Tyler James Williams, 30, is so good on Abbott Elementary, for which he earned his first Emmy nomination and got a Golden Globe last week. He’s been working since he was a child on Everybody Hates Chris and he’s also had roles on The Walking Dead, Criminal Minds and Dear White People. In an interview with Men’s Health, Tyler revealed that he almost died five years ago from complications from Chron’s disease. He’d always had trouble keeping weight on and after working hard to bulk up he ended up with severe stomach pain and vomiting. He was diagnosed with Chron’s through an X-ray that found his blockage. After surgery his intestines ruptured and he went into sepsis. It sounds absolutely harrowing and like it was touch and go for him.
In his early 20s, for instance, he hired trainers, lifted heavy, and force-fed himself. Once, he chugged a shake with 1,600 calories, only to throw it all back up. In late 2017, at age 24, the five-foot-nine actor crested 130 pounds while juggling a role on Criminal Minds with travel for the period crime drama Detroit. “I was really pushing my body to the limit,” he says. “By the time December hit, it just crashed. Everything shut down.”
Williams had searing stomach pain and couldn’t keep anything down—not even the doctor-ordered colonoscopy prep—so a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone diagnosed him using X-rays. The verdict: His bowels were so inflamed and clogged with scar tissue that he had less than a one-centimeter gap in his terminal ileum, part of the small intestine near the pelvis. It was a massive flare-up from Crohn’s disease—a disorder he didn’t even know he had.
At least a half million Americans suffer from Crohn’s, an inflammatory condition that can result in weight loss and malnutrition and can, if untreated, be life-threatening. There’s a genetic factor, but Williams, who has two younger brothers, was the only one in his family to show symptoms. Back then, at least.
He underwent emergency surgery to remove six inches of lower intestine. Then things got worse: His intestines were too beat-up to heal back together, and they perforated. He went septic as doctors raced him back into surgery. He ended up living on intravenous foods with an ostomy bag for several months. At one point, Williams weighed 105 pounds and was too weak to stand. But the moment that sticks with him the most was feeling his whole body “vibrating” after he’d gone septic. “The last thought I had was Holy shit, this could be it. If this is it, I’m not happy. I worked a lot. I did a lot of things. I didn’t enjoy any of this. This can’t be it.”
All this happened only five years ago, yet when Williams meets me at the Men’s Health offices in New York, he looks fresh, preternaturally calm, and stronger than ever: a chiseled 145 pounds, with biceps popping out of his T-shirt.
The good news is that the rest of the article details his recovery, his fitness regime and his life at home now with his two brothers. There’s also a brief video interview where he demonstrates his at-home workout, which he started doing during the pandemic. Tyler explained that he eats six small meals a day, a couple of those are shakes and his largest meal is dinner, after which he usually gets sleepy and passes out. It was so cute when he talked about that! He’s only 30 so I was trying not to thirst after him, but it’s really hard not to do that. I found myself mesmerized by his arms. I’m so glad that he recovered and is doing well now and that Abbott Elementary is getting so many awards! When you look at the talent involved it’s no wonder.