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Image: Blair River
Luci Scott  /  AP
Blair River, 29, of Mesa, Ariz., died Tuesday after gaining fame as the 575-pound spokesman for the Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Ariz. Friends say he contracted pneumonia after a bout with the flu.
TODAY staff and wire
updated 3/4/2011 12:16:36 AM ET 2011-03-04T05:16:36

A 575-pound man who gained a measure of fame as spokesman for the Heart Attack Grill — a Phoenix-area restaurant that unabashedly touts its unhealthy, high-calorie menu — has died.

Friends of 29-year-old Blair River say he died Tuesday, possibly from contracting pneumonia after a bout with the flu.

Story: Heart Attack Grill serves bypass burgers, flatliner fries

Restaurant founder Jon Basso told The Arizona Republic that River was more than the larger-than-life caricature he portrayed in promoting the restaurant in Chandler, which includes huge hamburgers, milkshakes and fries cooked in lard on its menu.

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Basso said River was a creative genius who had been planning to take part in the shooting of a promotional spot called, "Heart Attack Grill: The Musical."

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"Cynical people might think this (River's death) is funny," Basso said. "But people who knew him are crying their eyes out. There is a lot of mourning going on around here. You couldn't have found a better person."

The 6-foot-8 River was an Arizona state high school heavyweight wrestling champion in 1999 and played football at Mesa Community College.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Video: 'Heart Attack Grill' spokesman dies

  1. Closed captioning of: 'Heart Attack Grill' spokesman dies

    >>> a giant of a man known as a spokesperson for unhealthy eating has died. 29-year-old blair river weighed 572 pounds and stood 6'8" tall. he earned $100 an hour promoting the heart attack grill. an arizona restaurant specializing in high calorie meals. river apparently contradicted -- rather contracted pneumonia after coming down with the flu.

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