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Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who skewered fast food industry, dies at 53

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Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who skewered fast food industry, dies at 53
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Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who skewered fast food industry, dies at 53

2024-05-24 23:57 Last Updated At:05-25 00:00

NEW YORK (AP) — Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, an Oscar nominee whose most famous works skewered America's food industry and who notably ate 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.

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FILE - Morgan Spurlock of the CNN series "Inside Man" poses at the CNN Worldwide All-Star Party, on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. 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. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, an Oscar nominee whose most famous works skewered America's food industry and who notably ate only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53.

FILE - Director Morgan Spurlock from the film "Focus Forward" poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at the Fender Music Lodge on Jan. 21, 2013 in Park City, Utah. 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. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Director Morgan Spurlock from the film "Focus Forward" poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at the Fender Music Lodge on Jan. 21, 2013 in Park City, Utah. 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. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock arrives at the premiere of "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 20, 2011. 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. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock arrives at the premiere of "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 20, 2011. 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. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

FILE - Morgan Spurlock poses at the Los Angeles premiere of his film "Super Size Me," Thursday night, April 22, 2004, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. 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. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

FILE - Morgan Spurlock poses at the Los Angeles premiere of his film "Super Size Me," Thursday night, April 22, 2004, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. 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. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock participate in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the film, "Go North", at AOL Studios on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in New York. 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. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock participate in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the film, "Go North", at AOL Studios on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in New York. 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. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

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

Spurlock made a splash in 2004 with his groundbreaking film “Super Size Me,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. The film chronicled the detrimental physical and psychological effects of Spurlock eating only 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. “We’ve got the biggest cars, the biggest houses, the biggest companies, the biggest food, and finally: the biggest people.”

In one scene, Spurlock showed kids a photo of George Washington and none recognized the Founding Father. But they all instantly knew the mascots for Wendy’s and McDonald’s.

The film grossed more than $22 million on a $65,000 budget and preceded the release of Eric Schlosser’s influential “Fast Food Nation,” which accused the industry of being bad for the environment and rife with labor issues.

Spurlock returned in 2017 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.

“We’re at an amazing moment in history from a consumer standpoint where consumers are starting to have more and more power,” he told The Associated Press in 2019. “It’s not about return for the shareholders. It’s about return for the consumers.”

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.

“I wanted to be able to lean into the serious moments. I wanted to be able to breathe in the moments of levity. We want to give you permission to laugh in the places where it’s really hard to laugh,” he told the AP.

After 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 had 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 said.

Not all his work dealt with food. Spurlock made documentaries about the boy band One Direction and the geeks and fanboys at Comic-Con. One of his films looked at life behind bars at the Henrico County Jail in Virginia.

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

“Being aware is half the battle, I think. Literally knowing all the time when you’re being marketed to is a great thing,” Spurlock told AP at the time. “A lot of people don’t realize it. They can’t see the forest for the trees."

“Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” was to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 but it was shelved at the height of the #MeToo movement when Spurlock came forward to detail his own history of sexual misconduct.

He confessed that he had been accused of rape while in college and had settled a sexual harassment case with a female assistant. He also admitted to cheating on numerous partners. “I am part of the problem,” he wrote.

“For me, there was a moment of kind of realization — as somebody who is a truth-teller and somebody who has made it a point of trying to do what’s right — of recognizing that I could do better in my own life. We should be able to admit we were wrong,” he told the AP.

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 graduated with a BFA in film from New York University in 1993.

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.

Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

FILE - Morgan Spurlock of the CNN series "Inside Man" poses at the CNN Worldwide All-Star Party, on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. 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. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Morgan Spurlock of the CNN series "Inside Man" poses at the CNN Worldwide All-Star Party, on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. 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. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Director Morgan Spurlock from the film "Focus Forward" poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at the Fender Music Lodge on Jan. 21, 2013 in Park City, Utah. 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. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Director Morgan Spurlock from the film "Focus Forward" poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at the Fender Music Lodge on Jan. 21, 2013 in Park City, Utah. 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. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock arrives at the premiere of "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 20, 2011. 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. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock arrives at the premiere of "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 20, 2011. 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. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

FILE - Morgan Spurlock poses at the Los Angeles premiere of his film "Super Size Me," Thursday night, April 22, 2004, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. 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. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

FILE - Morgan Spurlock poses at the Los Angeles premiere of his film "Super Size Me," Thursday night, April 22, 2004, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. 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. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock participate in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the film, "Go North", at AOL Studios on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in New York. 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. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock participate in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the film, "Go North", at AOL Studios on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in New York. 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. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived in Haiti on Tuesday, nearly two years after the troubled Caribbean country urgently requested help to quell a surge in gang violence.

A couple hundred police officers from Kenya landed in the capital of Port-au-Prince, whose main international airport reopened in late May after gang violence forced it to close for nearly three months.

It wasn’t immediately known what the Kenyans’ first assignment would be, but they will face violent gangs that control 80% of Haiti’s capital and have left more than 580,000 people homeless across the country as they pillage neighborhoods in their quest to control more territory. Gangs also have killed several thousand people in recent years.

The Kenyans’ arrival marks the fourth major foreign military intervention in Haiti. While some Haitians welcome them, others view the force with caution, given that the previous intervention — the U.N.’s 2004-2017 peacekeeping mission — was marred by allegations of sexual assault and the introduction of cholera, which killed nearly 10,000 people.

