Ron Lester, the actor best known for playing Billy Bob in Varsity Blues, died Friday evening of liver and kidney failure, his agent Dave Bradley confirmed to EW. He was 45 years old.
Lester was moved from the intensive care unit to hospice care in a Dallas hospital Friday.
Lester grew up in Georgia, the son of a truck driver and artist. He began his acting career in the Nickelodeon-produced movie, Good Burger, in 1997.
He followed that up playing the large offensive lineman Billy Bob in 1999’s Varsity Blues. The lumbering player stood out for his comedy, complexity, and for scoring the game-winning touchdown in the District Championship Game. The gig followed closely to real life for Lester.
“I had the same feelings that my character had,” he told Movieweb earlier this year. “Jon Voight is like a father figure to me, and after doing this movie, he’s just the greatest mentor I had. There were times, like in those scenes where he was chewing me out, I allowed the emotion to come out, because it was real.”
He later starred on The WB show Popular for its two seasons. After spoofing his Varsity Blues character in Not Another Teen Movie, Lester did not appear in another major studio film.
At his heaviest, Lester was 508 lbs. He underwent gastric bypass surgery — and flatlined on the operating table — in December 2000, according to a 2014 interview with Grantland. He lost over 300 lbs., including 100 lbs. in the ensuing month-and-a-half after surgery.
In the years following, he talked about the decision to have the surgery in bittersweet terms, telling BodyBuilding.com that he was rebuilding his career: “The difference is that I am no longer the ‘funny fat guy,'” Lester said. “I sold my ‘niche’ for my chance to live. … I would never trade the life I have now with… the endless opportunities I have in store for me, with my old life.“
In his final months, Lester was working on his racing and coming-of-age movie, Racing Legacy, that he starred in, co-directed, and wrote.
Lester is survived by his fiancée, Jennifer Worland.