Near-death experience gives comedian Ralphie May different perspective on life

Published by adviser, Author: Andy Treese - Rocket Contributor, Date: September 13, 2012
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What started off as a relatively peaceful outing one night last November developed into a fight to stay alive for stand-up comedian Ralphie May, as he came close to death by a development of bilateral double pneumonia and a pulmonary embolism.

10 months later, May walked up onto the stage in the Robert M. Smith Student Center Ballroom Monday evening and showed the 500 people in the audience two things – he was back, and more vulgar than ever.

“Slippery Rock’s like Hogwarts for white people,” May chuckled, raising his index finger and pointing it at various areas of the audience. “Only except you [expletive] up on your SATs.”

Brought back to SRU by the University Program Board, and brought back by popular demand after performing to a sold-out crowd of 975 people in the MPR February of 2011, May brought the audience members to fits of hysterical laughter as he told stories and jokes about sex, relationships and the unexpected developments that occur in life.

Before the start of the show, May sat in a small break room down the hall from the ballroom quickly signing posters advertising Monday night’s show, one after another. As he was signing autographs on the posters, May, 40, reflected on his near-death experience.

“Pneumonia at that level is no joke, man,” he said quietly, but quickly attempted to make light of the subject. “I was in the ICU for seven days, and another two days were spent getting off of the oxygen, but it stopped me from smoking weed anymore, and it sucks. I was so good at it, too.”

Attributing the cause of his recently-developed health problems to extensive touring and recording, May said he was performing on a cruise ship one evening last November with a case of walking pneumonia, also known as atypical pneumonia, when he began to feel ill. He spent several days under the care of medical staff aboard the ship, but when the ship came back to port in Florida, he was rushed to the nearest hospital, where he stayed for nine days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

He said that while in the ICU, he could recall his wife being highly emotional and calling him obscenity after obscenity and pleading for him to get better.

“Needless to say, she was pretty pissed off that I [expletive] up her vacation,” he said. “It was a tough day, but when you’re fighting for your life, it’s not easy. It’s never easy.”

He said that for the relatively short amount of time he was in the hospital, his life was affected significantly.

“I had to take the last two months of [2011] off, because I couldn’t fly and I couldn’t do a lot of things,” May said. “I was really weak from the pneumonia, and I’m still probably going to be recovering from that for another year to 14 months.”

Recovering from a nearly fatal bout with pneumonia and a pulmonary embolism was only another addition to a list of health problems for May.

Between an inability to absorb vitamins, having a shoulder dislocated early last year, thyroid issues and leptim hormone problems, adding pneumonia and an embolism to that list was almost too much to handle for him.

After leaving the hospital, May took several months off from recording, touring or doing radio show interviews and focused on spending more time with his wife, comedienne Lahna Turner, and his two children – his daughter, April June May, and his son, August May.

In January, May also made another change to his lifestyle by telling entertainment press affiliation TMZ that he was quitting marijuana after having smoked the drug for over 20 years. Since then, May said he has been clean, although it was hard for him to quit.

“It’s tough to quit something, when you know that you’re so good at it,” he chuckled. “At least I can look back and say that was one of my finest talents.”

Though fatigued from extensive touring, maintaining sobriety and dealing with health problems, May, 40, quietly said he was not about to call it quits, adding that he feels capable of producing at least two or three more comedy albums and one more televised comedy special before stepping away from the stand-up comedy scene.

When asked why, May said that he feels that he owes it to his fans around the world by giving them material they have never heard from him before.

“I do that, because I want to deliver new stuff,” he said. “You all paid good money, so why shouldn’t I give new jokes? A lot of comics won’t do that. If they released an album in May, they would usually still be going off of the old material for a while before even thinking about writing new stuff. I’ve always fought my best to make new material, and to make things happen.”

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