Strange as it may sound, Walter Hudson never thought he had a weight problem before that terrible morning a few weeks back when he slipped and fell on the way from the bathroom and could not get up. His sister, Barbara, phoned for help. The police, fire fighters and assorted emergency personnel who converged on the little redbrick house in Hempstead, Long Island, found Hudson, 42, sprawled on his gargantuan belly in the doorway to his bedroom. It took them almost three hours to cut away the door frame and ease him onto wooden planks; eight people were needed to hoist him back into bed. "The thing that amazed me most about this ordeal," says Hempstead fire chief Robert A. Grams, "is that he stayed so calm."

Fact is, Hudson is almost always calm, with a look of Buddha-like serenity gracing his features. Though he hasn't left the house for 27 years, he says he's been "happy" as a shut-in, first at his parents' house in Brooklyn, and since 1970 in the Hempstead bungalow he shares with his brother George, 47, Barbara, 45, and Barbara's children and grandchild. Comforted by the Bible, which he reads every day, and steadily supplied with food by the family, Hudson was content to while away the days on his queen-size bed.

But the accident gave Hudson an unpleasant insight into his own mortality. "I thought to myself, if there would have been a fire, that would have been it," he says. "There's no way I could have gotten out of that house. So I decided right then and there, I'm going on a diet." Dozens of experts—from Richard Simmons to Overeaters Anonymous—called to offer help. Hudson settled on Dick Gregory, 55, the ex-comic who now runs a nutrition clinic in the Bahamas. "From the start, I liked Dick's outlook," Hudson explains. "He didn't try to be high and mighty with me."

"High and mighty, hell," laughs Gregory. "This man doesn't need words, this man needs help. Even I was shocked when I first walked in the door and saw that lying there." But Gregory was also impressed by Hudson's gentle spirit. "I really grew to respect him," says Gregory, "so I decided the least I could do was help him lose weight."

The first step was to find out how much there was to lose. A squad of weight lifters helped Hudson onto a special 1,000-pound scale. When it trembled and broke, Gregory judged him to be in the 1,200-pound range. (The fattest man in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, weighed in at 1,400 lbs.) Hudson takes the blame for every ounce. "It was over-eating, pure and simple," he admits. Then he recites the menu for an average day: breakfast—two boxes of sausages, one pound of bacon, one dozen eggs and a loaf of bread; lunch—four Big Macs, four double cheeseburgers and eight large fries; dinner—three large ham steaks or two chickens, four baked potatoes, four sweet potatoes and four heads of broccoli. Typically, Hudson washes down each repast with six quart-size bottles of soda and follows it with the better part of a large cake. He also snacks.

"Walter is addicted to food," says Gregory, who has prescribed a 1,800-calorie-a-day regimen of protein supplements and fruit juices. Six trained aides will be supervising Hudson, but the key to the diet's success, Gregory says, is "to find out what made this happen. What caused Walter to be satisfied to be locked away for so long? It had to be something pretty traumatic."

Hudson, the youngest of nine kids, does not remember his childhood as unhappy, though his parents did separate at some point. He already weighed 300 pounds when, at age 13, a fall laid him up for several months. That "may have got me thinking that it was easier to just stay in bed," he says.

"Walter is such a happy person, and he enjoys food so much, I guess we didn't realize how much it was hurting him," says George, a security guard. Sister Barbara, a practical nurse, now says, "I was aware, of course, that Walter needed to lose some weight. But I was also aware that a proper diet would require intense medical supervision, and we could never afford it."

Now Dick Gregory will be picking up most of Hudson's bills. Getting even close to his target weight of 190 lbs. will take years, but Hudson is determined to get back into the world, as an example to all the "people out there who are bigger than me—who have been hiding in the house longer than I have." A Chicago tailor has made a special pair of 103-inch-waist trousers for Hudson, who hasn't worn clothes for 17 years. "When I lose weight," says Walter, "he says he's going to make me a double-breasted suit."

  • Contributors:
  • Mary Huzinec.