America's tallest man is 7-foot-8 sheriff's deputy in Virginia

Sunday, November 11, 2007
George Bell, a 7 feet, 8 inch-tall sheriff's deputy in the city of Norfolk, Va., worked on his day off Saturday providing security at a park. The 50-year-old was recognized Thursday by the Guinness World Records as the tallest man in the United States. (GARY C. KNAPP ~ Associated Press)

NORFOLK, Va. -- To all those people who blurt out "Wow, you're tall!" as they stare up at George Bell: He knows.

And now, the world will know, too.

The lanky, 50-year-old Norfolk sheriff's deputy is being recognized Thursday by Guinness World Records as the Tallest Man in the United States.

Bell is 7 feet, 8 inches.

That makes him 2 inches taller than the NBA's current tallest player, Yao Ming, but too short to be the world's tallest living man. According to Guinness, He stands below Ukraine's 8-foot-5 1.2-inch Leonid Stadnyk and China's Bao Xi Shun, who is 7 feet 8.95 inches.

To answer the inevitable questions:

Bell wears size-19 shoes, pants with a 43-inch inseam and shirts with 45-inch sleeves.

His parents are not especially tall. Neither are his four siblings or his daughter.

He did play basketball in college and with the Harlem Wizards and Harlem Globetrotters show teams.

And as for how he feels about being so tall?

"I have no choice but to like it," Bell said as he paced the sidelines of a Pee Wee football game at a city park, where he was providing security.

"I'm used to a small man's world," he added in a deep voice that suits his stature. "I've been dealing with a small man's world since I was a kid."

Guinness began searching for America's tallest man in August. Bell's ex-wife registered him online, and Guinness spokesman Stuart Claxton said Bell's doctor documented his height.

"I am looking forward to having a go myself with a tape measure to confirm that he is indeed 7 foot, 8 inches," Claxton said. "I'll bring my steel tape measure and a small stepladder, that's for sure."

The Guinness record book now lists only the tallest man in the world, but Bell will be noted -- along with the tallest men in several other countries -- in the edition to be published next year, when Guinness may do a similar regional search for the tallest women.

Bell, who lives in Portsmouth, hit 5 foot, 4 inches at age 9. In middle school, he topped 6 feet. By the end of high school, he was 7-foot-6.

He developed vision problems and was in danger of going blind. A neurosurgeon discovered he had a tumor pressing on the optical nerve and also diagnosed him with gigantism due to a ruptured pituitary gland.

At 19, he had surgery to remove the tumor and the gland, returning most of his sight and controlling his growth.

He played basketball until, at 30, he lost interest in the sport and switched to law enforcement.

His height doesn't intimidate jail inmates -- it helps him develop a rapport with them.

"They've never seen anyone this tall before, so they're amazed," Bell said. "They want to talk."

His size occasionally can get in the way of his colleagues, who like to rib him about it.

Deputy D. Murphy once stood nearby as Bell was putting his police radio back in its holster on his waist.

"His elbow clocked me in the eye," said the 6-foot Murphy, laughing.

Asked about the encounter, Bell smiled and said: "He got too close behind me. That was his problem."

Bell usually relies on humor when strangers rudely demand to know how tall he is, without so much as saying "Hello."

"Tall," he'll reply. If they persist, he may give his height in inches -- 92 -- and let them do the math.

Mostly, he refuses to be bothered by people who whisper to each other about his height while standing next to him in the grocery line or complain if he sits in front of them in the movie theater.

He prefers to focus on the perks. For example, he usually gets free upgrades to first class on flights when the ticket-counter attendants realize he's going to need a lot of leg room.

He credits his late great-aunt, Etonia Johnson, with his positive attitude: "She always told me, 'Don't feel ashamed of yourself. Stand tall. God made you. Be happy and show your pride.'"

On the Net

* Guinness World Records: www.guinnessworldrecords.com

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