NJ sumo wrestler ‘Manny’ Yarbrough’s tragic dilemma: His life, or his fame
Emanuel Yarbrough knew he only had so long.
The Rahway native, sumo wrestler and mixed martial artist — who famously held the Guinness World Record for the heaviest living athlete — knew his weight could kill him. At one point, the 6 foot, 8 inch sportsman and actor had reportedly weighed as much as 882 pounds.
"On one hand, he'd say, 'This is how I make money,'" Bess Davis, Yarbrough's manager, told New Jersey 101.5 Thursday. "'On the other, I have to live.'"
Yardbough died Monday at his home in Virginia of a heart attack. A GoFundMe campaign has been started to bring him back to New Jersey for a funeral. Davis said Yarbrough hadn't worked as much recently, and the logistics involved in bring such a large man home introduce extra costs.
On his own website, Yarbrough had left a message with fans about his struggle to bring his weight down. He told them his weight loss journey "was not as simple as I thought it would be. I fell off the wagon a few times and endured a lot of personal ups and downs."
He referenced being rejected by Alitalia and Delta to fly to Rome to appear on a television show — a 2012 incident that put his name in the headlines. He said he had booked three seats to accommodate his size, and said he felt "disrespected and humiliated" by the experience.
But he said the incident made him stronger, more resolute to lose weight.
"It is not easy and being a prisoner in your own body for sure sets the mood in whatever I am doing. I have to break free from my prison," he said.
Davis said that was a topic she and Yardbough discussed often — he'd already suffered three heart failures before his death this week.
But the weight — in combination with athletic talent and a jovial, bright personality — was what made Yardbough famous. He'd been considered among the most well-known sumo wrestlers outside of Japan. In 1993, he began a mixed marital arts career and became a quick fan favorite.
He'd had several television and movie roles, including as Clarence Seroy on HBO's "Oz."
"He'd think, 'Maybe the movie parts won't come anymore,'" Davis said. "'Maybe the TV shows won't come. But I have to do this. If I do things one way, maybe I lose this. But if I do it the other way, I lose my life."
Yarbrough spoke publicly often about his passion for fighting childhood obesity and cancer. He'd meet with groups of children and appear at hospital openings.
"He'd want to motivate the kids to lose weight," Davis said. "He'd tell them, 'I'm a prisoner in my own body.'"
Davis described her friend and client as a "very caring and very personable person."
"He had a personality and a charisma you just couldn't escape. The moment he talked to you, it touched you," she said.
Davis said that was never more true than on a trip to India, when hundreds of people came to see Yarbrough. Many wanted him to touch their babies, she said, feeling he could impart some of his power.
"He was a person who wanted to make a difference in the world," she said. "It was hard on him, because of his size, to travel. But he did what he could. He was larger than life."