Trimming Meat Loaf Down to Size

updated 07/15/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/15/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

He was 335 pounds of passion and profanity, fat out of hell.

Offstage he looked like a poster boy for thyroid research, but onstage he was transformed. Women couldn't get enough of him, and there was an awful lot of him to get.

Meat Loaf, who seemed as close to sheer sensuality as any fat man can ever hope to be, was my role model. Everybody needs a rock 'n' roll role model, even those who are overweight.

Fats Domino came along too soon for me. Mama Cass and Luther Vandross weren't quite right. Meat Loaf was portly perfection: a man of majesty whether hitting the high notes, the low notes or the buffet table. He was an inspiration to all of us who went to our high school proms knowing the dawn breakfast was the most fun we were going to have.

And then, like the buttered popcorn at the Saturday matinee, he was gone too soon.

There were rumors. He was broke. His voice was gone. He had so many legal problems he couldn't perform in America. They were all true. Through the first years of the '80s, Meat Loaf was not riding the gravy train.

A while back he reemerged, playing his first U.S. concert in about two years. His was the climactic act of a rock 'n' roll expo staged in a dismal hall salvaged out of a failed Boston shopping center. Meat Loaf's brow-mopping bandanna was the brightest flash of color in the industrial strength room.

His music shook the cinder blocks, to say nothing of the row of portable toilets lined up along the back wall. For about 2,000 fans, some of them accompanied by baby carriages, he sang the old songs from the Bat Out of Hell album and the new ones from his recently released Bad Attitude LP. He gave them sex, violence and lots of laughs, sort of an R-rated Ralph Kramden in concert.

It certainly sounded as though Meat Loaf was back. When I got a closer look at him at an RCA press conference, I realized that wasn't entirely true.

Some of him, about 90 pounds worth, never did return. During his years of legal torment, when he couldn't perform or write without a chorus of injunctions, he tried to find something to do that the lawyers couldn't interfere with. He decided they couldn't stop him from not eating.

Says Brian Chatton, who plays keyboard with the band, "I've seen him slim down before me eyes. Now he's like a gazelle. A large gazelle."

The press conference was a high-starch shindig featuring potato salad, sweet rolls, assorted butter cookies and a preview of Meat Loaf's rock video, Modern Girl.

Meat Loaf didn't eat anything, but he did accidentally set fire to his hair while blowing out the candles on a cake. I took advantage of the confusion to slip back in line for seconds.

A few days later I met Meat Loaf in a Manhattan studio where he was taping MTV spots as a guest veejay. He was wearing jeans and black cowboy boots, looking very much the way Marvin Lee Aday, 37, of Dallas would have looked if he hadn't become Meat Loaf.

He talked about losing his voice and how he now refuses to speak for 12 hours following a show. He talked about his unwavering popularity in England and on the Continent. And he talked about his two years of legal battles—22 lawsuits totaling $85 million, lawyers accusing him of burying Krugerrands in his backyard, a time he said was "as dirty as it comes."

Finally, we got to the weighty issue.

"Did you really have to diet?" I asked.

"I'll tell you, I'm real happy I did it," he said.

"Think of your fans," I pleaded. He seemed to understand.

"You know, that's why I get the girl onstage," he said. "I think I give people in the audience a feeling that if I can do those things, why can't they?"

He made no promises, but I think Meat Loaf will keep his weight just about where it is, a comfortable eighth of a ton.

I'm satisfied. He's back, and half a Loaf is better than none.

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