Morgan Spurlock, "Super Size Me" filmmaker, dies at 53

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 Thursday in New York from complications of cancer, according to a statement issued Friday by his family and obtained by CBS News.

“It was a sad day, as we said goodbye to my brother Morgan,” Craig Spurlock, who worked with him on several projects, 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.”

red carpet for the movie,
Morgan Spurlock at the red carpet for the movie “TiFF Super Size Me 2,” during the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017.

Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Spurlock made a splash in 2004 with his groundbreaking “Super Size Me,” during which he chronicled the detrimental physical and psychological effects of him only eating McDonald’s food for 30 days. He gained about 25 pounds, saw a spike in his cholesterol and lost his sex drive.

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

He returned in 2019 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.

“The biggest thing that was most surprising is how badly farmers get treated,” Spurlock told CBS News in 2019. “These are guys who are indentured servants. They are basically trapped inside these companies with the debt these companies throw on them. I was shocked at how manipulated and owned these guys are by the chicken companies. For us it’s about putting out a message of change and empowerment. You as a consumer need to understand you have the power to make a difference through the choices you make.”

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.

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 AP in 2019.

In addition to his food-related work, Spurlock also made documentaries about the boy band One Direction and the geeks and fanboys at Comic-Con.

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

In 2017, Spurlock admitted to past sexual misconduct, saying he was “part of the problem,” which delayed the release of “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!”

He confessed in a statement on social media that he had been accused of rape while in college and had settled a sexual harassment case with a female assistant, The AP reported. He said he was coming forward because he wanted to be part of the solution.

“By recognizing and openly admitting what I’ve done to further this terrible situation, I hope to empower the change within myself,” he wrote at that time.

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 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.

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