June 15, 2017 at 4:59 am #9850
Having completed the first thing on my list, a profile of the recent Mr. Natural Olympia winners, next on the schedule is a profile of all those people in history (both real and fictional) who are either exceptionally strong, muscular or just downright powerful starting at the dawn of history and carrying on until the present day
Samson (born around 2,831 BC, died around 2,810 BC)
Samson was born to the wife of Manoah in the town of Zorah during the time that the Israelite people were being disciplined by their Lord by handing them to the Philistine people from the neighbouring countries. When the news was given, in the form of an angel, there were certain requirements laid down for the child would live as a Nazirite. In ancient Israel, those wanting to be especially dedicated to God for a time could take a Nazarite vow, which included abstaining from wine and spirits, not cutting hair or shaving, and other requirements. This the wife agreed to, but Manoah who wasn’t there, but after praying for his own visitation was told the same information and so when the child was born, they both agreed to the request and named him Samson.
When he became a man, Samson left the hills of his people to see the cities of the Philistines. He fell in love with a Philistine woman from Timnah, whom he decided to marry, ignoring the objections of his parents, who were concerned because the Israelites were forbidden to marry gentiles, but per religious scholars, the intended marriage was part of God’s plan to strike at the Philistines. Per the account of his life in the Bible, Samson was repeatedly seized by “the Spirit of the Lord” and when this happened, those were the times he demonstrated strength far more than normal men. The first time it happened was when Samson was on his way to ask for the Philistine woman’s hand in marriage. On the way, he was attacked by a lion whereupon he simply grabbed it and ripped it apart, the spirit of God divinely empowering him. However, Samson kept it a secret, not even mentioning the miracle to his parents. He arrived at the Philistine’s house and became betrothed to her. He returned home, then came back to Timnah sometime later for the wedding. On his way, Samson saw that bees had nested in the carcass of the lion and made honey, He ate a handful of the honey and gave some to his parents.
At the wedding feast, Samson told a riddle to his thirty groomsmen (all Philistines). If they could solve it, he would give them thirty pieces of fine linen and garments, but if they could not solve it, they would give him thirty pieces of fine linen and garments. The riddle was “Can sweetness come from power?” and with that he just sat back. It took the groomsmen four days to realise that they could not solve the problem and so having given him nine hundred pieces of linen, he gave them the answer explaining about the honey from the carcass of the lion. That instantly made the native people very suspicious of this stranger and decide that he’s a danger to their nation and so plan to capture him at any opportunity.
So, when they get word that he is going to Gaza, they decide to lie in wait at the gates of the city to ambush him. However, he tears the gate from its holdings and carries it to “the hill that is in front of Hebron”. By this time, Samson is not married and has fallen in love with a woman called Delilah from the valley of Sorek and sensing a chink in his armour, the Philistines bribe her with an eleven hundred silver coin payment to try and discover the secret of his strength. He refused, but decided to string her along, stating that first his strength can be overcome if he is bound with fresh bowstrings, then says that in fact he needs to be bound with new ropes, then says that if his locks are woven into a weaver’s loom. It is only after persistent nagging by Delilah that he admits the truth. So, that night, she gets a servant to cut off his locks and then woos him to sleep “in her lap”. Cue the Philistine soldiers and the once mighty Israelite is blinded, imprisoned and put to work grinding grain by turning a large millstone.
A few months later, the Philistine leaders assemble in a temple for a religious sacrifice to Dagon, one of their most important deities, for having delivered Samson into their hands and being the object of their ridicule, Samson is brought along. However, by now, his hair has grown back and lamenting what he has done, he begs forgiveness and seeks vengeance for his eyes. As the book of Judges, chapter sixteen, verses 28 – 30 relate: “Then he called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So, the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life”
When news reaches his family, they recover his body from the rubble and bury him near the tomb of his father Manoah but his legend is secure and he serves as an inspiration for people seeking strength thereafter and for those who doubt the veracity of stories from the Bible, you might be interested to know that in 2013 a historical structure known as Maqam Neby or Sheikh Samat was identified as the tomb of Samson.
Hercules (born 2,200 BC, died around 2,150 BC, written about in 1,300 BC)
Hercules was, not exactly an unwanted child, but rather a child who complicated matters. You see, Zeus, the king of the Greek gods was rather, well, how can I put it politely, rather a womanizer, and Hera, Zeus’s wife, hated him and all his offspring for it. So how does a god become a father? Simple, Zeus decided to visit Alcmene who was married to the Greek hero Amphitryon, but who was off fighting a war against someone, and disguising himself as her husband, well I think you can guess the rest. What slightly complicates matters is that after Zeus left Amphitryon really did come back from the war, and so Alcmene became someone who had had a heteropaternal superfecundation (in laymen’s terms, two children from two different fathers, but born at the same time).
As you can imagine Hera was furious with Zeus, but did she take out her anger on her philandering husband? Of course not, this is Greece we are talking about, remember, and did so in a very interesting way. She persuaded Zeus to swear an oath that the child born that night to a member of the House of Perseus would become High King. Zeus agreed to this which allowed Hera to enact part two of her plan, she hurried to Alcmene’s dwelling and slowed the birth of the twins Hercules and Iphicles by forcing Ilithyia, goddess of childbirth, to sit cross-legged with her clothing tied in knots, thereby causing the twins to be trapped in the womb. With me so far, because here comes part three, she then Hera caused Eurystheus to be born prematurely, making him High King in place of Hercules, but this final part of the plan was ruined when a servant of Alcmene lied to Ilithyia, saying that Alcmene had already delivered the baby. Upon hearing this, she jumped in surprise, loosening the knots and inadvertently allowing Alcmene to give birth to Hercules and Iphicles. Confused? Good, most Greek legends are like that.
Anyway, so Hercules and Iphicles were born and Hera was determined to get rid of the demigod by any means necessary and that famously included sending two poisonous snakes to bite him, but old Herc’s reaction was entirely natural as he picked them up and started playing with them as if they were a pair of rattles. It was then that people noticed his strength, and after killing his music tutor Linus with a lyre (a type of ancient guitar) he was sent to tend cattle by his foster father as far away as possible (to ensure no more accidents). Thankfully no more accidents happened and Hercules grew up into a man, and yes, everything you have seen in the Disney cartoons and the movies of the 1950’s and 1960’s did happen as he became the most eligible bachelor ever to walk the planet, but he decided to marry Megara, the daughter of King Creon, and they settled down and had two delightful children and Hercules could enjoy life.
