Morgan Spurlock
Morgan Spurlock Image Credit: AFP

New York: Morgan Spurlock, the acclaimed filmmaker behind the hit 2004 documentary "Super Size Me," has died aged 53 of complications from cancer, his family announced Friday.

Spurlock passed away in New York on Thursday "surrounded by family and friends," according to a statement released through his publicist.

"Morgan gave so much through his art, ideas, and generosity. The world has lost a true creative genius and a special man," his brother Craig Spurlock was quoted as saying in the statement.

"Super Size Me," which was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary feature, followed Spurlock as he subsisted on a diet of only McDonald's fast food for a month.

The witty, caustic movie helped spur a change of tack by fast-food corporations to include healthier options on their menus amid growing concern over rising obesity rates in the United States.

Through his production company, Warrior Poets, Spurlock produced and directed nearly 70 documentary films and television series.

But his legacy was tainted when he confessed to sexual misdeeds at the height of the #MeToo movement in 2017.

In an open letter, he admitted to verbally harassing a female assistant and paying her off. He also said he had been accused of rape in college, though there were no charges or investigations.

Spurlock, who said he had been sexually abused as a child and had a drinking problem, also confessed: "I have been unfaithful to every wife and girlfriend I have ever had."

He said that with his confession he hoped "to empower the change within myself. We should all find the courage to admit we're at fault."

The post effectively ended his documentary career.

Super-sized legacy

During the one month it took to shoot "Super Size Me" - which cost just $65,000 to make - Spurlock ate only at McDonald's.

Mixed in with scenes of his meals are details about the fast-food giant's advertising techniques to keep the customers happy and the real cost to the consumer from health experts.

The result: He gained 26 pounds (12 kilos), his cholesterol levels shot up and doctors following the experiment ultimately told him to drop it when he began developing liver problems.

Just weeks after the film debuted at the Sundance film festival in 2004, McDonald's announced it would remove its "super-size" options from the menu.

In the years since its accuracy has been debated, but it remains in use as an educational health aid in some US schools.

Spurlock's later projects included "30 Days," which tackled minimum wages and immigrant labor, and the susceptibility of consumers to marketing, with "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

In 2008's "Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?" he set out to capture the Al-Qaeda leader, at the time the world's most wanted man.

"What began as 'What a great title for a film' became 'What kind of crazy world creates an Osama bin Laden' and I started worrying about bringing a child into it," Spurlock told AFP in an interview at the time.

"I learned that what we see on American television, in the media isn't what others in the rest of the world think of us, or of themselves. It's much more complicated than good versus evil."

Spurlock was born on November 7, 1970 in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and graduated from New York University in 1993.

According to Variety magazine, he is survived by his two children, his parents and siblings, and two ex-wives.