NPR : Tell Me More

Al Roker On Being 'The Jolly Fat Person'

Play associated audio

This segment originally broadcast on Jan. 28, 2013.

Al Roker, the veteran weatherman on NBC's Today show, endured years of indignities as an obese teenager and throughout his television career. Then, in 2002, he had bariatric surgery and lost more than 100 pounds. But deciding to have the procedure, which is potentially life-threatening, wasn't easy — and neither was keeping the weight off afterward.

Roker chronicles the experience in a new book, Never Goin' Back: Winning the Weight-Loss Battle for Good. He tells NPR's Michel Martin that he had an especially difficult time in high school when Bill Cosby developed the Fat Albert character for television. "I'm black, I'm fat, my name is Albert. It was the embodiment of who I had become." It contributed to a lot of teasing from his classmates. Roker says he dealt with it by using humor and acting as the "jolly fat person" to deflect the teasing.

Despite his obesity, Roker went on to pursue a television career. During one of his first jobs in Washington, D.C., he received a call from the man who would become his mentor. The man had a thick Southern accent. He said to Roker, "This is Willard Scott, and I am outside your studio. I'd like to take you to dinner." Roker writes in the book that Scott gave him advice about navigating a media career as a larger man. "So what if they think you're funny because you're fat — you're the one laughing, all the way to the bank!"

Eventually, the weight became no laughing matter. Roker says it was like a third person in his marriage. His slim wife, Deborah Roberts of ABC News, urged him to lose weight. But he didn't consider drastic measures until his dying father asked him to promise to lose weight.

A decade after undergoing bariatric surgery and sticking to a fairly rigid diet, Roker currently weighs around 200 pounds — a far cry from when he topped the scales at 340. He still enjoys some of his favorite high-fat foods, but now he only needs a few bites. Roker also does things he couldn't when he was obese — from zip-lining to simply bending over to tie his own shoes.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Lisa Lucas Takes The Reins At The National Book Foundation

Lucas is the third executive director in the history of the foundation, which runs the National Book Awards. Her priority? Inclusivity: "Everyone is either a reader or a potential reader," she says.
NPR

The Shocking Truth About America's Ethanol Law: It Doesn't Matter (For Now)

Ted Cruz doesn't like the law that requires the use of ethanol in gasoline. So what would happen if it was abolished? The surprising answer: not much, probably.
NPR

GOP Candidates Head To South Carolina After Trump Victory In New Hampshire

With the New Hampshire primary doing little to settle the GOP race, presidential candidates headed straight to South Carolina on Wednesday to start campaigning ahead of the state's primary in 10 days.
NPR

Twitter Tries A New Kind Of Timeline By Predicting What May Interest You

Twitter has struggled to attract new users. Its latest effort at rejuvenation is a new kind of timeline that predicts which older posts you might not want to miss and displays them on top.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.