Even with extreme stress in her personal life, Rosie O’Donnell refuses to compromise her health any longer – and has been rewarded with a 64-lb. weight loss. The work required to drop to 176 lbs. from a high of 240 after vertical gastric sleeve surgery in 2013 grew easier as time passed, O’Donell, 53, told PEOPLE exclusively Monday night at Rosie’s Theater Kids Gala in New York, benefiting O’Donnell’s namesake nonprofit. (Also attending to show support: Her reported on-off love interest Tatum O’Neal).
While hosting the event, which honored Kristin Chenoweth and featured performances by some of the children benefited by the organization, O’Donnell – who’s recently endured a high-profile divorce, the death of her father and struggles with her daughter Chelsea – joked that weighing 240 lbs. is “like the Green Bay Packers’ front line, know what I mean? But it’s hard. I used to buy stretch pants size 11, 12. I’d stretch them into a 20. It didn’t matter, because the tag said 12 and that’s what counts.”
The benefits of weight loss, she said, are countless. “I don’t have sleep apnea anymore. I’m able to run and play with the kids or get a bathing suit. … It’s not easy to be obese in America and have everyone feel free to ridicule you,” she said. “When I was in the midst of some of my spat wars with some Republican candidates, that was always one of the first things that was said.
“And now it’s like a different reality. We’ll see how long it lasts.” Though she’s not afraid to laugh about tough topics, the subject of the 2012 heart attack that spurred her weight loss is no joke. “I had a heart attack at 50,” she said. “When I woke up, they said, ‘You should have died.’ Doctors said, ‘We need you to lose 50 lbs. in the next year, but you can’t have surgery or anything in the next year because you’ve had a heart attack.’
Having lost more than 50 pounds, O’Donnell doesn’t yet think of herself as beautiful. “No, but I like when my kids tell me I am. I don’t think that, but I think that I’m working on that,” she told Dr. Oz.
O’Donnell is also making some big changes in her life. This week will be her last on “The View” and she is splitting from her wife of more than two years, Michelle Rounds.