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Only the Good Eaters Die Young?

The death last Friday of Wilber Hardee, 89, founder of the Hardee's chain of burger joints, prompted to take note of the oddly large number of recent deaths of really, really old fast-food moguls.

burgerTo wit: JR Simplot, 99, died in May. He invented the processed french fry. Irvine Robbins, 90, founder of Baskin-Robbins, also died in May. Lovie Yacey, founder of Fatburger, died in February at 96. And Carl Karcher died in January at 90. He founded Carl's Jr.
Now, some or all of these men may have eaten nothing but lettuce, oranges and tofu, for all we know. If you've ever worked in a fast-food restaurant, you know that it takes about a week to get sick of eating the food there. Nonetheless, Gawker's Ryan Tate writes that this is "irrefutable, scientific proof that you not only can but probably should load up on cheeseburgers, ice cream, french fries and hot dogs throughout the summer and really for the rest of your life. Hold the guilt!"

Further supporting the idea that everything bad for you is actually good for you -- perhaps first proposed in Woody Allen's "Sleeper," -- are the relatively untimely deaths in years past of health nuts like carb-hater Robert Atkins, running zealot Jim Fixx, who dropped dead at 52 while running, and the extra-crunchy Euell Gibbons. (OK, Atkins was 71 and died from a fall, and Gibbons was 64, but still.)

Jerome Rodale, whose magazine empire covers all kinds of health-related subjects from organic food to running, slipped away at age 72 on the set of the Dick Cavett Show during a taping. He had just finished talking about how healthy he was -- he even said "I've decided to live to be a hundred" and "I never felt better in my life!" -- and was sitting next to columnist Pete Hamill when he passed. Ironically, Hamill, the onetime hard-drinking, Camel-puffing, two fisted veteran of New York's tabloid wars, is still with us.

All fascinating and funny stuff. But I feel compelled to add that all of these are anecdotes. On average, eating healthfully, exercising, and not smoking will help you live longer and feel better. Really.

Dan Mitchell

Dan Mitchell has spent the past 20 years writing and editing for newspapers, magazines, and Web publications. Currently, he writes the What's Online column for the Saturday business section of the New York Times. He has also written for the Chicago Tribune, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, National Public Radio, Business 2.0, and Wired.

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