Hera, on the other hand, had flipped her lid, and in a fit of madness, induced by Hera, Hercules killed his children by Megara. After his madness, had been cured with hellebore by Antikyreus, the founder of Antikyra, he realized what he had done and fled to the Oracle of Delphi. Unbeknownst to him, the Oracle was guided by Hera. He was directed to serve King Eurystheus for ten years and perform any task Eurystheus required of him. Eurystheus decided to give Hercules ten labours, but after completing them, Hercules was cheated by Eurystheus when he added two more, resulting in the Twelve Labors of Hercules. And it is these labours that cemented Hercules’s status today, but he did more than that but one adventure proved to his swansong.
Having wrestled and defeated Achelous, god of the Acheloos river, Hercules takes Deianira as his wife. Travelling to Tiryns, a centaur, Nessus, offers to help Deianira across a fast-flowing river while Hercules swims it. However, Nessus is true to the archetype of the mischievous centaur and tries to steal Deianira away while Hercules is still in the water. Angry, Hercules shoots him with his arrows dipped in the poisonous blood of the Lernaean Hydra. Thinking of revenge, Nessus gives Deianira his blood-soaked tunic before he dies, telling her it will “excite the love of her husband”. Several years later, rumor tells Deianira that she has a rival for the love of Hercules. Deianira, remembering Nessus’ words, gives Hercules the bloodstained shirt. Lichas, the herald, delivers the shirt to Hercules. However, it is still covered in the Hydra’s blood from Hercules’ arrows, and this poisons him, tearing his skin and exposing his bones. Before he dies, Hercules throws Lichas into the sea, thinking he was the one who poisoned him (according to several versions, Lichas turns to stone, becoming a rock standing in the sea, named for him). Hercules then uproots several trees and builds a funeral pyre on Mount Oeta, which Poeas, father of Philoctetes, lights. As his body burns, only his immortal side is left. Through Zeus’ apotheosis, Hercules rises to Olympus as he dies where Hera finally relents and allows Zeus to place him in the stars where he can still be seen to this very day.
Conan the Barbarian (born 1400BC, died 1330 BC, written 1932)
In all recorded history, there are some events that only need a single word name and you know precisely what they are on about. For instance, “Krakatoa” immediately brings up images of the “bang heard around the world” when in 1883 the volcano in Indonesia exploded with such violence that it created a tsunami that wiped out the region of Java and “Laki” conjures up “the year without a summer” caused by the almost nine-month eruption in Iceland in the late seventeenth century. The name “Santorini” is also up there, but only for those people with an interest in ancient history and the legends of Greece, because the eruption of that volcano led to the collapse of the Minoan civilization and more importantly led to the legend of Atlantis and it is the years after that event that the events of Conan’s life take place.
Life in the middle of the second millennium BC was exceptionally tough with battles here, there and everywhere, so when you hear that Conan was born on such a battlefield you get an immediate idea of how tough his life was. Thus, you had to grow up and fast, so it should come as no surprise to hear that by fifteen, he was already a respected warrior who had participated in the destruction of the Aquilonian outpost of Venarium. However, that poses a question, namely “I’ve enabled the destruction of an outpost of my enemies, what else can I do?” so Conan goes a wandering across these lands and, well, does all manner of things really, encountering skulking monsters, evil wizards, tavern wenches, and beautiful princesses (as you do!). He roamed throughout the lands of the Hyborian era (the name given to this period time time) as a thief, an outlaw, a mercenary and even a pirate. As he grew older, he began commanding larger units of men and escalating his ambitions so that by his forties, he seized the crown of the tyrannical king of Aquilonia (the most powerful kingdom of the time) having strangled the previous ruler on the steps of the throne. As you can see, Conan doesn’t stand for any nonsense. But what does this person look like?
When Robert E. Howard wrote the stories about Conan back in the 1930’s, it was time when everything seemed possible and so even though he was writing about the past, Robert made sure that he could get his characters to be believable whilst at the same time unbelievable. So as a result, Conan was described as having “sullen”, “smoldering” and “volcanic” blue eyes with a black “square-cut mane”, a hairy chest, and covered by “whatever garb is typical for the land and culture” he happens to find himself in. Although no definitive measurements are given, we are told (via a letter to P. Schuyler Miller and John D. Clark in 1936, just a few months before Robert’s death) Conan stands six feet tall and weighs a hundred and eighty pounds at the battle where he earned his stripes (and how many teenagers do you know today who can claim to be that?). We do get an idea of what he is like older as when he was King of Aquilonia he was described as follows:
“a tall man, mightily shouldered and deep of chest, with a massive corded neck and heavily muscled limbs. He was clad in silk and velvet, with the royal lions of Aquilonia worked in gold upon his rich jupon, and the crown of Aquilonia shone on his square-cut black mane; but the great sword at his side seemed more natural to him than the regal accoutrements. His brow was low and broad, his eyes a volcanic blue that smoldered as if with some inner ﬁre. His dark, scarred, almost sinister face was that of a ﬁghting-man, and his velvet garments could not conceal the hard, dangerous lines of his limb”
Over the course of four years, Robert wrote twenty-four books about Conan, with three books published after his death and four unfinished with the most recent publication being in 1967, so it should be no massive surprise that when a very famous bodybuilder ended his competition career and decided to become an actor, Conan was his first role.June 15, 2017 at 8:49 am #9852
Some great legends listed out there. When your name carries on throughout centuries, you know you did some pretty amazing things. To think that some of these cats walked the earth literally hundreds and hundreds of years ago and they are still talked about today is incredible. Hell, movies are still being made about them. Now that is a legacy.June 15, 2017 at 4:49 pm #9854
Indeed Brad, and some of the other names on this list will invoke similar feelings too.June 15, 2017 at 8:48 pm #9855
You are such an amazing researcher. I always enjoy reading all of your details. Hercules was one of my favorite movies and not just because it had Brad Pitt in it either. LOL. Although that didn’t hurt what so ever.June 16, 2017 at 2:14 am #9860
Milos of Croton (born around 560 BC, died 502 BC)
Milos was a right old Renaissance man, despite being born some two millennia before the term had been coined, as he was a regular jack of all trades. He won the Olympic wrestling competition six times in a row between 540 and 520 BC (and according to the reports at the time, did so by lifting a calf onto his shoulders when he was a young lad and walking around the paddock so that as the calf grew into a bull, so Milos grew), he was a military commander who according to the Greek chronicler Diodorus “Milo the athlete led them (the Crotons) and through his tremendous physical strength ﬁrst turned the troops lined up against him” and even suggests that he went into battle holding his Olympic crowns, draped in a lion skin in homage to Hercules. So, we know that he was strong in the wrestling ring, but how strong was he in everyday life? Answer, pretty strong.
