Ralphie May, a loud and large comedian known for his extensive touring and comedy specials on Netflix and other outlets, died Friday in Las Vegas, where he had been in residence at Harrah’s casino. He was 45.
His publicist, Stacey Pokluda, said the cause was cardiac arrest. She said he had been treated for pneumonia and had canceled some shows over the past month.
May, born Ralph Duren May on Feb. 17, 1971, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was a 17-year-old student in Arkansas when he won a contest to open for Sam Kinison, who became a mentor of sorts. (Kinison also died young, at 38, in a car accident in 1992.) The experience led May to move to Houston to try comedy full time.
He worked the stand-up circuit for years and in 2002 made his feature film debut in the comedy “For da Love of Money,” drawing an approving notice from Dave Kehr in his review in The New York Times.
“Even an overweight mailman,” Kehr wrote of May’s character, “who would just be a crude, cruel sight gag in most films, gets in a few choice zingers, neatly eviscerating the street kids who have been lying in wait for him.”
May reached a whole new level of exposure in 2003 as a contestant on Season 1 of “Last Comic Standing,” the NBC competition series. He finished second to Dat Phan.
After that came comedy specials like “Girth of a Nation” on Comedy Central and “Unruly” and “Imperfectly Yours” on Netflix.
May was a large man.
“I have low testosterone,” he explained in a 2012 post on his Facebook page. “I make the proper amount for a man of 180 pounds but I passed that nearly 300 pounds ago. I also have a thyroid imbalance.”
He sometimes did material about his weight. But that subject did not dominate his brash, often raunchy act.
“I’ll certainly address it if the situation applies, but I certainly don’t make it the focus of my stand-up comedy,” he said in a 2015 interview. “My audience has accepted me for a long time as, you know, not a fat comedian but a comedian who happens to be fat. That’s a huge difference.”
May married the comedian Lahna Turner in 2006. They were in the midst of a divorce. The couple had two children.
May had drawn good crowds all over the country for years on the stand-up circuit, but he told The Charlotte Observer in 2014 of another aspiration involving his home state.
“I’d like to be a U.S. senator from Tennessee,” he said. “I’m not crooked, and I want to help people.”