First, Bo Diddley goes at his Florida home. Eleven days later, Tim Russert collapses on the job. Nine days after that, George Carlin passes away.
Then last week, amid news of these celebrity deaths, we learn of a fourth:
Wilbur Hardee, founder of the Hardee's restaurant chain, died of a heart attack in Greenville, North Carolina.
Hardee's death is not like the others. For starters, while Diddley, Russert and Carlin were fully in the public eye at the time of their deaths, Hardee had retired a long time ago. What's more, at 89, the restaurant founder was 10 years Diddley's senior and easily old enough to be the 58-year-old Russert's daddy.
The longevity factor seems like quite a feat for a man whose name now graces the bag containing my two-thirds of a pound Monster Thickburger. Then again, Hardee's long life is in keeping with other fast-food titans, who, saturated fat be damned, managed to live well into old age.
Take Ray Kroc, who, beginning in 1954, took a small franchise restaurant and turned it into a global purveyor of Big Macs. He lasted till the ripe age of 81. Or Harland Sanders, better known as Colonel Sanders, who shuffled off the ol' mortal coil at 90.
What was Hardee's secret? I don't know. But I can say that the burger man got out of the business not long after it went public in 1963. (Apparently he lost some of his stock in a card game with his business partners, effectively giving them a controlling 51 percent share of the company.)
This must have something to do with it. After all, with products like Crispy Curls and the Monster Thickburger giving new meaning to the term "larder," I'd think even the cleanest aortas around would eventually succumb to the latter's 108 grams of fat. This is a burger, after all, that delivers a whopping 1,420 calories — a mere 300 calories shy of the recommended daily intake for a 30-year-old woman — and 60 grams of protein (easily sufficient to cover the day-to-day needs of your average Wii-connected Homo sapiens).
What's worse, this is a burger whose gustatory merits are hard to deny. It's got a great heft in the hand. And unlike its rivals' patties, this burger's two third–pound beef saucers possess a rich charcoal flavor you won't find anywhere near a Whopper. But what I think really sets this meatfist apart is its simplicity: two patties, processed cheese, bacon, bun. Who knows what sort of alchemical machinations took place to produce its awesome charcoal flavor, but to the naked eye it appears unassisted by "special sauce."
There's something honest about this burger, and unlike Hardee's squeamish rivals who cynically repackage their products as healthy, this is a company that's embracing its outer fatso.
So I wish Wilbur godspeed to that great burger bar in the sky.
And that they don't skimp on the Crispy Curls.
Seen a foodstuff you're too timid to try? Malcolm will eat it! E-mail particulars to firstname.lastname@example.org
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