It was said Milo saved Pythagoras’s (of theorem fame) life when a pillar collapsed in a banquet hall and he supported the roof until Pythagoras could reach safety, it is also suggested that he carried his own bronze statue to its place at Olympia as well as holding his arm outstretched and challengers were unable to bend his ﬁngers plus if that was not enough, one report says the wrestler was able to hold a pomegranate without damaging it while challengers tried to pry his ﬁngers from it. So clearly, he was a strong ‘un and to be that strong you need to get lots of protein into you and I would like to think that with a daily diet of twenty pounds of meat and twenty pounds of bread he would have the right amount of protein and carbs as recommended by modern day trainers, however I am not quite sure what they would make of the eighteen pints of wine he had every day as well.
Perhaps that wine led in some way to his death, which when you look at it could be ranked as being pretty stupid. Whilst walking through a forest, he spotted a tree with a split in it and pondered if he could separate the tree using his strength. So, he placed his arms inside the split and pushed. However, that’s when things started to go wrong for Milo, as the split in question was so narrow he could get his arms into the split, but not in a position that allowed him maximum leverage and so he got stuck. So, when a pack of wolves wandered into the forest and found him completely unable to defend himself, well, you get the picture.
Despite this questionable end to his life, in the eighteenth century he was rediscovered and became rather the celebrity appearing in paintings by Meynier, Beniot and Barry, sculptures by Puget and Falconet, books written by Rabelais, gets a mention by Shakespeare in Troilus and Cressida when he refers to a “bull bearing Milo”, and even appears in Wuthering Heights when Catherine Earnshaw refers to the circumstances of Milo’s demise when she says, “Who is to separate us, pray? They’ll meet the fate of Milo”
Maciste (122BC, death unknown, written 1910)
Maciste is not a name that most people recognise these days but in the early part of the 20th century (especially in Italy) he was a legend based in ancient Roman history. The first recorded reference to him was in Strabo’s Geography which states “And in the middle, is the temple of the Macistian Heracles, and the river Acidon”. So, who was this Maciste? Well, in the late 19th century there was a large amount of discussion about this temple and who it was referring to. In 1858, there was a suggestion that it was an alias of Hercules, in 1864 along came the idea that it was a nickname and in the same year it was suggested that it was simply a statement of fact (i.e. that Hercules lived in the town of Macistus in Triphylia). Well, there’s nothing like public debate to fuel the imagination and in 1910, Giovanni Pastrone, an Italian film director, wanted a name for his hero for the first feature film to be made in the country and so plumped for Maciste and four years later, he made his debut in the movie “Cabiria”.
Cabiria was a story about a slave named Maciste (played by Bartolomeo Pagano) who was involved in the rescue of a Roman princess named Cabiria (played by Lidia Quaranta) from an evil Carthaginian king who plotted to sacrifice her to the cruel god Moloch. The film was based very loosely on Salammbo, a historical novel by Gustave Flaubert, and had a plot and screenplay by Gabriele D’Annunzio. Maciste’s debut set the tone for his later adventures. Including Cabiria itself, there have been at least 52 movies featuring Maciste, 27 of them being pre-1927 silent films starring Bartolomeo Pagano and the other 25 being a series of sound/colour films produced in the early 1960s. Typical plots involve tyrannical rulers who practice vile magical rituals or worship evil gods. Typically, the young lady who is the love interest runs afoul of the evil ruler. Maciste, who possesses superhuman strength, must rescue her. There is often a rightful king who wants to overthrow the evil usurper, as well as a belly dance scene. There is often an evil queen who has carnal designs on the hero. These films were set in locales including Mongolia, Peru, Egypt, and the Roman Empire. In this that set up sounds familiar, that’s because it should because following the success of the “Hercules” movies starring Steve Reeves in the 1960’s, Maciste got a relaunch in 1961 and was played by all the best muscle on film at the time including Mark Forest, Gordon Scott, Reg Park, Gordon Mitchell, Reg Lewis, Kirk Morris, Samson Burke, Alan Steel, Richard Lloyd, Renato Rossini and Frank Gordon.
Obelix the Gaul (born 85 BC, died unknown, written 1961)
Obelix, the constant friend of Asterix, was a proud and fierce Gaulish warrior, living in the northern parts of France in the first century BC. When he was born, he was a large baby. He loved his food, just like his father, and perhaps because of that he was bullied a lot for his size which that made him very sensitive indeed. Thus, he didn’t like to fight and that made matters even worse. On one occasion the blacksmith’s son yelled “Obelix is a sissy” and instead of reacting he just walked away pulling his little toy dog behind him. If anyone came to his defence it was Asterix who retorted “You tease my friend, and you will have me to deal with!”. From that moment on, the two became best friends. There was another problem that Obelix had to deal with and that was he wasn’t terribly bright, but Asterix took pity on him and helped him as best he could by asking small questions such as “Is two and two, more, less or the same as three and one?” to which the reply came, with a slight lisp, “Boars or Punishments?” so as you can imagine his schooldays were not the happiest days of his life.
The days that were the happiest of his life where the days when the village ganged up on the Roman invaders and resisted the occupation of Gaul that had been proceeding since the accession of Caesar to the head of the empire. And how did these villagers do that? Well, you can thank the druid for that, he had a very clever trick up his sleeve, a potion, made from mistletoe, roots, herbs and on occasions strawberries that once drunk made any man ten times stronger. Just imagine that for a moment. The heaviest lift at the 2012 London Olympics was 455kg (1,001lbs) by Behdad Salimikordasiabi of Iran. If he had drunk this potion, he would have been able to lift 4,550kg (10,010lbs), so you can see that when it came to resistance, these Gauls were doing a large amount of it and at the end of every successful campaign, the villagers would hold a massive feast and all the children wished they could sit around that table.
