Fix died at the top of the fitness craze, age 52. At 35 he had been a weakling, ill, overweight, and suddenly made the decision to devote himself to running. From there, he became a zealot, a pack of muscles, a best selling author, and a national symbol.
So on July 20, 1984, no one could believe it when he keeled over dead during his daily run. Why? Is it that the body just can’t take that much running, after all? Well, the evidence shows something much stranger in fact, and as we’ll see, it depends what kind of body we’re talking about.
Fixx’s acolytes included a lot of doctors and many were eager to find Li’l Bo Peep reasons for his passing that did not threaten his and their new philosophy of fanatical fitness. All kinds of excuses were offered as to how his death was supposedly unrelated: He had smoked until 35, he had a predisposition in the family, he had been overweight till 35, he had a stressful job.
Most of this flies in the face of what Fixx had been preaching, of course. Smoking? Overweight? Running was supposed to cure ill effects from those, didn’t his books say that? Plus he had weighed 220, not 450. And that predisposition – if he was at risk, presumably he was going to doctors regularly who could verify his health and all those nearly-impossible-to-believe cardiac results he was reporting. Right? Oh, and his “stressful job?” Now that’s the kicker! He was a fucking magazine editor! In other words, he had a job! Like you! Only he’s dead, and you’re not.
What really killed him is weird as hell: he was sick as can be the whole time, knew it, and wouldn’t go to the doctor. He had a hugely enlarged heart that sane physicians would have cited to halt his running craze before it started, had he not hidden it from them. He had a serious cholesterol-related illness, atherosclerosis, and when he died, according to some reports, the buildup had blocked one coronary artery 95%, a second 85%, and a third 70%. You don’t get that way overnight, as you know, and if diet isn’t controlling cholesterol, there are drugs that can address it. But you’ve gotta see a physician and he would not. “Friends and family reported that Fixx had complained of “chest pains while running” (Schanberg, 1984, p. 23) and tightness in his chest (Cooper, 1985; Wallis, 1984).Yet he refused to have an exercise stress test, despite the urging of his former wife, Alice Cashman Fixx, and the invitation of Kenneth Cooper (Cooper, 1985; “Deadly Refusal,” 1984).”
The autopsy showed he had several small heart attacks in the weeks before finally succumbing. Just gotta power through those, eh, Jim?
I’ll resist the impulse to call him a name. But what a waste! He decided that being a magazine editor was sufficient qualification for him to heal himself and preach to millions. He made a lot of money peddling his dangerous, faddish neurosis as advice to foolhardy people who wanted to believe – doctors are bad, so just run cuz you and Jim know EVERYTHING and it’s all in his book!
And that suggests a couple of New Year’s resolutions for you, friends: get yourself checked out if you can. I had a reason to get a bunch of tests done recently and it helped me to know what is going on, although I know cost can be an issue in USA. At least see the guy. Maybe you need to make some lifestyle changes, depending on what the tests show or how the doc sees it. As Fixx would have enthused, “Just do it.” Only he didn’t, fearful of knowing the truth, and that’s the one thing he actually needed as opposed to the snake oil he was hawking.
And the other thing — if your body is trying to send you messages, don’t fricking ignore them! And exercise is almost always good, but what exactly you should be doing depends on your situation (you won’t read that in his cockamamie books!). So here’s to your good health in 2011! You’ve got the starring role in protecting that, and you don’t need some yo-yo bestseller to point you in the right direction! — O.T.