Blair River, a 575-pound man who was the spokesperson for an Arizona restaurant that unabashedly serves fatty, high-calorie food, died March 1, 2011 at the age of 29.
Blair, who was hired in November 2010 as the rep for the Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Ariz., succumbed to pneumonia after catching the flu last week, according to the restaurant’s owner.
[New: Heart Attack Grill customer dies of heart attack at 52]
Blair was hospitalized for 4 days after the flu he caught turned into pneumonia, says Jon Basso, owner of the Heart Attack Grill.
“[River was] a promising man whose life got cut short because he carried extra weight,” Basso told ABC News. “Had he been thin, he would have had a ten-fold opportunity to survive the pneumonia.”
According to ABC: “Though Basso goes by “Dr. Jon,” in line with the restaurant’s medical theme, he is not medically trained and so can’t speak to the role obesity might have played in River’s illness.”
The jovial, 6’8″ Blair, a high school wrestling champion who played some college football, was a financial adviser at Phoenix University.
The Heart Attack Grill, a fast-food restaurant founded in 2005, prides itself on serving “nutritional pornography,” or food “so bad for you it’s shocking.” While many popular restaurant chains such as McDonald’s are making an effort to offer nutritious, low-calorie fare, the Heart Attack Grill is proud of its unhealthy menu.
Customers are referred to as “patients” and must don hospital gowns and medical bracelets. Orders (called “prescriptions”) are written down by waitresses dressed in sexy, tight nurse uniforms.
On its menu, the Heart Attack Grill calls its food “taste worth dying for,” and boasts a selection of high-fat, high-calorie fare such as the Quadruple Bypass Burger, Flatliner Fries (“deep-fried in lard”) and Butterfat Shake, which boasts the “world’s highest butterfat content.”
The irony of the Heart Attack Grill rep dying so suddenly at such a young age isn’t lost on restaurant founder Jon Basso.
“Cynical people might think this [River’s death] is funny,” said Basso. “But people who knew him are crying their eyes out. You couldn’t have found a better person.” Shockingly, Basso is a former nutritionist who previously managed a chain of Jenny Craig weight-loss centers in Oklahoma.
The restaurant’s website boasts that “if you’re over 350 pounds, you eat for free,” and a sign in front of the restaurant warns, “Caution: This establishment is bad for your health.”
Meanwhile, Basso is upfront about how nutritionally damaging the Heart Attack Grill menu is. “We are absolutely guilty of glorifying obesity,” admits Basso. “That’s what I do for a living: I make a mockery of heart-related issues in order to sell hamburgers.”
Ironically, Blair River had tried out for the NBC reality TV competition the “Biggest Loser,” but was never selected.
He was a regular customer at the Heart Attack Grill, where his usual meal was a couple of hamburgers, two servings of fries and a Coke.
Editor’s Note: Jon Basso, the owner of the Heart Attack Grill restaurant, sent the following e-mail at 10:30 p.m. ET on March 4, 2011 claiming the direct quotes used in this article — which came from the quotes he gave to ABC News and Arizona Republic — were “misquotes.”
He further alleged that “fictional things” were added to this article without pointing out what those alleged fictions were.
He then threatened to “publicly” trash and embarrass me if I didn’t delete this article. No one was mocking Blair River, whose tragic death is the subject of the above article. E-mail from Jon Basso, owner of the Heart Attack Grill:
Subject: Heart Attack Grill
From: “Jon Basso” <redacted>
Date: Fri, March 4, 2011 10:38 pm
To: “Samantha Chang” <redacted>
You’ve misquoted me.
You’re stretching the truth.
You’ve added fictional things to your article.
TAKE IT DOWN.
If you do not, I will go out of my way to publicly point out that you are mocking a much loved person.
Don’t respond back to me. I do not wish to communicate with you. Simply take it down. I will check tomorrow if your article is still up. If it is still up I will make a VERY public example of your insensitivity.
“Dr” Jon Basso