Skip to content

Margaret Cho Went Into Kidney Failure on Set After Being Pressured to Lose Weight

Network executives told her to drop weight quickly for her '90s sitcom.

Comedian and actor Margaret Cho has survived a lot, including sexual abuse, addiction, and disordered eating. And she's been open about all of it in her standup comedy and books, as well as in interviews. One harrowing story from the now-54-year-old comes from the time when she was working on her short-lived sitcom All-American Girl in 1994. At the time, Cho was in her 20s, and her comedy career had taken off. The TV show was developed based on her standup routine and thus loosely autobiographical. But, before filming the series, the star was told to lose weight, which she did in a way that was so drastic that she went into kidney failure on the set.

Cho has since looked back on that time period and talked about how her body image has improved in the years since. She's also reflected on how this and other weight loss attempts caused serious health issues for her. Read on to find out more.

READ THIS NEXT: Charlize Theron Says a Producer Once Called Her at 3 a.m. to Say She Was "Fat and Ugly".

TV executives told Cho to lose weight.

Margaret Cho at the Comedy Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 1994
Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

All-American Girl was a big break for Cho, but before production began, network executives told Cho she should lose weight. According to a 2021 interview with The Guardian, Cho lost 30 pounds in two weeks and experienced kidney failure on set. The article also notes that she later became addicted to weight-loss pills.

"I have a lot of regret," Cho told The Guardian of that time in her life, "because I did not appreciate how beautiful I was. I just thought I was fat and ugly and I was so angry about the way I looked."

In her 2001 book, I'm the One That I Want, Cho wrote about learning that she was in kidney failure after urinating blood in her on-set trailer. She said she was "embarrassed," so she found a way to get the hospital without everyone knowing.

"Through diet and exercise and sheer terror, I lost 30 pounds in two weeks," she said. "I got sick, big sick. My kidneys collapsed."

She was shamed for her body, including by her family.

Margaret Cho at the American Comedy Awards in 1994
Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Being pressured to look a certain way for her network sitcom was far from Cho's only negative experience involving her weight and body image. In her book, she wrote about family members obsessing over her weight and shaming her for her appearance.

"I have never been a heavy person, but for some reason my physique drives some Korean people insane. They feel that I am too large for them to be comfortable, too large to be one of them, so they go out of their way to tell em what to do about it," she said. "My relatives were probably the worst to me about my weight, since they had my entire life to pester me about it."

Her hair started falling out.

Margaret Cho at an ABC party in 1994
Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In addition to the kidney failure, Cho also wrote about the side effects of becoming addicted to diet pills. She was getting her hair done for a walk-on role in a movie, and her hair began falling out as the stylist brushed it.

"She pleaded with me to stop taking them. She had done the same thing, and all her hair had fallen out and her tongue had turned black," Cho wrote. But, despite the warning from the hairdresser and from other people on set, "I kept taking the pills!," the comedian said.

For more celebrity news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

The '90s were an especially toxic era in the industry, Cho said.

Margaret Cho at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2023
Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock

In a 2020 interview with Page Six, Cho looked back on the diet culture of the '90s, especially the pressure that was put on women in the entertainment industry.

"I was really caught up in the show business of the '90s, where it became a very big issue for women in particular and … I think that was really damaging," Cho said. "It was very hard to be in show business in the '90s if you were a woman and young. I don't know anyone that didn't come out of that scarred."

Despite what she endured trying to fit into a mold, she's happy just to have made it through.

"I am just so glad to have survived and so amazed to have been alive for as long as I have been," she said. "I never appreciated that age that I was. I think back to the 25-year-old, 30-year-old, I was so caught up in all the self-hatred that I didn't want to feel, but was sort of pushed on me by society. If I had been able to get past that then I really would have been able to enjoy my life."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
Filed Under