(Editor’s Note: This blog was originally posted here.)
Something I wanted to mention is when certain people in books and documentaries, like Jeff Guinn and Julia Scheeres, have talked about Jim’s weight as if he was never overweight before Jonestown. They said their comments as if he was fat for only the last 17 months of his life while he lived there, but that is obviously untrue. It was not rare for him to be fat. No delving or researching is needed, you only have to see him for yourself to know, that’s why I found their comments strange, like: “He grew fat in Jonestown.” “He blew up when he got to Jonestown.” “He was the only one getting fat in Jonestown.” *Grew* fat? *Getting* fat? Have they not looked at all the photos and footage of him before he moved to Jonestown? Well they surely have, so they should know his weight was not just a random occurrence at the end of his life. He clearly became fatter when he was living in Jonestown permanently, but it’s easy to see he was fat before Jonestown as well. Referencing his weight and weight gain at any point is expected because it’s an obvious thing about him, but they did not say their comments in a way to acknowledge his heaviness before Jonestown. They said their comments as if he was fat because of the downfall of the Temple, as if it was unusual for him and he had “let himself go” isolated in the jungle. But he was very much overweight from when he started in the 1950s and 1960s, and also at the height of his power as a “godlike leader” throughout the 1970s, not only during the downfall. It’s more accurate to say, in Jonestown he got fatter than he already was. Edema affected him briefly when he was ill in his cabin in late 1978, but that had nothing to do with his continuous weight gain. He was still very much overweight when the edema had disappeared and obviously before he was affected by it. The weight he was prone to gaining and what he had gained over the months and years was certainly fat. There have been no photos revealed from the moment when edema was affecting him, so the extra weight you see on all of his photos and footage is his fatness. It’s also interesting to note that on two documentaries while making their comments, video clips in Jonestown were shown, like they were an example of how much weight he gained while he lived there. But the clips were actually from promotional videos when he was visiting Jonestown. He was still living in the US at that time, quite a while before the permanent move and I don’t think they realised that.
A few weight details here:
During some audios, Jim can be heard criticising fat capitalists and was said to mock overweight and obese Temple members, or forced them onto strict diet programs, which was hypocritical of him. Without knowing any weight details, his fatness is obvious by any standards. Calculating a BMI is not appropriate for a muscular person because they are not fat at a heavy weight, but we can see Jim’s extra weight was not muscle mass, it was fat, so calculating his BMI is accurate.
A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight and 30+ is obese. His range was either obese or overweight; never lower than overweight. Working out specific percentages from the age of 21 to 47, he was overweight for 30% of his adult life (which equals to 8 years) and obese for 70% of his adult life (which equals to 18 years). So for the majority of his adult life, he was various stages of obese; more than 35 pounds overweight (which is over 200 pounds, a BMI of 30+ and stage 1 obesity) and more than 70 pounds overweight during even heavier times (which is over 230 pounds, a BMI of 34.5+ and stage 2 obesity). Stage 3 obesity will be discussed a little later.
In the 1950s and 1960s he could be from 205 pounds up to 230 pounds, although he briefly went below 200 during a couple of fluctuations.
He wanted to weigh 165 pounds which would be just within the ideal range for his height, but the lightest he ever weighed was 180 pounds (referenced in 1972) and he still had a noticeable belly. It is a BMI of 27.5 and 15 pounds over the highest weight range for his height of 5′ 8″.
People around him would talk about him being fat, like his adopted daughter Suzanne as one example. And a couple of examples of him acknowledging his heaviness on audios includes 1974 when he said he “tries to keep his weight down when he gets bigger than a goddamned barrel” and when he calls himself overweight or “Mr. Fats.”
He kept gaining weight as the 1970s progressed, past the 200 mark and up to 230 again.
Of course he gained even more weight while he was living in Jonestown permanently, which he mentioned in April 1978. During a couple of White Nights he said to the followers that he cannot eat the fudge or cake being passed around because he is too heavy, yet he was always indulging in those things and a lot more in private, before and during Jonestown.
He was said to be around 250 or most likely 265 at his heaviest. The painted wooden garden chair he used as a “throne” has the appearance of a reinforced seat to make it stronger. Other chairs used by followers did not look like that. The weight limit of wooden garden chairs is 250 pounds, so if Jim’s was reinforced, it makes sense that he was more than 250 at his heaviest. 250 and 265 are BMIs of 37 – 39.5. On the charts, a BMI of 40 and over is stage 3 obesity, which is morbidly obese. But morbid obesity can also be diagnosed if a person has a BMI of 35+ along with weight related conditions like high blood pressure. That would be accurate for Jim in Jonestown and any time before Jonestown that he weighed just over 230 pounds. And being 100 pounds overweight is considered morbidly obese, which is also accurate for his heaviest range of 265.
He lost 21 to 30 pounds in the final couple of weeks of his life, not 40 as sometimes reported. But the 175 pounds on his autopsy report, a month after his death, is too low for him. On the final day his face was sharper, but overall he looked heavier than the period in the early 1970s when he weighed 180 – 190. Plus a loss of 30 pounds would mean he weighed 205 prior to that; he was more than 205. The autopsy weight is certainly due to the decomposition his body had gone through while exposed in the jungle heat for several days. The deterioration of his corpse is very obvious on later photos, resulting in a lower body weight than when he was alive. The autopsy report describes his body as “well developed and well nourished.” Moderate atheroma in his coronary arteries is also mentioned, possibly related to excess weight.
Bonus details: Jim’s clothing sizes are mentioned in his autopsy report, which means we have an accurate idea of his body measurements on the final day. And that gives a good indication of his measurements during other months and years.
The red Fruit of the Loom shirt he wore on the final day was size Extra Large. The measurement for an Extra Large would be 26 or 26.5 inches pit to pit, to fit a chest of 48 – 52 inches, which can be a size 3XL in men’s modern clothing. (I found the details through my own research, but I was informed that some Fruit of the Loom shirts of that size could be even larger, depending on the style of them.) Considering clothes of increasing sizes had to be ordered for him over the months in Jonestown, he would certainly have shirts bigger than Extra Large for the times he was heavier than the final day.
If the measurement of a man’s natural waistline is 37 inches or more, it is considered a health risk. The waist of Jim’s trousers on the final day was 36 inches, but as always he obviously wore them underneath his belly because it was big, so 36 was not his natural waistline. The measurement around his natural waistline would certainly be 40+, and measurements around both areas would be even more than that during times before.
Gathering the overall details of Jim’s weight, BMI, body measurements, and seeing his appearance on photos and footage, it is easy to calculate a good estimate of his body fat percentage. In brief, 24% and under is considered ideal for men. More than 25% is overweight. At his lowest weight range (15 to 25 pounds overweight) it would be accurate to say his body fat percentage was around 29%. Any percentage above that is obese, with the 40% range being the highest. So 30% to 40% body fat would be accurate for the majority of his life when he was the various stages of obese (weighing 200 pounds and over, up to the mid 200s).