Inside Al Roker's Health Journey: From Hospitalizations to His Return to 'Today'
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Al Roker has had quite a few health issues over the years. The 68-year-old Today show anchor has struggled with his weight, undergone multiple surgeries, and been hospitalized several times throughout his life.
It all started in his childhood when a movie sparked Roker's concern over his weight. Binge eating and bariatric surgery followed, all while his weight yo-yo'd.
Surgeries on his knee, rotator cuff, hip and shoulder all followed, before a prostate cancer diagnosis came in 2020. Most recently, Roker was hospitalized for a blood clot issue.
Keep reading for a full timeline of Roker's health.
Early-life Weight Struggles
In a 2012 interview with Parade, Roker revealed that, while he wrestled with his weight since his childhood, it wasn't until he was 15 and saw Bill Cosby's Fat Albert character on TV that it began to bother him.
"It was the embodiment of me: a fat Black guy who is the center of attention and the butt of jokes," Roker told the outlet, adding that the moment launched him into a "vicious cycle" of emotional binge eating, where he'd eat and then "get into a funk" and proceed to "eat more."
Soon, he was eating in secret.
"Because you're fat, you feel that everybody's watching every bite you take. So, you closet-eat, and you think because nobody sees you eating, then you're not eating," he said. "You know, if you're eating a Big Mac in a closed car, can anybody hear you nosh? If I ate only what people saw me eat, I would've probably been about 170 pounds."
In 2001, Roker underwent knee surgery. The surgery came after a car accident and was complicated by his ongoing struggles with his weight.
"Due to complications, I was in the hospital for 11 days," Roker told the Today show. "And after some tough rehabilitation, back on the air after a month."
Roker, who tied the knot with Deborah Roberts in 1995, continued to struggle with his weight into adulthood. Eventually, Roker weighed 340 pounds and opted to undergo weight loss surgery in 2002 after a conversation with his dad.
"After my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001, he was at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and I would go in every day. We'd talk and joke, and then one day he got serious and said, 'Look, we both know I'm not going to be here to help you with my grandkids, so you gotta promise you're going to lose weight,'" Roker told Parade. "Seven days later he was gone. A few weeks afterward, [Deborah and I] found out we were pregnant with our son Nicky. I said, 'OK, I’m going to have to do something.'"
He underwent the surgery and proceeded to lose 100 pounds in eight months. Five years later, though, he regained much of the weight amid a family crisis.
"My mom got really sick, and unlike my dad, who was gone before we knew it, her illness dragged on for months. I was out of my routine, commuting to see her, and feeling guilty -- either that I wasn't spending enough time with the kids and Deborah, or that I wasn't being there enough with my mom," Roker told Parade. "It was this perfect storm, and I consoled myself with food. I got blindsided and, I think, to a certain extent, I got cocky. It's like an alcoholic who’s been sober for 10 years and has a drink and says, 'Ah, but I can handle it. Just one or two, I’ll be OK.' But no, you won't."
By the time his mother died in 2007, Roker had regained 40 pounds and fallen back into old patterns.
"Despite having a loving wife, three terrific children, and a great career, there were times when I perhaps didn't feel that I was good enough," he told Parade. "If I was having a bad day, eating was like self-medicating. But if you abuse food, you still have to use that substance that you abuse every day. You have to learn to use it responsibly."
Roker described his weight as a "cloud hanging over" his marriage.
"Deborah is very healthy, exercises, eats well. For all the right reasons, she wants her significant other to be in terrific shape, too, and I was thwarting her at every move," he admitted to Parade. "She was frustrated."
Then, in 2008, Roker ran into a friend who'd lost weight and it sparked a change in him.
"I decided to meet with his nutritionist, and I think it was fate that she crossed my path at the exact moment that I was ready to hear what she had to say," he told Parade. "For the first time, I realized that I had to change not only the quantity but the quality of food that I was eating. Even more importantly, exercise has finally become a big part of my life."
Roker went under the knife again in April 2014 for a rotator cuff repair on his left shoulder. The surgery was a success and even led to a check-up phone call from then-Vice President Joe Biden, the Today show revealed at the time.
