Super Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock dies at 53

24 May 2024, 16:54

Director Morgan Spurlock attends a special screening of ‘RATS’ on August 26, 2013 in New York City.
Director Morgan Spurlock attends a special screening of ‘RATS’ on August 26, 2013 in New York City. Picture: PA

Spurlock died on Thursday in New York from complications of cancer, according to a statement from his family.

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, an Oscar nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast food diet, has died. He was 53.

Spurlock died on Thursday in New York from complications of cancer, according to a statement issued on Friday by his family.

“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.”

Spurlock made a splash in 2004 with his groundbreaking Super Size Me, and returned in 2019 with Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! — a sober look at an industry that processes nine billion animals a year in America.

“Everything’s bigger in America,” he said in Super Size Me. “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 children a photo of George Washington and none recognised the Founding Father. But they all instantly knew the mascots for Wendy’s and McDonald’s restaurants.

The film grossed more than 22 million dollars (£17 million) on a 65,000-dollar (£51,000) 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 labour issues.

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

Since 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 has 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 told the Associated Press in 2019.

“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 said, of his films.

Not all his work dealt with food. Spurlock made documentaries about the UK 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.

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 realise it. They can’t see the forest for the trees.”

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 realisation — 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.

Spurlock grew up in Beckley, West Virginia. His mother was an English teacher who he remembered would correct his work with a red pen. He graduated with a BFA in film from New York University in 1993.

He is survived by two sons — Laken and Kallen; his mother Phyllis Spurlock; father Ben; brothers Craig and Barry; and former spouses Alexandra Jamieson and Sara Bernstein, the mothers of his children.

By Press Association

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