He was a farmer for most of his life, and a tavern owner toward the end.
But first and foremost, Mills Darden was a 1,000-pound giant.
Darden was born Oct. 7, 1799, on the North Carolina-Virginia border in Northampton County, according to the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
“By today’s standards he is neither the heaviest nor the tallest, but he is the heaviest tall man and the tallest heavy man,” the state agency says. “At the time of his death, Darden was 7 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed a little more than 1,000 pounds.”
He was two inches taller than Andre the Giant — Hollywood’s favorite wrestler-turned-actor, perhaps best known for playing Fezzik in “The Princess Bride.”
But Darden made Andre — who reportedly weighed around 500 pounds — look almost trim. A 1977 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records accepted Darden’s weight as 1,020 pounds.
A malfunctioning pituitary gland is the likely cause of both men’s abnormal growth, the Huffington Post reported.
But the two giants, born centuries apart, also shared a common tie to North Carolina.
Andre was French-born, but he found something of a home on a ranch just 90 miles southwest of Raleigh in Ellerbe, The News & Observer previously reported.
Darden — born roughly 160 miles northeast of Ellerbe — lived in North Carolina until he moved to Tennessee as a young adult, according to the N.C. DNCR.
He was reportedly self-conscious about his appearance and never posed for any portraits and refused to be weighed.
But Darden’s employment as a farmer is rumored to have helped the locals eventually ascertain his girth in 1845.
According to the Huffington Post, a “curious group of fellows” measured the distance from the cart on Darden’s two-horse wagon to the ground when he was standing on it.
“When Darden was away from the vehicle, they loaded it with stones, or possibly 100-pound sacks of sugar, until the cart lowered to the same distance from the ground,” the media outlet reported. “Their crude measurement: 871 lbs.”
Several years before, in 1839, the N.C. DNCR said three 200-pound men fit in a coat tailor-made for Darden and “parade(d) about the court square in Lexington, Tennessee.”
Historians believe Darden was married twice, according to an article in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography.
His first wife was only 4 feet, 11 inches and 98 pounds, the Huffington Post reported.
According to an 1850 household census cited in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography article, Darden remarried after his first wife’s death and had seven children between the ages of 1 and 21.
“His children are very large, but probably none of them will ever be more than half the weight of their father,” a reporter wrote in an 1857 article published in the Tarboro Southerner after Darden’s death. “He was quite active and lively, and labored until about four years ago, when he became so fleshy that he was compelled to stay at home, or to be hauled about in a two horse wagon.”
The N.C. DNCR said he opened a tavern when working as a farmer “became too strenuous for a man of his stature.”
But it was his “colossal size” that eventually killed Darden in 1857, the Huffington Post reported, when the rolls of fat surrounding his windpipe reportedly cut off his airflow. The cause of death was strangulation.
It took 17 men to bury Darden in an eight-foot long coffin, according to the N.C. DNCR.
“His weight, when he died, as nearly as could be ascertained, was a fraction over 1,000 pounds,” the Tarboro Southerner reported.