One day, during a particularly massive punch up between the Gauls and the Romans, all the children were left on their own and so they decided to have their own punch up with Bionix declaring himself to be “the great leader, Vercingetorix” as he was the biggest and strongest of all the children, and at the same time announced that Obelix would be “a large body of Romans”. Of course, Asterix objected but it was all in vain as the other kids all piled on top of Obelix. Asterix tried his best to defend him, but a few moments later Obelix was sitting on the ground with a black eye and a nosebleed and on the verge of tears. This was too much for Asterix and so he proposed an idea. Get Obelix to drink some of the potion that the druid had left in his hut to teach the other kids a lesson.
Obelix was very scared, but Asterix managed to persuade him and the two of them went to the hut. Now, when you are a small boy, a cauldron, even a normal sized one is massive, and so it took both of them to enable Obelix to reach the top of the cauldron but he managed to grab hold of the edge whilst Asterix kept a watch at the door. However, just then the druid, along with the rest of the villagers came back from their punch up and so Asterix whispered “Hide” and ran off from the hut. Sadly, he did it so suddenly that Obelix lost his balance and landed inside the cauldron.
A few moments later, the druid came running out of his hut, carrying Obelix now soaking wet exclaiming “I left a cauldron containing potion, and when I came back I found a small boy in my cauldron containing potion”. Obelix’s mother came running worrying about her son, but a quick examination by the druid showed that no harm had come to him, bar this. The potion had a permanent effect on him. He was now ten times stronger than any other villager, including Bionix, so the next time they played Romans, guess who the Romans were played by? And as he grew up, this difference continued, but with one side effect. Because he was so strong, it was impossible for him to get good exercise, so whilst his friend Asterix never grew to be more than 5 feet tall and weigh about a hundred pounds, Obelix grew to around 6 feet 5 inches tall and weigh close to three hundred pounds. Still on the good side, all that strength meant that he was the primary exporter of menhirs in Northern France in the first century BC, which may go some way to explain why there are so many that litter the countryside.
The story of Obelix and his best friend Asterix, was written by two French authors Goscinny and Udzero from the 1960’s onwards, first appearing in French magazines as comic strips and then as books. To date there have been thirty-five stories written about them featuring their travels to places such as England, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland and even North America with some of these stories being turned into animated and live action films but in all those stories, one rule abides. Never, under any circumstances, call Obelix fat!June 17, 2017 at 10:27 am #9867
Ursus (64 AD, died unknown, written 1895
The Roman empire was now at its peak, and still had several centuries of peakness to go, however Rome itself had a problem. It was rather overpopulated, but the emperor had a wonderful idea, a complete and utter redesign of the city. An idea that was rather slapped down by the Senate. Now, usually you would think that the emperor would take this on board and adjust his plans. Sadly, Emperor Nero was not that sort of Emperor and decided to kill two birds with one stone by setting fire to the city and then blaming Christians for the disaster. “Ah” therefore you are thinking, “Ursus is a Christian who has been endowed with incredible strength in the vein of Samson and defeats the emperor’s scheme?” Nice try, and good if you are a Hollywood producer, but sadly rather wide of the mark. Ursus was a slave in the house of Pomponia and who is described as “a tall and broad shouldered Lygian” and in laymen’s terms, a bit part. So how did he become so famous? If you want to know why, you have to watch the 1951 film version which saw Buddy Baer play the character and it all becomes clear.
As soon as the Hercules films were released, sweeping all before them, Italian film makers were grabbing at any muscular character they could think of and in 1961, “The Revenge of Ursus” was released starring Samson Burke and from that moment on, his fame was assured as over the next three years nine Ursus movies were released starring Ed Fury, Dan Vadis, Reg Park and Alan Steel and in 1964 to get even more bang from their buck (or perhaps lira) they produced the ultimate bill as Hercules, Samson, Maciste and Ursus all appeared in the same movie entitled “Samson and His Mighty Challenge” which was wonderfully lampooned in the 1995 Australian comedy “Hercules Returns” where the owners of an independent cinema, trying to overcome the machinations of a film company, were duped into buying the undubbed version of the film and had to live dub it in front of an audience in real time.
There has been a great deal of academic discussion about the noticeable absence of strongmen or of feats of incredible strength. Discussions range from the lack of recorded history post the Roman Empire, otherwise known as the “Dark Ages” from 400AD – 1100 AD to whether such feats were deliberately hushed up lest the people who performed them were classed as witches. Indeed, the only reference to a strongman I can find during the whole of those fifteen hundred years is an unconfirmed report from Germany in 1490 where it was alleged that the then Duke Christopher of Bavaria (who reigned from 1449 – 1493) did, according to an inscription on a stone weighing four hundred pounds, “lifted it and threw it away from him” however I can find no peer reviewed evidence of this. That is not to say however it was impossible as in the Basque Country on the Franco-Spanish border, in the fifteenth and sixteen centuries saw the rise of a sport similar to weightlifting where stone cylinders weighing up to four hundred and forty pounds were lifted on a regular basis.
Porthos, Baron du Vallon (born 1610, died 1661, written 1844)
To look at the French nobility in the seventeenth century, you might wonder how on earth any of them would appear on a list of strength and muscle. After all, your average nobleman would be laid out on a chaise longue, being fed grapes by either a servant or mistress, complaining about their gout. Well, Porthos was nothing like that, if only because for the first twenty years of his life, he wasn’t. No, he started out as plain old Porthos, a man who put his great strength to work in the defence of France as a member of His Majesty’s Musketeers. And how strong was Porthos? Well, let’s put it this way. Captain Treville, the overall commanding officers of the Musketeers, was strong himself so when you hear that “more than once in his struggles with Porthos he had overcome the giant whose physical strength was proverbial among the Musketeers” you know that Porthos must have a bit of muscle on him.
