As We See It

Why the latest Heart Attack Grill death is not really news

The quadruple bypass burger, available at the Heart Attack Grill.
Ken Epstein

We’re told to not kill the messenger, but what about the spokesman?

In this week’s version of “Stuff you just can’t make up,” John Alleman, a 52-year-old Las Vegas man who served as an unofficial spokesman for Downtown’s Heart Attack Grill, died of an apparent heart attack.

Alleman, when not inside eating the restaurant’s gut-busting meat bombs, stood outside the restaurant, coaxing people to enter. His face was even used for the “Patient John” caricature used on the restaurant’s menu and merchandise.

And one more thing: He had a genetic predisposition for cardiac problems (both of his parents had heart attacks and died in their 50s). It would seem prudent for such an individual to avoid any association with a company that uses words “Heart” and “Attack” in its title, but then again, it would seem prudent not to serve hamburgers with a calorie count of 9,000.

As owner Jon Basso told the Las Vegas Sun, Alleman wasn’t just a casual diner. “I told him if you keep eating like this, it’s gonna kill ya,” Basso told the Sun. “He’s the only person I know who was probably at the restaurant more than I; he’d be there every darned day.”


John Alleman, who suffered a heart attack last week, was the inspiration for the "Patient John" caricature that adorns the Heart Attack Grill’s menu and merchandise.

Alleman now joins Blair River, who died in 2011 at age 29 from flu-related pneumonia, as the second unofficial HAG spokesman to suffer an untimely death. (River, it should be noted, weighed 575 pounds.) But they’re by no means alone. This is just the latest example of a society that seems to have no problem embracing excess and unhealthy behavior, yet finds it newsworthy when such behavior ends in tragedy or misfortune.

Not one, not two, but three “Marlboro Men” have died of lung cancer. John Robbins, son of Baskin-Robbins co-founder Irv Robbins, discusses in Super Size Me how his uncle died of a heart attack in his 50s and how his father developed adult-onset diabetes. Cooking show host Paula Deen, known for her fatty, high-calorie recipes, revealed last year that she has type 2 diabetes. (Turns out she’d had it for years.)

No one disputes these stories are sad and infuriating. But maybe if we paid more attention to the ridiculous behavior we endorse, we could spend less time lamenting its consequences.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Magazine's managing editor, having previously served as associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly, assistant features ...

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