April 09, 2012 12:00 PM

The Place: Old Homestead Steakhouse, New York City

The Date: Feb. 29

The Menu: Rib steak, garlic mashed potatoes … and Nutrisystem?

Ask Tracy Morgan what he’d like to eat for lunch at New York City’s Old Homestead Steakhouse and the answer is his usual: a rib steak, garlic mashed potatoes, onion rings, creamed spinach and a salad. Unfortunately for the comedian, today is day 2 of his new diet. “I need to lose 20 or 30 lbs.,” the 30 Rock star says-which means that while he’s willing to play around with (and deeply inhale) his menu favorites at a photo shoot-he reluctantly dines on a Nutrisystem empanada he brought from home. “I’ve got a young fiancee; she’s 25,” he adds, with a wink. “I gotta keep my endurance up so I can hang with her.”

Empanadas aside, the actor’s lifestyle overhaul goes far beyond a superficial desire for six-pack abs. A diabetic and recovering alcoholic, Morgan underwent a kidney transplant in 2010 to save his life. The kidney, donated by an ex-girlfriend with whom he is no longer in contact, “was a gift, so I try to respect it and take care of it,” says Morgan, 43. “It was an incredible sacrifice. I’m so grateful.”

So these days, the reformed bad boy (he was twice arrested for DUI before getting sober in 2007) is living a far tamer lifestyle. “We all evolve. I’m a middle-aged man,” says Morgan, who now spends his free time at home in Alpine, N.J., with fiancee Megan Wollover, a business student, kickboxing together and watching movies like The Godfather: Part III. “There’s a reason the dinosaurs died: They couldn’t evolve, so they got extinct-and I’m trying not to be extinct!”

With his three boys Gitrid, 26, Malcolm, 24, and Tracy Jr., 20 (with ex-wife Sabina), grown and out of the house, Morgan says he now “lives vicariously through the youngbloods.” That’s not to say he’s stayed completely out of the headlines. After he collapsed and was hospitalized following an appearance at the Sundance Film Festival in January, some reports alleged that the actor had appeared drunk at an event-a claim he vehemently denies. “If I wanted to drink, I would drink, but I don’t, because I won’t,” Morgan says. “I’ve been clean and sober for nearly five years.” The incident, he says, was due in part to lingering health issues related to his transplant. “I take pills to suppress my immune system, so I get sick very easily,” he says. “I don’t have to prove anything to anybody.” Long known for his no-holds-barred sense of humor, Morgan, who rose to fame in the late ’90s on Saturday Night Live, has also made waves with his edgy comedy. After a public outcry over insensitive remarks he made about the gay community and the mentally disabled last year, the comedian says he has toned down his act. “I don’t ever want to hurt people with my stand-up,” says Morgan. “I won’t cross that line again.”

Now that he’s gotten to such a stable place, Morgan says he’s just worrying about working (he’d like to direct) and expanding his family. “I need a daughter,” he says. “There’s nothing like Daddy’s little girl.” And even if steak is off-limits for now, there are other ways to indulge. “I’m big on jewelry,” he says, pulling up the sleeve of his sweatshirt to reveal a $130,000 diamond cuff. “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. See, I caught your eye and I didn’t even have to say anything!”

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