Mind you, he did come from a strong family. His grandfather, Antoine, was said to be three times stronger than Porthos and his father, Gaspard, was twice as strong, which would lead you to suspect that if Porthos had a son, that son would be half as strong as Porthos (but, my word, even with half the strength of Porthos he would still be a very formidable person) and here are a few reasons why: Travelling from the port of Piriac, d’Artagnan, the youngest of the Musketeers, came across a group of people working on the road loading very large stones onto trollies so they could be moved from one part of the work site to the other, however one stone fell off one of these trollies and was now embedded in the mud and impossible to move so it came as quite a surprise when a workman (Porthos in disguise and working undercover) “stooped, slipped his hands under the face lying upon the ground, stiffened his Herculean muscles, and without a strain, with a slow motion, like that of a machine, lifted the end of the rock a foot from the ground. The workman who held the plank profited by the space thus given him, and slipped the roller under the stone”. Similarly, when he and d’Artagnan are trapped in a prison, the Gascon asks Porthos about how life is treating him as a member of the nobility to which he replies “I have heard speak of a certain Milo of Crotona, who performed wonderful feats, such as binding his forehead with a cord and bursting it–of killing an ox with a blow of his ﬁst and carrying it home on his shoulders, etcetera. I used to learn all these feat by heart yonder, down at Pierrefonds, and I have done all that he did except breaking a cord by the corrugation of my temples” to which d’Artagnan helpfully points out that Porthos’s strength is in his arms which he demonstrates by ripping an iron bar out of the window and bending it into a bow shape.
But, as any great hero will tell you, it is how a hero dies that can cement their legend, and the death of Porthos is worthy of the Titans of Greek legend. Himself and Aramis are holed up in a grotto surrounded by guardsmen when Porthos has a good idea and lifting a barrel full of explosives throws it at the guardsmen, which has the desired effect, but has a downside namely bringing the grotto down on them both. Porthos, of course, lifts the roof to stop it collapsing on his friend, but then suddenly finds he cannot move and so pleads with Aramis to leave him be so he can escape with his life. Aramis does and just seconds later, the grotto collapses with Porthos still inside but still able to be heard from the outside where he whispers “”Too heavy!” After which his eyes darkened and closed, his face grew ashy pale, the hands whitened, and the colossus sank quite down, breathing his last sigh. With him sank the rock, which, even in his dying agony he had still held up”
Although Porthos was a fictional character written by Alexandre Dumas, all the tales were based on the records of the actual Musketeer corps that served the Kings of France in the seventeenth century and there is evidence to suggest that Porthos was based on Isaac de Portau who lived from 1617 – 1670 and was a Musketeer from 1640 onwards, however no evidence has come to light to suggest that he was as strong as Porthos.
Thomas Topham (born 1702, died 1749)
Thomas was the son of a carpenter and would have become one, but decided on a different carrer as a landlord of the Red Lion Inn, near the former St. Luke’s Hospital. Sadly, he wasn’t a very good one as that inn soon folded, but he had by then gained quite the reputation for being strong, but this was all done on the quiet, but when he did go public, he certainly captured people’s imagination as he was pulled by a horse, whilst lying on his back with his feet up against a wall that divided two houses, in other words something that would certainly get noticed.
In July 1734, he was the star of a benefit concert for himself where he demonstrated his strength by, amongst another things lying with his head on one chair and his feet on another, holding a glass of wine in his right hand and having five men stand on his chest, torso, hips and legs. Yes, he still had a thing for the hospitality industry and around the same time became landlord of the Duke’s Head in modern day Islington in central London.
Like a modern day pop star, he also toured going to Ireland in 1737, Scotland and in Macclesfield in Cheshire, he made such an impression that the local town council gave him a purse of gold and even made him an honorary council member. He also impressed the residents of Derby where not only did he roll up a dish made of pewter in the same way that you roll up a piece of paper, he twisted a kitchen spit around the neck of someone who had insulted him, but also lifted the vicar of All Saint’s church in the town with one hand which may not sound like much, until you learn that His Reverence weighed twenty eight stone or three hundred and eighty pounds and if that wasn’t enough, he even sang!
On 28 May 1741, to celebrate the taking of Porto Bello by Admiral Edward Vernon, he performed at the Apple Tree Inn in the presence of the admiral and numerous spectators. Here, standing on a wooden stage, he raised several inches from the ground three hogsheads of water weighing 1,336 pounds using for the purpose a strong rope and tackle passing over his shoulders, but like most people he wasn’t afraid to play tricks on people, as demonstrated by a suggestion that one night he carried a watchman in his box from Chiswell Street till he finally dropped his sleeping burden over the wall of Bunhill Fields burying-ground. Add to that holding back a horse and cart, just like Franco Columbo lifted a car and bending a poker simply by hitting with his arm. This last feat was witnessed by Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers and he was to make Topham a star, employing him as a personal bodyguard while he travelled and encouraged Topham to perform at places they visited and in 1745, having left Islington, he was established as master of the Bell and Dragon, an inn in Hog Lane, St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch and exhibited for his usual charge of a shilling a head. He was also a freemason as well and a member of the, aptly named, Strong Man Lodge.
He was said to be about five foot, ten inches tall, muscular and well made, but did walk with a slight limp and although very much a gentle giant, he was prone to having a temper if something upset him and something that did upset him quite badly was the infidelity of his wife. So much so that in August 1749, he attacked her and ended up stabbing her. Although there is nothing to say what happened to Mrs. Topham, Thomas’s fate was sealed as he was wounded in the attack so severely that he died from his injuries on August 10th and was buried at St. Leonard’s in Shoreditch, eastern London.
But his legacy lives on, as in the British Museum, there is a dish made of hard pewter that on April 3rd 1737 was rolled up by Thomas and marked with the names of everyone who witnessed the performance of as close to superhuman strength as it was possible to get in the eighteenth century.June 18, 2017 at 7:36 am #9869
Jean Valjean (born 1769, died 1833, written 1862)
Jean was born in 1769 and instantly had problems, after all when you become a child orphan in the mid eighteenth century you were more likely to die than live, but he managed to survive thanks to becoming a pruner and everything seemed to be going well, that is until a bitter winter in 1795 when he was forced to steal a loaf of bread. Now, in this day and age the worse that could happen would be a fine and maybe community service, but in 1795 that meant only one thing, five years in prison. But it got worse for this was a prison with very strict rules, namely every escape attempt added an extra three years to the term (so as he tried to escape four times his release date was put back to 1812, plus an extra two years for resisting arrest on his second attempt) a total of nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread.
