, a veteran stand-up comic who regularly performs in Atlanta and will be at the Buckhead Theatre next year, in a text to me called him "sweet, kind and did every single benefit or fundraiser a person could do. And I will miss him mouthing off on Twitter. He was spot on and fearless."

May was born in Chattanooga and raised in Arkansas but spent summers in Roswell with his dad Winston, who ran the Georgia  Poultry Federation. He attended plenty of Atlanta Braves games at Fulton County stadium in the 1980s cheering on Dale Murphy

For his 2015 Netflix special, he purposely chose Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. "This place is amazing," May said in an interview with me in 2015. "It's so up to date. It's so clean. It's huge. It's incredible, man. I'm a fan of old vaudeville theaters. But there's just a crispness to Cobb Energy Centre."

He has struggled with his weight all his life, peaking at more than 800 pounds. In the mid-2000s, he had gastric bypass surgery and spent a season losing weight on VH1's "Celebrity Fit Club."

May almost died in 2011. He contracted serious pneumonia on a cruise ship, then suffered a pulmonary embolism where a blood clot from his leg got lodged in an artery. He said he spent 11 straight days awake in the hospital.  "I was afraid if I had gone to sleep, I wouldn't have woken up," he said to me in 2014.

He said in an interview in 2014 that his weight has less to do with food consumption but more to do with extraordinarily low metabolism. At the time, he was taking thyroid replacement drugs and testosterone to alleviate that problem. That year, he was at about 400 pounds.

Despite his large size, he said in 2014 that his heart was in good shape and his cholesterol and blood pressure were normal: “I’m a crazy fat guy. And a strange one. I’m luckily a medical anomaly!”

"The kid worked the road constantly," DiPetta said. "In the past year or two, he wasn't able to stand on stage. He had to sit and do his show he was so big. It was tough for him. But he kept trudging along."

He married gorgeous fellow stand-up comic Lahna Turner in 2005, but more recently they were in the midst of a divorce and custody battle over their two kids when he passed.

“My wife is my teammate," he said in 2012. "She’s my best friend. I love her."

Marshall Chiles, who owns the Laughing Skull Lounge, remembers hosting May at the Funny Farm a decade ago when he ran that Roswell comedy club. May heard the opening act comment about how he had purchased a sword to protect his home. Off the cuff, May then went on stage and spent 20 minutes riffing on that subject. "Twelve of those minutes were solid gold," Chiles wrote in a text. "One of the most impressive things I have ever seen in comedy."

 NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 14: Comedian Ralphie May performs during, Bud Light Presents Wild West Comedy Festival - "Friends Of Tim" a benifet for Comedian Tim Wilson who passed away eariler this year benifit held at TPAC Jackson Hall on May 14, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Bud Light)

Credit: Rodney Ho

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Credit: Rodney Ho

Here's what I wrote about him back in 2005 when I helped write Peach Buzz and somehow I threw in the word "bibulous":

Ralphie May, the big dude who came in second during NBC's first version of "Last Comic Standing" in 2003, made his first appearance headlining at the Punchline over the weekend, and he proved that he should have won. While May could do a good political rant, he catered to the bibulous late-show crowd with plenty of hilarious material that never would have made it past the censors at NBC.

May revels in political incorrectness, cracking wise about midgets, the mentally challenged (he used a different word) and African-Americans. "Locate your nearest black person, " he advised non-blacks. "You'll be looking at them to make sure it's OK to laugh." The comic also attacked men who wear flip-flops. "We don't want to see your toes, " he informed them. "They're yellow. They look like dip-size Fritos!" (It was one of his few jokes we actually can print.)

After his second show, May told Buzz that he thinks people are way too sensitive about words, that they should care more about actions.

A Chattanooga native ("I'm about as Southern as it gets; I'm related to myself, " he cracked during his act), May also has a strong local connection: His late father, Winston May, was a longtime Roswell resident and was once president of the Georgia Poultry Federation.

May looks slimmer than when he was on "Last Comic Standing." Since his near-victory, he's had gastric bypass surgery, done a stint on VH1's "Celebrity Fit Club" and married his longtime girlfriend, gorgeous Lahna Turner. He's lost more than 200 pounds and is down to about 400. His continued weight loss has been hindered by a hernia and complications from having extra skin taken off.

But he has a plan to show off his more svelte self: He wants to run the 10K Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race next year. "I'll be happy to just finish it, " May said.

 NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 20: Ralphie May attends 2014 Billboard Touring Awards at The Edison Ballroom on November 20, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

Credit: Rodney Ho

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Credit: Rodney Ho