Any time I hear someone is a “YouTube star” or is famous for TikTok videos, I roll my eyes. How crazy is it that all you have to do to be a celebrity in modern America is make a dance video or record yourself doing something stupid that people will watch?
Then I remember the McCray brothers.
You may remember them. Or maybe you know them as the McGuire Brothers, their name during a short-lived wrestling career. Regardless, if you’re 50 or older, you probably know these obese twins.
Billy and Benny McCrary were famous because they were noted in The Guinness Book of World Records (now Guinness World Records) as the record-holders as fattest twins. It seems weird now, but I suspect 75% of the students in my elementary school knew who they were – if not by name, then by the most famous photo of them, the one that graced every annual Guinness Book of World Records during my youth. Benny and Billy sitting on minibikes. More accurately, enveloping minibikes.
Each of the McCrarys weighed more than 700 pounds. You read that right: Between the pair of them, they weighed 1,500 pounds. That fact and their inclusion in The Guinness Book of World Records (and especially the photo) made them celebrities.
In a way, they already were celebrities before my friends and I learned about them: They were regionally famous as wrestlers as part of the National Wrestling Alliance and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Why wouldn’t they be? Two 700-pounders was a great draw!
The Guinness Book of World Records was a sensation in the 1970s, much like disco and pet rocks. At least it was a sensation to school kids. A few students would get the book through one of those book fairs at school and we’d pass it around. Read and see pictures of the fattest twins. The longest fingernails. The oldest living man. Fattest cat. Most tattoos.
The editors of the book knew to put in photos and the McCrary brothers were the stars of the book. If their photo wasn’t the first, it was one of the first and the fact they rode minibikes (apparently they took a motorcycle trip across the nation) made it undeniably interesting. Everyone knew the McCrary twins.
I’m sure the parents of my generation thought this was stupid, in the same way they thought our music, our fascination with pet rocks and our love of “Welcome Back, Kotter” was stupid.
But the McCrary Brothers were undeniably celebrities. Do you know how I confirm that? They appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson at the end of their 3,000-mile motorcycle trip.
Billy died in 1979 due to injuries from a motorcycle accident. Benny died of heart failure in 2001, at age 54.
Here’s the thing: The McCrary Brothers were one-trick ponies. They were massively obese. And they were twins. Their fame was enhanced because of a single picture: Them riding tiny motorcycles.
It didn’t seem strange in the 1970s that they were celebrities for that, which is important to remember every time we get mad in 2022 about someone being a celebrity for something dumb.
So maybe dumb fame (YouTube star! Tik Tok video!) isn’t new.
Maybe it’s as old as two guys sitting on a tiny motorcycle to create interest among elementary school students.
Reach Brad Stanhope at [email protected].