So in 1814, you think he is released and able to live a blameless life eh? WRONG, because there was a sting in the tail of French justice in the early nineteenth century. All ex-convicts had to carry a yellow passport, a passport that they had to give to anyone who wished to employ them which of course meant that as soon as they were employed, out would come this document and bang, instant dismissal. As you can see Napoleonic France was a cruel country. So it should come as no huge surprise to hear that he is arrested again for stealing some silverware from a bishop who bizarrely, takes him to task for forgetting to also take the silver candlesticks that he’d given Valjean but it’s another black mark in his books.
So, you are probably wondering, what’s a convicted criminal doing in a list of strongmen? Well, about fifteen months later he pops up (under an assumed name) in in Montreuil-sur-Mer and revolutionizes the town’s manufacturing, earning himself a small fortune, which he spends mostly for the town’s good, paying for the maintenance (including required staff) of hospital beds, orphanages and schools and is even appointed mayor, despite not wanting it. During his time in the town he saves an old man named Fauchelevent from death (he had fallen beneath his wagon just as it started settling into the mire and his horse broke its thighs). Knowing that he had to do the right thing, he dashed to the town and announced that he would pay anyone who could raise the wagon but when nobody wanted to risk their life climbing under the wagon and the wagon started settling faster than the jack would get there, he jumped down into the mud and lifted the wagon off Fauchelevent.
This act rang something in the memory of a man called Javert, who witnessed the rescue, and tells Madeleine (Jean’s assumed name) that he once knew a very strong man, back when Javert had worked guarding prisoners, who had climbed under a mast, in the same way that he had climbed under the wagon, and raised it on his back and with that memory he put two and two together and realised that this mayor was in fact, the criminal Valjean. His almost infatuation with exposing Valjean for what he really continues and it is not until some thirty years later that he does. Unable to bear the shame anymore, Valjean commits suicide but not before taking Javert with him by drowning themselves in the sewers beneath Paris.
You will note that both Porthos and Jean Valjean are written by French authors (Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo) have similar backgrounds and indeed deaths, perform similar feats of strength and were written about within eighteen years of each other, so could the two authors have compared notes and come up with two almost superhumanly strong characters, well it’s possible, but well, I don’t like to say off the cuff, just in case I am wrong.
Donald Dinnie (born 1837, died 1916)
Donald was born into a family with almost the tradition as Porthos’s family as his father was a strongman as well, and clearly there must have been something in the water of Aberdeenshire as Donald was one of ten children born to his parents, of whom he was one of six boys all of whom grew to over six foot tall and did not weigh less than two hundred pounds and all of them followed their father to become a mason and chip away at the local rocks to form stones for building, although that said Walter may have brought some shame onto the family when he became a detective at Scotland Yard in London.
He was a clever lad at school, but left when he was aged fifteen and went into athletics turning professional the following year but still dabbled in the family business every now and again and my word, what an athletic career he had. Although he initially went for track and field, where he just happened in one year to be the world leader in the high jump, shot put and hammer as well as coming within a whisker of breaking the one-hundred-yard dash record and wasn’t a bad hurdler either, he was also a wrestler, strongman, and Highland Games athlete as well. Now I know what you are going to say, but he was never a show off that was until 1870 when after winning numerous events at the Coatbridge Highland Games, and laying claim to the title, “Champion of Scotland” which he kept the title for virtually twenty seasons, a Canadian strongman by the name of Thomas Campbell started to take exception to Donald, so Donald put his money where his mouth was, literally, and challeneged anyone be they Campbell himself, a fellow Canadian or from anywhere in the world to meet him for a contest of nine events which, if they beat him, would see him pay them $1,000 prize money. The contest consisted of, putting the heavy and light stone, throwing the heavy and light hammer, tossing the caber, throwing a fifty six pound weight for height, a wrestling match, a running event and a hurdles race, which was dubbed by Frank Zamowski in a book published in 1989 as “one of history’s most challenging events” so it will come as no surprise to hear that Campbell shut up, in fact everyone shut up and the money was never claimed.
By now Donald’s fame has reached the United States, and with good reason as well. At thirty-three, Dinnie was already acknowledged as Scotland’s greatest athlete, having competed for sixteen Highland Games seasons in his native land. Such was his reputation for feats of strength and versatility that American Caledonian clubs amended their calendars and paid heavy appearance fees to Dinnie to compete at their Gatherings. And so, in July, 1870, Donald Dinnie, the world’s greatest athlete and the first superstar of sport, came to America and boy did the American’s get a good look at him. He was now six foot one inch tall, two hundred and eighteen pounds and possessed a forty eight inch chest, twenty six and a half inch quads, and had little, if any bodyfat on him, but the thing that really caught the American’s attention was the fact, as one reporter put it, “the kilt, and nothing but the kilt, is the only covering of his stalwart limbs” although that said it was suggested that he wore tights that were the same colour as his skin, but during his time in the United States he made the hearts of men and the knees of women very weak indeed and won pretty much everything prompting a ditty to be recieted whenever he appeared at a meet, “He’s springy, elastic and light when he’s running, Comes up to the mark in time and to spare; His opponents can’t match him or beat him in cunning. They say we were beat because Dinnie was there!”
So how strong was Donald? Well, let’s put it this way. At a bodyweight of around two hundred and eighteen pounds he managed to do something that set him in the same status as Hercules. Outside the hotel in Potarch, Scotland, next to the River Dee, there are two large, unwieldy boulders which in bygone days had been used in tethering horses. The smaller weighs 340 pounds and the other 445. A round iron ring is fastened in the top of each weight, large enough to fit the grip of a single hand. Donald, in front of witnesses, carried both stones a distance of five to six yards. By putting the both stones together, keeping one stone in front of him and the other behind while straddling them Dinnie could lift and haul both simultaneously. In Scottish folk-lore this feat virtually canonized Dinnie. Once referred to as the “Stones of Dee,” and now known as the “Dinnie Stones” carrying them appears to be, century and one half later, an unduplicated feat Dinnie, an ideally proportioned big man, fused great arm, shoulder and leg strength with agility.
