LAS VEGAS -- Irony is the main entree in the news this week: An unofficial spokesman for the Heart Attack Grill in
Las Vegas died of a heart attack Monday.
John Alleman, 52, who scoffed at healthy heart warnings by waving in customers outside the downtown eatery while dressed as a hospital patient, is the second unpaid mascot to die in two years.
Alleman was taken off life support after suffering an attack last week in front of the diner. Although never on the payroll, Alleman came to the restaurant daily and encouraged passing tourists to try calorie-heavy offerings such as extra-fat milkshakes,
Flatliner Fries cooked in lard and a Quadruple
Bypass Burger that contains 9,982 calories.
The diner flaunts tongue-in-cheek health warnings and casts customers as patients. Eaters are given surgical gowns as they choose from a calorically extravagant menu. The restaurant also uses the tagline: "Taste worth dying for"
Owner Jon Basso said Alleman "never missed a day, even on Christmas." He said Alleman weighed about 180 pounds.
Nobody is shaking their head over the death more than Jason Belland, the executive director of the American Heart Association.
"People eat free there if they're over 350 pounds," Belland said of the Heart Attack Grill. "They sell unfiltered cigarettes. They sell milkshakes containing an entire stick of butter."
Alleman wasn't the first spokesman to pass away while promoting the grill. In 2011, 575-pound Blair River died at age 29, but friends say pneumonia might have been the cause of death.
"It's a dark, cautionary tale," Belland said. "Heart disease is still the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. Nutrition and what we put into our bodies plays significant role in the heart health of an individual.
"It's difficult to see heart disease strike anyone, even those encouraging bad eating habits."
But maybe, Belland said, Americans can see in Alleman's death a wakeup call to recognize some startling statistics regarding heart disease.
For one, someone dies of a heart attack every 34 seconds in the U.S. Heart disease kills nearly 1 million people a year. Still, many Americans are in denial about their heart health, he said.
"The American Heart Association recently defined the idea cardiovascular health and found that less than 1 percent of Americans fell into that category," he told The Times. "Still, in surveys, more than 40 percent believe they are heart healthy. These are people who say 'I know I'm overweight and I smoke, but continue to do it. They think 'I'm OK,' but they're not OK."