Romain Le Cour, senior expert at Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, urged the international community and government officials to share details, including the mission’s rules of engagement and concept of operation.

“What is going to happen vis-a-vis the gangs,” he said. “Is it a static mission? Is it a moving mission? All those details are still missing, and I think it’s about time that there’s actually transparency.”

Hours after the Kenyans landed, Prime Minister Garry Conille thanked the East African country for its solidarity, noting that gangs have vandalized homes and hospitals and set libraries on fire, making Haiti “unlivable.”

“The country is going through very difficult times,” he said at a news conference. “Enough is enough. ... We’re going to start working little by little to retake the country."

Conille said the Kenyans would be deployed in the next couple of days, but he did not provide details. He was accompanied by Monica Juma, Kenya's former minister of foreign affairs who now serves as national security advisor to President William Ruto. She said the Kenyans will “serve as agents of peace, of stability, of hope.”

“We stand united in our commitment to support Haiti's National Police to restore public order and security,” she said. “It is our hope that this will not become a permanent mission.”

The deployment comes nearly four months after gangs launched coordinated attacks, targeting key government infrastructure in Haiti’s capital and beyond. They seized control of more than two dozen police stations, fired on the main international airport and stormed Haiti’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

“We’ve been asking for security for the longest time,” said Orgline Bossicot, a 47-year-old mother of two who sells carrots and charcoal as a wholesale distributor.

Gang violence has stymied her sales, and she tries to stay out as late as possible before sundown to make up for the losses despite being afraid.

“You don’t know who’s waiting for you around the corner,” she said, adding that she is hopeful about the Kenyan police joining forces with local authorities.

Critics say the gang attacks that began Feb. 29 could have been prevented if the foreign force had been deployed sooner, but multiple setbacks — including a legal challenge filed in Kenya and political upheaval in Haiti — delayed its arrival.

The attacks prevented then-Prime Minister Ariel Heny, who at the time was in Kenya to push for the deployment, from returning to Haiti. He resigned in late April as the violence surged. Afterward, a nine-member transitional presidential council chose former U.N. official Conille as prime minister and appointed a new Cabinet in mid-June.

Still, the gang violence has persisted, and experts say it will continue unless the government also addresses socioeconomic factors that fuel the existence of gangs in a deeply impoverished country with a severely understaffed and under-resourced police department.

Le Cour said the reaction of the gangs to the mission is difficult to predict. “Some of them might fight. Some of them might want to negotiate and open dialogue with the Haitian government," he said.

In a recent video, Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer who now leads a powerful gang federation known as G9 Family and Allies, addressed the new prime minister for the first time.

“Do not play into the hands of traditional politicians and businessmen, who used violence for political and economic ends," said Chérizier, best known as Barbecue. "The problem that exists today can only be resolved through dialogue.”

Conille has not commented on the video.

The U.N. Security Council authorized Kenya to lead the multinational police mission in October 2023, a year after Henry first requested immediate help.

President Joe Biden praised the arrival of the first contingent, saying that the mission overall “will bring much needed relief."

“The people of Haiti deserve to feel safe in their homes, build better lives for their families, and enjoy democratic freedoms,” he said. "While these goals may not be accomplished overnight, this mission provides the best chance of achieving them.”

Rights groups and others have questioned the use Kenyan police, pointing out the years of allegations against officers of abuses, including extrajudicial killings. On Tuesday, police again were accused of opening fire in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, where thousands of protesters stormed the parliament.

Kenyan police in Haiti will be joined by police from the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Jamaica for a total of 2,500 officers. They will be deployed in phases at a cost of some $600 million a year, according to the U.N. Security Council.

So far, the U.N.-administered fund for the mission has received only $18 million in contributions from Canada, France and the United States. The U.S. also has pledged a total of $300 million in support.

“While gang violence appears to have receded from its peak earlier this year, the country’s security situation remains dire,” the U.N. Security Council said in a June 21 statement.

More than 2,500 people were killed or injured in the first three months of this year, a more than 50% increase from the same period last year.

Many Haitians live in fear, including Jannette Oville, a 54-year-old mother of two university-age boys. She sells crops like plantains and green peppers, and gangs have robbed her several times as she travels aboard public buses with her goods. She tucks money in her armpit or underwear to try to keep it safe, she said.

“I need security. I need to work. I need the roads to open up so I can provide for my family,” she said. “Being a female entrepreneur in Haiti is never easy. There’s a lot of risk. But we take a risk to make sure our families are good.”

An estimated 1.6 million Haitians are on the brink of starvation, the highest number recorded since the devastating 2010 earthquake, according to the U.N.

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Police from Kenya enter a bus after landing at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya enter a bus after landing at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand on the tarmac of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand on the tarmac of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

The plane carrying police from Kenya taxis after landing at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

The plane carrying police from Kenya taxis after landing at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Journalists cover the arrival of a plane carrying police from Kenya at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Journalists cover the arrival of a plane carrying police from Kenya at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Police from Kenya deplane at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Police from Kenya deplane at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

An armored police vehicle patrols in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

An armored police vehicle patrols in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

FILE - Kenya police patrol the streets of Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Hundreds of Kenyan police officers are leaving for Haiti, where they will lead a multinational force against powerful gangs. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

FILE - Kenya police patrol the streets of Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Hundreds of Kenyan police officers are leaving for Haiti, where they will lead a multinational force against powerful gangs. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

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