Neal E. Boyd was a kid who grew up in poverty in the tiny mid-western town of Sikeston, Missouri, and was raised by a loving single mother. The only recognition he ever got in his early years was for weighing more than everyone else in his school, so he wanted to be a football player, but he really wasn't very coordinated and he couldn't run very fast. As a youngster, he sang in his church choir. When he was in junior high school, his older brother brought home a recording made by the Three Tenors. He loved it and without any formal training, he started to sing at home and then in the hallways of his school. From there he followed a path that eventually led him to win a million dollars and the 2008 national title on America's Got Talent.
He became a national celebrity and couldn't go anywhere without people recognizing him. He had always been heavy but now he ballooned up to more than 400 pounds. His massive obesity damaged his heart, liver and kidneys. In 2017, he blacked out while driving and his car left the road, flipped over and hit two trees. He shattered several bones including those in his hip and legs which left him unable to walk. He could not stand, so he could not perform and spent virtually all his time the next year lying in his bed. This inactivity progressively increased the fat buildup in his organs and destroyed them. He died of heart failure at the very young age of 42, on June 10, 2018.
Incredible Talent That Led to Fame and Fortune
Boyd's interest in opera was started on the day that his older brother brought home the recording of the Three Tenors. He played the recording over and over and tried to imitate Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. The school's music director heard him singing in the hall, called him into his office and told him he should try out for the choir. Boyd later told interviewers that after he started singing, kids didn't laugh at him anymore. He was president of his senior class and was graduated from Sikeston High School. He worked his way through college and earned a bachelor's degree in speech communications from Southeast Missouri State University, where he was president of the student senate. His true love was music, so he transferred to the University of Missouri in Columbia to study with Ann Harrell, a voice teacher who was responsible for him entering and winning the state, regional and national titles in the 2000 National Collegiate Young Artist Voice Competition held by the Music Teachers National Association.
The university responded to his national championship by arranging an appearance at Carnegie Hall for him to sing to an audience of New York alumni. He taught music in his hometown for a couple years and then, at age 27, he went to Boston to study opera at the New England Conservatory of Music. There he suffered from partial paralysis of a vocal cord that recurred on and off for six years. He returned to St. Louis and to support himself, he worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Car and then for Aflac Insurance. He appeared in several operas.
In 2008, at age 33, he became world famous for winning the national title on America's Got Talent. He received a million dollars and his own show in Las Vegas. He had tears in his eyes as he was congratulated on stage. His hometown declared that October was "Neal E. Boyd Month." He went on a successful world tour singing opera, put out several online videos, and released his first album, "My American Dream", all of which were successful. He also gave special concerts for Presidents Barack Obama, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and sang at the Republican National Convention in 2012. At age 37, he ran as a Republican for a seat in the Missouri House of Representatives, but lost to the incumbent by a large margin.
Ron Lester was a Hollywood actor who became famous for playing Billy Bob, the 500-pound high school football player in the 1999 blockbuster movie, Varsity Blues. He and Neal Boyd had a lot in common. They both were world famous, were massively obese (each weighing more than 400 pounds) and both died in their early forties from kidney, liver, heart and lung failure. Doctors do not know why some people just keep on gaining weight, no matter how much they try to avoid it. Most morbidly obese people do not lose weight and keep it off with standard diets and recommendations to exercise more and eat less. There has to be a chemical reason why these people gain so much weight. Hormones that control appetite such as leptin and ghrelin may make them hungry all the time, no matter how much they eat. Some drugs, such as prednisone or anti-depressants, can also make a person hungry all the time. The only known treatment we have today that helps long-term is stomach and bypass surgery, and that can stop working after the early period of weight loss.
Our Food Industry is Not Helping
Today 30 percent of North Americans and 10 percent of the world's population are obese, an estimated 604 million obese adults and 108 million obese children. The epidemic of obesity is driven by the huge companies that make processed foods, sugared drinks and refined carbohydrates, and the extensive advertising they do for their products (NEJM, June 12, 2017). The worst culprits are foods that have had:
• sugars added to them, and/or
• fiber removed from them.
Investigative reporters from the New York Times showed that the western food giants such as Coca-Cola, Nestle, General Mills and Pepsico are now aggressively marketing these cheap, calorie-dense, low-fiber foods to developing countries (NYT, Sept. 15, 2017).
One key to weight control is to eat lots of foods that are full of fiber and avoid foods that have had their fiber removed (Adv Nutr, January 2013;4:16-28). There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber is not absorbed and passes from your body. Soluble fiber is absorbed primarily in the colon, and many human epidemiological studies, clinical trials and animal studies show that fiber helps change the bacteria in your colon to lower blood sugars, reduce the inflammation that increases cancer risk, and lower body fat. Almost all of the sugars added to foods are absorbed soon after they pass into the stomach. The natural sugars IN fruits, vegetables and other plant foods come with soluble fiber, a gel that binds to the sugar and reduces its absorption in the upper intestinal tract. When the sugar/soluble fiber combination reaches your colon, bacteria there break down and ferment the soluble fiber to release the sugar from the fiber.
Immobilization is Often Fatal
When regular exercisers stop exercising for just four days, they lose significant muscle strength (Exp Gerontol, 2013; 48: 154–161). Just two weeks of having a leg put in a cast causes loss in all measures of physical fitness, strength and muscle size in the immobilized leg (Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, June 2015) and it takes at least three times as long as the period of inactivity to recover full strength (J Am Med Assoc, 2007; 297: 1772–1774).
Boyd already had serious health problems brought on by his obesity before his automobile accident, and the blackout that led to the wreck was probably caused by his chronic heart failure. Broken bones in his hip and legs prevented him from walking and even getting out of bed, so he lay immobilized for nearly a year, gaining even more weight and forming plaques that further blocked blood flow through his body.
Excess fat in any organ can destroy that organ, so his damaged liver and kidneys were unable to remove toxins from his bloodstream, and his heart muscle was further weakened by being unable to convert food to energy efficiently. He probably had several heart attacks during this period and with each heart attack, parts of his heart muscle would be replaced by scar tissue. This progressive loss of heart muscle eventually caused his heart to become too weak to pump blood through his body and he died from heart failure.
Neal E. Boyd
Nov 18, 1975 - June 10, 2018
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