Few jokes are off limits to comedian Bob Green — even ones about fatal heart disease.
“If you die of a heart attack, people say you died of ‘natural causes,’ like your soul rises up and goes to Whole Foods,” he said. “It’s like you died a gluten-free, organic death.”
Green isn’t being insensitive. He’s being proactive.
A heart attack survivor, Green, 61, uses comedy to convince audience members to take better care of their heart health.
“People come up to me and say, ‘You don’t look fat or out of shape: If you had a heart attack, maybe I could have a heart attack, too,’” he said. “When they ask me what to do, I always recommend they go see their doctor.”
It’s a piece of advice that Green himself ignored in 2014, a decision that almost cost him his life.
The grandson of a Jewish deli owner, Green grew up in New York City “eating corned beef, pastrami, blintzes, noodle kugel, ice cream … the worst things you could eat for your heart,” he said.
Green was bullied because of his weight as a kid. “I swore that as an adult, I was going to be in incredible shape and be thinner than they were. That was going to be my revenge.”
He stuck to that vow, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight even as those around him didn’t. His mother died of a heart attack at 64; a year later, his brother died the same way at age 48.
Even though heart disease ran in his family, Green figured he wasn’t at serious risk because he worked out, ate healthy foods and got regular checkups. Then one day in 2014 he began vomiting during a workout with his personal trainer in Los Angeles, where he’d moved in the 1980s for a career in marketing.
His trainer told him to go see a doctor, but Green argued that he’d had a physical three months earlier and the results were normal. He was probably just dehydrated, he thought.
Three weeks later, as Green was riding his bicycle to a Gregg Allman concert, he felt “pinching” pains in his chest and was forced to stop pedaling every few minutes because he was so winded.
Still, he went to the concert and rode his bike home. It wasn’t until the next morning, sitting in his longtime doctor’s office, that he realized how sick he was.
“My doctor gave me an EKG and his face was in a state of panic,” said Green, who was immediately transported to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
When Green got to the hospital, doctors discovered his arteries were so clogged that he needed an immediate quadruple-bypass surgery, which was performed successfully that same day.
“They said if I’d waited two hours to come to the hospital, I might have died,” he said.
Today, with a new lease on life, Green has become an avid yoga practitioner and has learned to avoid stress whenever possible. He volunteers at Cedars-Sinai and with the American Heart Association, performing comedy routines about his heart attack at AHA events. He also performs “random acts of kindness” around town, helping elderly people with their luggage or buying a meal for people who are homeless.
“Bob’s always been passionate and energetic, but I think going through a life challenge like this has made him more resilient and reflective,” said his longtime friend Glen Friedman. “It’s made him very determined to make a difference and give back.”
Green agrees, saying he’s a stronger, better person now than he was before his heart attack.
“I’ve faced a lot of things in my life that knocked me down, like divorce and deaths in the family. But this heart attack didn’t knock me down,” he said. “It lifted me up.”