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Eddie 'Bozo' Miller, at 89; icon in competitive eating

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post / January 13, 2008

Eddie "Bozo" Miller, an icon of gluttony who claimed to have bested man - and beast - in outrageous displays of eating and drinking, died Jan. 7 at his home in Oakland, Calif. He was 89.

Mr. Miller had diabetes and heart trouble.

Mr. Miller held many jobs, including bookie and liquor salesman, but he gained his widest following for championship-level gorging. He was 5-foot-7 and, in his peak form, weighed 330 pounds and stretched 57 inches at belt level. He won renown in record books and newspaper columns for his competitive drive.

In 1963, he downed 27 chickens (2-pound pullets) at Trader Vic's restaurant in San Francisco, a feat that earned him $10,000 and led to a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the "world's greatest trencherman," or heavy eater.

His Guinness entry said Mr. Miller "consumed up to 25,000 calories a day, or more than 11 times the recommended," and noted that he was "undefeated in eating contests since 1931."

He once downed 30 pounds of meatloaf made from elk, buffalo, and other game. In another test, he ate 324 pieces of ravioli and said that he could have eaten more, but that the restaurant ran out. He also guzzled two quarts of whiskey in an hour.

In his heyday, he said, he beat a lion in a martini-drinking contest. "Some guy from the circus came into the restaurant - Reno Barsocchini's, I think - with a lion on a leash," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I drank them out of a glass, and they put the martinis on a soup plate for the lion. I maybe had about a dozen. The lion, he kept lapping them up until he just fell asleep."

He took his food seriously, training for two weeks before big matches by cramming food until he could take no more.

New York Times sports columnist Robert Lipsyte named Mr. Miller one of the top 10 sportsmen of the year in 1968, along with boxer Sonny Liston and football player Alex Karras.

Edwin Abraham Miller was born in San Francisco in June 11, 1918, and raised in Oakland. His parents had a traveling vaudeville act. As a young man, he realized his stomach capacity left his friends in awe. He took pride in swallowing dozens of hot dogs and beers during baseball games.

He wound up in New York during the Depression and became a regular at horse tracks. He said many track clients subsidized his food "training."

He kept a W.C. Fields quote framed in his living room, "Nothing exceeds like excess." He tried to live up to the motto not only in his gusto for food, but also with his collection of 8,000 pop records, as well as pranks such as giving dinner hosts 50 dozen roses that would fill up every available vase, jar, bath tub, and sink.

In 1946, he married Janice Bidwell, a former princess of the Pasadena Rose Bowl, apparently winning her over with what a friend said was "a sea of perfume, furs, and diamonds." Ten years later, she suffered a brain hemorrhage that left her an invalid until her death in 2001.

They had three daughters, two of whom survive: Virginia "Cooky" Logan of Napa, Calif., and Candice Blackman of Pleasant Hill, Calif.; and four grandchildren. Daughter Janice "Honey" Miller, died in a car accident in the 1970s.

He gave up trying to compete after his daughter died, and his weight gradually plummeted to 170 pounds.

In his prime, he told an Oakland reporter that the greatest regret of his life was never to have met Diamond Jim Brady, the legendary big spender also known for his appetites.

"There was a man," he said of Brady, who died in 1917. "But I think I could have taken him. I understand he was strong, mighty strong in the meat department but he was vulnerable in the pastry. Me, I have no weaknesses."

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