Robert Earl Hughes
Today is the birthday of Robert Earl Hughes (1926-1958). Along with General Tom Thumb, Hughes was one of the first famous “human anomalies” I was ever aware of. This is because during the years of my childhood Hughes was still in the Guinness Book of World Records as the heaviest man ever recorded. His record has since been surpassed by over half a dozen people. (Does that surprise you?)
“Buried in a piano case” was the invariably quoted (and inaccurate) tidbit. In reality, he was buried in a casket the size of a piano case, and that’s been true of many souls in the history of this diverse human race. In adulthood Hughes topped out at 1,070 lbs; he was 200 lbs by the age of six. A country boy from rural Fish Hook, Illinois, for most of his life he resisted offers to be exhibited, aside from the occasional appearance at a carnival. Towards the end of his life though this began to change. In 1956 he flew to New York to appear on television, and in 1958 he finally embarked on a full fledged tour with the Gooding Brothers Amusement Company. It was while touring with this show that he contracted measles, which led to kidney failure, and this is what killed him.
Look, there is an entire web site devoted to him! http://robertearlhughes.blogspot.com/
Here’s a great little film about him, featuring his brother and sister-in-law, who cared for him:
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc