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'Super Size Me' documentary maker Morgan Spurlock dies of cancer

Morgan Spurlock poses at the Los Angeles premiere of his film "Super Size Me". Much of his life's work was based on studies of American food and diets.
Morgan Spurlock poses at the Los Angeles premiere of his film "Super Size Me". Much of his life's work was based on studies of American food and diets. Copyright Mark J. Terrill/AP2004
Copyright Mark J. Terrill/AP2004
By Euronews Culture with AP
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The US documentary director took on the mighty fast-food sector over what it served up to millions, even though the diet caused him severe physical and psychological damage.

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The US documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who rose to worldwide fame after eating only fast food from McDonald's for a month, has died. He was 53. 

Spurlock earned an Oscar nomination for _Super Size Me in 2004,_his film focussing on his attempt to show the health dangers of a fast-food diet.

According to a statement issued by his family, he died on on Thursday in New York due to complications from cancer. 

“It was a sad day, as we said goodbye to my brother Morgan,” Craig Spurlock, who worked with him on several projects, said in the statement. “Morgan gave so much through his art, ideas, and generosity. The world has lost a true creative genius and a special man. I am so proud to have worked together with him.”

Morgan Spurlock participates in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the film, "Go North", at AOL Studios on Jan. 4.
Morgan Spurlock participates in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the film, "Go North", at AOL Studios on Jan. 4.Evan Agostini/2017 Invision

Dieting with danger

Spurlock's groundbreaking film chronicling his month at McDonalds showed the how quickly people's health could spiral downwards and cause severe detrimental physical and psychological damage.   

He gained about 11 kilograms and experienced a huge rise in unhealthy cholesterol and dramatic drop in his sex drive.

“Everything’s bigger in America,” he said in the film. “We’ve got the biggest cars, the biggest houses, the biggest companies, the biggest food, and finally: the biggest people.”

In one scene, Spurlock showed kids a photo of George Washington and none recognized the Founding Father. But they all instantly knew the mascots for Wendy’s and McDonald’s.

The film grossed more than $22 million on a $65,000 budget and preceded the release of Eric Schlosser’s influential “Fast Food Nation,” which accused the industry of being bad for the environment and rife with labor issues.

Spurlock returned in 2017 with Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! — a sober look at an industry that processes 9 billion animals a year in America. He focused on two issues: chicken farmers stuck in a peculiar financial system and the attempt by fast-food chains to deceive customers into thinking they’re eating healthier.

“We’re at an amazing moment in history from a consumer standpoint where consumers are starting to have more and more power,” he told The Associated Press in 2019. “It’s not about return for the shareholders. It’s about return for the consumers.”

Moving the dial

Spurlock was a gonzo-like filmmaker who leaned into the bizarre and ridiculous. His stylistic touches included zippy graphics and amusing music, blending a Michael Moore-ish camera-in-your-face style with his own sense of humor and pathos.

“I wanted to be able to lean into the serious moments. I wanted to be able to breathe in the moments of levity. We want to give you permission to laugh in the places where it’s really hard to laugh,” he told the AP.

After he exposed the fast-food and chicken industries, there was an explosion in restaurants stressing freshness, artisanal methods, farm-to-table goodness and ethically sourced ingredients. But nutritionally not much had changed.

“There has been this massive shift and people say to me, ‘So has the food gotten healthier?’ And I say, ‘Well, the marketing sure has,’” he said.

Not all his work dealt with food. Spurlock made documentaries about the boy band One Direction and the geeks and fanboys at Comic-Con. One of his films looked at life behind bars at the Henrico County Jail in Virginia.

Crusading camera

With 2008's Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? Spurlock went on a global search to find the al-Qaida leader, who was killed in 2011. In POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock tackled questions of product placement, marketing and advertising.

“Being aware is half the battle, I think. Literally knowing all the time when you’re being marketed to is a great thing,” Spurlock told AP at the time. “A lot of people don’t realize it. They can’t see the forest for the trees."

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Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! was to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 but it was shelved at the height of the #MeToo movement when Spurlock came forward to detail his own history of sexual misconduct.

He confessed that he had been accused of rape while in college and had settled a sexual harassment case with a female assistant. He also admitted to cheating on numerous partners. “I am part of the problem,” he wrote.

“For me, there was a moment of kind of realization - as somebody who is a truth-teller and somebody who has made it a point of trying to do what’s right - of recognizing that I could do better in my own life. We should be able to admit we were wrong,” he told the AP.

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