Big Man, Big Heart, Big Star

Jeremy Norman could not have known that the theater where he once sat as a spectator would someday screen a movie about his life.

Norman, a Martins Ferry resident who died in December 2007, is the central figure of a film titled “Waiting for My Real Life” – a documentary about obesity – that is playing in 94 U.S. theaters, including the Ohio Valley Mall’s Carmike Cinemas, starting Monday.

When Norman was 20 years old, he weighed 803 pounds. Because of his condition, he was bedridden and essentially trapped in his parents’ basement for nearly two years.

“Waiting for My Real Life” broadly explores what it calls “the obesity crisis” in America, while interspersing segments that focus specifically on Norman’s predicament, as well as others who suffer from weight problems.

Michael Harrison, the film’s producer and narrator, told the Sunday News-Register that he and his son, Jonathan, decided to make a documentary about obesity after he read that the richest country in the world had also become the fattest. Harrison said more than 30 percent of Americans are obese, and people with low incomes are affected the most.

Harrison said he found Norman through YouTube and fell in love with his story and his positive spirit in the face of adversity. Norman participated in online support groups for others with obesity and also took part in a religious ministry.

“I knew Jeremy had been through a lot,” Harrison says in the film, “but I couldn’t imagine how much.”

The opening scene of the documentary is touching: We’re shown footage of Norman singing a cappella. And though he might not be considered a professional singer, there’s something striking about the way he’s singing. During this small moment, humility and sincerity materialize onscreen.

The song, which Norman refers to as his “theme song,” is “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin,” by Colin Hay and Thom Mooney.

Other aspects of the film also resonate with the viewer. For example, in addition to targeting obesity, “Waiting for My Real Life” also documents a love story that rivals any twosome on Tinseltown’s silver screen.

The commitment and apparent devotion depicted between Jeremy Norman and his wife, Roberta E. Norman, has the potency to conjure tears.

Harrison said the genuine love story between the two touched his heart.

Jeremy’s mother, Kathy Bedway Norman, said her son always called Roberta his “angel,” a title that, upon seeing the film, cannot readily be disputed. Kathy Norman added, “To this day, Roberta still loves Jeremy deeply.”

In addition to doubling as a love story, the documentary also demonstrates the resiliency granted to those who have a positive attitude. It is remarkable how optimistic and playful Norman appears to be, despite his dire circumstances.

Kathy Norman said her son never was “a big eater,” and she said Jeremy’s obesity wasn’t his fault. Kathy and her husband, Les Norman, explained that their son had a rare condition called Froelich Syndrome, which means he had very low levels of testosterone. This prevented him from building muscle, so he didn’t burn calories normally.

“Everything he ate turned to fat,” Kathy Norman said.

For three days, the father-and-son filmmakers and their crew shot footage of the Norman family and other local sites around the Ohio Valley. The film includes brief shots of the Wheeling Tunnel, the Fort Henry Bridge, Oglebay’s Festival of Lights, the Ohio Valley Mall and several local fast-food restaurants.

Rob Kovacs, manager of the Carmike Cinemas at the mall, said it was a coincidence that Carmike Cinemas’ corporate office selected “Waiting for My Real Life” to be among its independent film series. Referring to the irony of a film featuring Jeremy playing at his local theater, Kovacs said, “It just goes to show – you never know in life when something is going to come back around.”

“Waiting for My Real Life” has some uplifting moments, but the film isn’t your typical, flashy, summer-entertainment movie.

“Jeremy’s hopes and dreams are the ideals of millions struggling in the shadows with obesity,” Harrison said. “We hope ‘Waiting for My Real Life’ will raise the awareness of this terrible affliction, so action can be taken to help people struggling with obesity all over the world.”

Norman died in December 2007 while still in his parents’ basement in Martins Ferry. He was 23.

Speaking about Norman, Harrison said, “His life spoke eloquently of obesity. He lived its misery and havoc with courage and love.”

Kathy Norman said of her son, “Jeremy’s touched so many hearts, and I want to make sure he’s never forgotten.”