100 and Counting
11/07/2002 at 01:00 AM EST
Recently, Saturday shoppers at Richards, an upscale clothing store in Greenwich, Conn., saw an unusual sight: Today colleagues Matt Lauer and Al Roker hopping around the store with a retail-inspired giddiness that would make the Sex and the City gals proud. "At one point Matt looks over and goes, 'Look at that! Al's got no butt!' " Roker recalls of the shopping spree, which was prompted by his new, 100-lbs.-lighter frame. Nor did the formerly 320-lb. weatherman have any properly fitting clothes. "For the fall, down to underwear, I had to buy all new stuff," he says. "They rushed three suits, a sports coat and a pair of slacks to me that same day because I had nothing to wear to go on air. Nothing!" Adds Lauer: "He was like a kid in a candy store."
Roker, a passionate foodie who once ate Quarter Pounders in pairs and Krispy Kreme doughnuts by the half-dozen, delights in his downsized new body. After a lifetime of failed diets, obesity-related health problems and more Fat Albert jokes than he cares to remember, the 5'8" NBC broadcaster took a drastic step last March, undergoing gastric bypass surgery. The result: He has lost a third of his body weight in eight months, going from a 56" jacket and 54" slacks to a 46" jacket and 40" slacks. "The weight just started dropping like water," says Roker, 48, speaking in depth for the first time about the high-risk surgery, while relaxing at the four-story Manhattan brownstone he shares with wife Deborah Roberts, 42, and kids Leila, 4, and Nicholas, 4 months. After the operation, which reduced Roker's stomach from the size of a deflated football to an egg, "every time I turned to him in the morning to ask about the weather, he just looked better and better and better," says Katie Couric. The new look even fooled Roberts one morning." I truly passed the TV set," she says, "and did not recognize my own husband."
The dramatic weight loss also has elicited less positive feedback, especially from fans who equate Roker's on-air mirth with his former girth. "I had a person say to me in the gym, 'Hey, you don't want to lose too much weight, 'cause that's who you are-you're the funny, fat weather guy!' " Roker says. "No, that's not who I am. I think I'm funny. I know I'm fat. But I don't think I'm funny because I'm fat. The two are mutually exclusive."
Then again, Roker and his well-known love of food -- he even wrote a cookbook this year about barbecuing -- have long gone together like mashed potatoes and gravy. "Here's how much Al loves to eat: He would call me from Today at 7:30 in the morning and then ask me what I'd like to do for dinner," says Roberts. "It's 7:30 in the morning!" Adds friend Meredith White, a former 20/20 producer: "Al likes everything that's associated with food -- the history of it, the cooking, the restaurant business."