NEW YORK – Dr. Robert Atkins, the controversial diet wizard who became a best-selling godsend to fat-loving weight watchers, died Thursday at 72 from head injuries suffered when he slipped on a patch of ice.

Atkins, who had been in a coma and on life-support since his fall, was surrounded by his wife, Veronica, and friends when he died at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center.

“It makes me proud that my husband has touched so many lives, and having this reaffirmed at this time is very much helping me through this terrible ordeal,” Veronica Atkins said.

Atkins, who routinely walked to work from his Manhattan home for exercise, slipped near his E. 55th St. office during an April 8 snowstorm and hit his head on the pavement.

Gained weight in med school

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Atkins earned his medical degree from Cornell University Medical School. He began researching his weight-loss program to shed the 30 pounds he gained during medical school.

He was a practicing cardiologist when he launched his diet craze in 1972 by publishing his first book, “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution.”

Atkins encouraged dieters to pig out on steak, bacon, cheese, butter and other high-fat foods – as long as they laid off carbohydrates and fruit.

His unorthodox approach to shedding pounds made him a best-selling author but it also made him a target for the American Medical Association.

The AMA scoffed at his diet directions, calling them “potentially dangerous,” “biochemically incorrect” and “naive.”

But Atkins stuck to his guns, founding The Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine and Atkins Nutritionals Inc.

“I want to eradicate obesity and diabetes,” Atkins said in an interview published last month in Business 2.0 magazine. “I believe God wants me to do that.”

Paul Wolff, chairman and chief executive officer of Atkins Nutritionals, vowed the diet guru’s work will continue.

“His legacy will be the millions of people following the Atkins Nutritional Approach as a healthy lifestyle and the growing number of doctors and other health care practitioners who recommend the approach to their patients,” Wolff said.

A resurgence in the popularity of his diet came in 1992, when Atkins published “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution,” which also made the best seller list.

His latest book, published this year, “Atkins for Life,” has sold like ice cream on a hot day – which Atkins recommended eating in mocha, vanilla and pecan flavors.

Even some critics recently changed their tune after several university research studies dispelled any health risks in following The Atkins Diet. One of the studies was sponsored by the American Heart Association, long an Atkins skeptic.

“They all show pretty convincingly that people will lose more weight on an Atkins diet, and their cardiovascular risk factors, if anything, get better,” said Dr. Kevin O’Brien, a University of Washington cardiologist, who conducted one of the studies.

Besides his wife, Atkins is survived by his mother, Norma, of Palm Beach, Fla. A memorial service is pending.

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