robert earl hughes

Now known as the man with the largest chest measurement ever recorded (315 cm; 124 in), Robert Earl Hughes (USA, 1926-58) first appeared in Guinness Book of Records 1955 as the heaviest human living, at 429 kg (946 lb).

When he was weighed shortly before his death, he had reached 484 kg (1,067 lb). 

Unlike most people of record-breaking weight, Robert was not bed-bound, and he is considered to have been the heaviest human able to walk.

Robert was born in Monticello, Missouri, weighing an above average, but not abnormal, 5.1 kg (11 lb 4 oz).

However, at around five months old, he contracted whooping cough. This was believed to have ruptured his thyroid gland, ultimately causing his extreme weight gain.

Soon after, Robert’s parents moved with him to Fishhook, Illinois, where they had two more sons, Guy and Donald.

By age six, Robert weighed 92 kg (203 lb) and by the age of 10 he was almost double that, weighing 171 kg (378 lb).

Despite being an avid reader, he was forced to drop out of school after the seventh grade because he weighed almost 250 kg (550 lb) and could no longer make the one mile walk there and back every day.

He was gaining weight rapidly, however, according to his relatives, he ate no more than an average adult man.

Robert’s parents had to have furniture specially made for him, such as reinforced chairs and a six-legged bed.

Robert aged 23

As his fame grew, many people began driving to the farmhouse where he lived, where they would see Robert sat on his custom-built bench on the porch. Robert was reportedly always happy to see them and engage in conversation.

Robert spent the remainder of his teenage years helping his mother with chores around the farm, until she sadly passed away when he was 21.

Robert later began earning an income by making appearances at carnivals and fairs, in addition to selling photographs of himself.

He weighed 406 kg (896 lb) by age 25, and at 27, he joined a travelling roadshow, which enabled him to fulfil his dream of seeing different parts of the country. Robert was often accompanied by his brother Guy and sister-in-law Lillian.

Robert did this for several years, however, by age 31, walking had become difficult for him, even with his cane.

Despite this, Robert always maintained a positive attitude. He said in 1956, as reported by Fort Lauderdale News: “I look at it this way. I can read, write, have a warm and comfortable home and a fine group of relatives. A lot of other people aren’t as fortunate.

“What can I do? I’ve just got to make the best of what the Lord gave me.”

In 1957, while making an appearance at a carnival, Robert received word that his 79-year-old father had died. Guy and Lillian returned to Illinois for the funeral, however, Robert decided to stay on to fulfil his commitments at the carnival.

When Robert eventually returned to his brother’s farm, his condition had worsened, and he was no longer able to walk more than 20 feet without assistance.

Despite his deteriorating health, he went back on the road, and it was in Indiana that his symptoms became more pronounced. Robert developed a rash, and the flesh beneath his fingernails began to turn blue.

Unable to be taken to a hospital, he was treated in his trailer by doctors, who diagnosed him with measles. He also developed ureamia, a condition caused by the retention of urea in the blood.

Robert passed away soon after, on 10 July 1958, aged 32. He was buried in Benville Cemetery, Illinois, where his supersized, steel-reinforced coffin was lowered into his grave by a crane. Around 2,000 people attended the funeral.

Shortly before his passing, Robert was weighed to be 484 kg (1,067 lb), which made him the heaviest man ever at the time. This record now belongs to Jon Brower Minnoch (USA, 1941–83), whose peak weight was calculated to be over 635 kg (1,400 lb).

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