Sadly, like all great stories, Donald’s came to an end in 1916 with his death, but he was still entering competitions as late as 1910, but everyone knew what he was, a real strongman celebrity so it is perhaps fitting that in 1912 the Health and Strength magazine, one of the first bodybuilding magazines to be published, held a benefit concert for him and perhaps as we come to the end of the year marking the centenary of his death, we should all try and be like that Scotsman who played his part in the great Victorian revolution known as “The Enlightenment” that allowed the future stars of bodybuilding, weightlifting and strength athletics to come to the fore.
Eugene Sandow (born 1867, died 1925)
Eugene was born in the town of Kaliningrad, now part of the Russian Federation, but then it was part of Prussia to a German mother and a Russian father (which considering the closeness of the two countries is not that surprising). Although his family were Lutherans (followers of the teachings of Martin Luther and his ninety-five theses), his parents were Jewish and as his family wanted him to become a minister in the Lutheran faith, that led to a great deal of strife in the family. One of the main tenements of the faith is that they will not harm another human, therefore when the Prussian army came a calling in 1885, he decided to leave his homeland and travelled throughout Europe becoming a circus athlete and adopting the stage name “Eugen Sandow”. Whilst travelling in Belgium, he visited the gym of a fellow strongman, Ludwig Durlacher, better known under his stage name “Professor Attila” who was very impressed with Eugene and took him on board as an apprentice and in 1889 encouraged him to enter a strongman contest in London. Eugene won, and the rest as they say is history.
Florenz Ziegfeld wanted to display Sandow at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago but Ziegfeld knew that Maurice Grau had Sandow under a contract. Grau wanted $1,000 a week to let Eugene go, but Ziegfeld could not afford that and the two agreed to ten percent of the gross earnings. Ziegfeld found that the audience was more fascinated by Sandow’s bulging muscles than by the amount of weight he was lifting, so Ziegfeld had Sandow move in poses which he dubbed “muscle display performances” and from that moment on, Sandow became a legend and soon was not only lifting barbells, but breaking chains with his chest. This attracted the attention of a certain Thomas Edison and so in 1894, Sandow was filmed for the Edison Studios in a production entitled “A demonstration of physical culture and its effects on the human body!” and boy, did that break the box office. Sadly, as anyone will tell you, all this posing and training was having an effect on Eugene and in 1895, he retired from the stage due to stress and ill health, but once he had recovered, he was back on his feet again.
In 1898, he founded a monthly publication called simply “Physical Culture” which was renamed a few months later as “Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture” which in turn spawned a series of books on the topic that were published until 1904. In 1901, Sandow organised the world’s first bodybuilding contest, with Sir Charles Lawes the sculptor, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the author, and Sandow himself as the judging panel. In 1909, he provided training for would-be recruits to the Territorial Army, to bring them up to entrance fitness standards, and did the same for volunteers for active service in World War I and in 1911, King George V of England announced him “Special Instructor of Physical Culture to His Majesty, the King”
In 1925, Sandow died from what was officially recorded as a “aortic aneurysm” which, it was suggested, was brought on by straining himself, without assistance, to lift his car out of a ditch after a road accident in either 1921 or 1922, however the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography claimed that the event may have been a result of syphilis. He was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery without any headstone at the request of his wife, but in 2002 Thomas Manley erected a gravestone which reads “Eugen Sandow, 1867–1925 the Father of Bodybuilding” and in 2008, Chris Davies, Eugene’s great great grandson purchased the grave and replaced the gravestone with a one-and-a-half-ton pink monolith on which is simply inscribed “SANDOW” and is a reference to the ancient Greek funerary monuments called stelesJune 18, 2017 at 4:19 pm #9870
Man brother you are one of the most thorough researchers out there. Your attention to every detail and crisp delivery is kick ass. Your an asset to this community.June 19, 2017 at 5:34 am #9872
William Bankier (born 1870, died 1949)
William was the eldest of four sons born to William (yes, he was named after his father) and Mary Ann, who were weavers in Banffshire in the north east of Scotland. As a child he was fascinated with the circus and in 1882, ran away from home to join one where he became a labourer. His father soon found out where he was and brought him back, but the next year he did it again, this time to sea joining a ship’s crew and ended up being shipwrecked in Montreal! In 1884, he joined Porgie O’Brien’s Road Show where one of the acts was a strongman and Bankier studied his act and learned his routine. Which was very helpful indeed because their strongman was often than not slightly on the inebriated side and so in desperation, Porgie put William on in his stead and even though he was only fifteen years old, he put on very good performance. As the strongman drank more and missed more performances, so Bankier continued to take his place, gradually growing in skill as a performer and strongman. After about a year Bankier left the road show to join William Muldoon’s athletic combination which toured the United States promoting athletic events; Muldoon billed him as ‘Carl Clyndon, the Canadian Strong Boy’, and Bankier added wrestling to his act. Leaving Muldoon he next joined Jack Kilrain, a former heavy weight boxing champion and from whom he learned to box.
In 1887, he really hit the big time when he joined “Buffalo” Bill Cody’s “Wild West Show”, which had been touring globally for some time. That exposure led him to join Ginnett’s Circus, then Bostock’s circus where he wowed audiences with a feat that really does stretch the imagination. He lifted, via a harness, a thirty-two hundredweight (3,200lbs) elephant, balancing on the back of two chairs, all whilst raising a man above his head with his right and, if you can believe it, juggling plates with his left hand, and all before he was aged 20. Now, I know that Scott is strong, having recently filmed himself lifting a 505lb deadlift, but I think even he would have to admit that William’s feat of strength outstrips anything he could do.
By the 1890’s, he’d arrived back in Britain, and it was at this time he was persuaded by Sir John Everett Millais to change his stage name from Carl Clyndon, and as ‘Apollo, the Scottish Hercules’ he travelled around the world performing to large audiences. During his act he would perform the “Tomb of Hercules”, during which he would support a piano with a six-person orchestra and a dancer. He would end his routine by offering £10 to anyone who could carry a large sack weighing 475lbs off the stage. When anyone in the audience had tried and failed Bankier would carry it off himself. Now, as you will have noticed William was around at the same time as Eugene and in 1900, William issued a challenge to Eugene. He challenged him to a contest in weightlifting, wrestling, running and jumping. When Sandow did not accept his challenge Bankier called him a coward, a charlatan and a liar. This started some rather bad blood between the two of them, as in 1903 Bankier started his own magazine, and in its May 1904 edition appeared a further attack on Sandow, purportedly written by Sandow’s one-time opponent ‘Cyclops’, but clearly actually written by Bankier. It read, “Picture to yourself a good-looking man tripping on the stage with the short pitter-patter of a fussy little woman with sore feet trying to avoid treading on a companion’s dress, and forcing herself to look amiable. That is exactly how Sandow walks upon the stage” and cue the raised handbags, as immortalised by the British comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.
