As Al Roker Sr. was dying of cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, his eldest son, the famous television personality, would visit him every morning on his way to work on TODAY, where he was known far and wide — mostly wide — as “the funny, fat weatherman.”
Roker Sr., a New York City bus driver, knew that time was short, and he had an important message for his son and namesake. “One morning he said to me: ‘Look. You’ve got to promise me that you’re going to lose weight. We both know I’m not going to be here to help you with my grandchildren. So you’ve got to promise me,’ ” Al Roker recalled on TODAY Monday.
Al Jr. promised he would. That evening, his father lost the ability to speak. Three weeks later he was dead.
“That was a real moment for me,” Roker said in a taped report about how he lost nearly 140 pounds and 20 suit sizes. He had one relapse where he regained about 40 pounds, but on Monday he weighed in at a trim 204.
“You can defeat the bypass, just as you can defeat any diet you’re on,” he said. “You have to be constantly vigilant.”
That’s why Roker works out every morning before heading to work, and twice a week runs 4 miles in Central Park.
“At my highest I got up to — I’m ashamed to admit — 340 pounds,” Roker told his TODAY co-hosts, Matt Lauer and Ann Curry. “I just kind of let myself go.”
The turning point
Like many morbidly obese people, Roker got plenty of advice from every quarter about his need to lose weight. But during a later segment he did with Curry and TODAY’s Natalie Morales, he said fat people do not respond to prodding.
“You can nag, you can cajole, you can browbeat — it doesn’t really matter,” Roker said. “It may even make it worse. We know we’re fat. We don’t need you to tell us. We know that, and when we’re ready to change, we’re going to change, so stop bothering us.”
“I was going to lose one of the most important people in my life, and I had to make a promise to him. That’s why I ended up doing it,” Roker said.
Eight years ago, Roker underwent gastric bypass surgery, documenting the procedure on tape for TODAY. By then, he was having trouble walking. Tape shows him literally waddling down a hospital corridor.
Eight months after the surgery, The New York Daily News reported that Roker had lost 100 pounds on his way down to his current weight.
But keeping the weight off is a constant battle for the father of three, whose wife is fellow journalist Deborah Roberts. Roker said that Roberts has always been a fitness freak, and when he was fat, “we were kind of a coed Laurel and Hardy.” Now, they exercise together, and Roker does most of the cooking. He stays away from red meat and gluten and doesn’t eat the huge servings he once did.
“I like the way I feel now. So if I’m going to put this in my mouth, it had better be the most spectacular thing of whatever it is I’m going to eat now,” Roker told Curry and Morales.
“The other thing is portion control,” he added. “In the old days, I could sit down and polish off two quarter-pounders. I don’t do that now. I don’t really eat burgers. It’s much smaller portions. I might have a bite of this, a bite of that, and that’s it.”
Roker said he grew up as a chubby kid who took grief in school for his resemblance to the title character in the “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” animated television show. No one says that today, but he cautioned anyone contemplating gastric bypass surgery that losing weight doesn’t change who you are — just what you look like.
Roker is known as a classy dresser, and he said he gave away all his size 60 suits and now wears a size 40. One thing that keeps him thin is knowing the expense of being fat again.
“If I do gain this back, which I am planning not to, it would be a very expensive proposition,” he said.