Knee Replacement Surgery
Two and a half years later, Roker had knee replacement surgery. The surgery on his right knee took just over an hour. Afterward, he told the Today show that he was "feeling great" and determined to start walking again quickly so he could get back to work.
Carpal Tunnel Surgery
A couple of years later, in October 2018, Roker went in for emergency carpal tunnel surgery after battling the condition for several months, he told the Today show.
"It had just gotten progressively worse to the point where Thursday, I lost use of my thumb during rehearsals," Roker said of the condition, which flared up as he was preparing to make his Broadway debut in Waitress.
Hip Replacement Surgery
Then in September 2019, he had hip replacement surgery after months of dealing with a "deteriorating" joint, he told the Today show.
“All of a sudden, I started feeling this twinge in my hip, and then my back was acting up," he said. "It seems like my hip went fairly quickly."
Roker was back on his feet just one day after his surgery.
"I'm in far less pain than I was 48 hours ago," he said. "The best thing is to just get up and move and be able to walk."
Roker was back at work just 12 days later.
Less than a year later, Roker underwent shoulder surgery for the second time. This time, the surgery was necessitated due to arthritis in his right shoulder, he told the Today show.
"It's not bad during the day, but at night it's an intense pain that literally wakes me up," he said. "For the last month, I've only been sleeping about two or three hours a night, which even for me is a little bit less. It's gotten to the point where I can't even sleep at night."
Prostate Cancer Diagnosis
In late September of 2020, Roker was diagnosed with prostate cancer after a routine physical, he told the Today show.
"It's a good news-bad news kind of thing," he said on the morning program. "Good news is we caught it early. Not great news is that it's a little aggressive."
Per People, shortly thereafter, Roker underwent a five-hour surgery to remove his prostate and several lymph nodes. Afterward, Roker wrote on Instagram that he was "relieved" that the surgery was completed.
"Look, we're not out of the woods... but for a first start, this is terrific news," Roker said on the Today show, according to People. "I'm gonna be up for, as a lot of people who live with cancer, lifelong testing to make sure this doesn't come back."
Blood Clot Hospitalization
Roker's health was back in the news in November 2022, when fans realized he hadn't been on the Today show in a while.
"So many of you have been thoughtfully asking where I’ve been. Last week I was admitted to the hospital with a blood clot in my leg which sent some clots into my lungs," Roker wrote on Instagram amid his morning show absence. "After some medical whack-a-mole, I am so fortunate to be getting terrific medical care and on the way to recovery. Thanks for all the well wishes and prayers and hope to see you soon. Have a great weekend, everyone."
Roker went on to miss his first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 27 years. While Roker was released from the hospital in time to spend the holiday with his family, he was soon rushed back.
At the time, Page Six reported that the TV personality was rushed back to the hospital by ambulance the day after Thanksgiving. Given his re-hospitalization, Roker pulled out of hosting the Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center.
Roker was back at home on Dec. 8. In a video appearance on the Today show a few days later, Roker reflected on his latest health scare.
"Listen, it's been a tough slog. I'm not going to deny this. It's been the hardest one yet," he said of his most recent hospitalization. "You know, I've had my share of surgeries. But it gives you a profound sense of gratitude for this outpouring of prayers and thanks. I'm a very fortunate person."
His Return to Today Following Hospitalization
On Jan. 6, 2023, Roker returned to the Today show, where he and his wife gave an update on his health and detailed the severity of his medical condition.
"It's not lost on us that this is a major, major thing for Al to be here. He is a living, breathing miracle. He really is," Roberts said. "Al was a very, very, very sick man and I think most people don't know that."
Roberts went on to note that Roker was "a medical mystery for a couple of weeks," adding that it was "the most tumultuous, frightening journey we have ever been on."
She also shared that her husband underwent a " major, major surgery," during his hospitalization.
His doctor described the situation as a "life-threatening experience" for Roker.
Roker detailed all of the health complications and all the doctors had to do to help save his life.
"I had two complicating things. I had blood clots that they think came up after I had COVID in September and then I had this internal bleeding going on," he shared. "I lost half my blood. They were trying to figure out where it was. And finally they went in, did this surgery. I had two bleeding ulcers. They had to resection the colon, take out my gal bladder. I went in for one operation, I got four free, so I got that going for me."
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