After retiring from the stage, with Monte Saldo (formerly of The Montague Brothers) he opened the Apollo-Saldo Academy in London, which attracted many of the famous lifters and wrestlers of the day, including George Hackenschmidt, Ferdy Gruhen, Maurice Deriaz, Zbysco, and the winner of over 1,000 contests and Lightweight Wrestling Champion of the World, gold and silver medalist in the 1908 Olympics, London born George de Relwyskow. He also went into wrestling promotion, and among his clients was Yukio Tani, a Japanese jujutsu instructor and professional challenge wrestler. With Tani he founded the British Society of Jiu-Jitsu and in recognition of his turns in the music halls of the time, twice, in 1915 and 1919 he was voted ‘King Rat’ of the British show business charity the Grand Order of Water Rats. When William died in 1949, he was still involved in the promotion of wrestling and his estate was valued at £15,663 eighteen shillings and tuppence, of which the majority was due to his promotion of the sport.
James Howlett (born around 1887, still living, written 1974)
Now, the more eagle eyed of you will be thinking “Hang on a second, there is no way that man who is at least a hundred and thirty years old can be a strongman or endowed with incredible strength, even if he is a fictional character?” and indeed normally that would be the case, but as you will see James is not your typical fictional character.
James was born in Cold Lake, Alberta to John and Elizabeth Howlett, the owners of a vast farm in the province, however he was actually the result of a liaison between Elizabeth and the groundskeeper, Thomas Logan. After Thomas is thrown off the Howletts’ property for an attempted rape perpetrated by his other son, named simply Dog, he returns to the Howlett manor and kills John Howlett. In retaliation, young James kills Thomas with bone claws that emerge from the back of his hands. I can see a lot of people now nodding their heads in understanding why James is on this list and that reason is that James, otherwise known as Logan, becomes the X-Man, Wolverine.
So how strong is Wolverine? Well, he is strong on two levels. Firstly, his physical strength. Even though he’s over a hundred years old, he can still lift eight hundred pounds, which is pretty good for even someone half his age, but his real strength comes from his constitution, you see the reason why he can lift eight hundred pounds is because of what happened to him in the 1960’s. During that decade, he wound up involved in what was codenamed Weapon X which was basically to make people into the perfect weapon and for Logan, that meant having the alloy Adamantium fused to his skeleton. The majority of you are now thinking “Ouch” and it would have been, if it was not for Logan being an offshoot of humanity with the uncanny knack of healing from pretty much anything, which meant that whilst such a process would kill you and me, for him it meant several weeks of agony but he survived the process and it’s that base that allows him to lift eight hundred pounds, with the slight disadvantage that on occasions he can go a little loopy (although that in all honesty is being a little on the polite side).
Angelo Siciliano (born 1892, died 1972)
If you are scratching your head thinking “Okay, I’m pretty well up on my knowledge of bodybuilders and the like, but I have never heard of a bodybuilder called Angelo and certainly not one born before the start of the nineteenth century” then you are not alone. This bodybuilder moved to the United States in 1903 having been born in Italy and started off life as a tanner, someone involved in the leather making industry. Whilst there he tried many forms of exercise initially, using weights, pulley-style resistance, and gymnastic-style calisthenics but they didn’t seem to actually build him up, needless to say with the likes of Eugene Sandow around at the same time, he was inspired by them and would often attend the strongman show at the nearby resort of Coney Island, even going so far as to ask them how they managed to get so big and strong, he would read all the magazines but never seemed to get very far, however it was an event the first decade of the nineteenth century that made him what he is renowned for today (and an incident that will instantly identify him to the masses)
Angelo was at Coney Island, presumably trying to work out how he could increase his size and strength, when someone came along and for no apparent reason, kicked a large amount of sand at him (and a million bells start ringing), sometime later he was at the zoo when he saw a lion having a good old stretch and came to the conclusion “A lion doesn’t use weights and yet it can take some of the fastest animals in the world by doing nothing more than using one muscle against another” and with that “Dynamic Tension” was born and with that, in 1922, he changed his name to Charles Atlas.
And my word, did that method work. The book that was published the same year, in conjunction with Dr. Frederick Tilney, a British homeopathic physician, and it sold like hotcakes. Made up of twelve lessons and a conclusion, supplemented with photos of the author demonstrating the exercises, approximately ten million have been sold up to the present moment in time and it was used by everyone from Max Baer the heavyweight boxing champion, the great Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, the original Darth Vader (David Prowse) and even helped Great Britain to an Olympic gold in 1980 when Allan Wells announced that it helped in his preparation for the Games.
Those books made Charles a legend and are referenced even to this day, be in like in the 1978 film “The Boys in Company C” where a marine complains during a forced march “What am I? Charles Atlas?”, or the appearance in the “Rocky Horror Show” where Frank N Furter states that his creation “carries the Charles Atlas Seal of Approval” and even now, you can see allusions to him as in the episode of Warehouse 13 where a pair of Charles Atlas’s trunks imbue a character with superhuman powers, including super strength and the ability to alter his own density.
Charles died as a result of diabetes on Christmas Eve 1972 aged eighty, but his spirit still lives on every time a ninety seven pound weakling gets pushed around, those immortal words of “Give me fifteen minutes of your day, and I’ll give you a new body” still ring true.
June 20, 2017 at 6:30 am #9878
- This reply was modified 5 months ago by Harry Hayfield.
Billy Batson (born 1920, still living, created 1940)
Billy Batson really had a very bad childhood. A childhood that saw him try his best despite everything thrown at him which is why when he should have been at school, being taught about the crisis that Europe found itself in during the Depression, he was selling newspapers. But he was a bright child and learned a lot from those newspapers, in fact he was so up on current affairs, that a radio station employed him as their news announcer. “All well and good” you might say, “but newsreaders aren’t endowed with strength and muscles!” to which I would say, “This one was”
It all started one day when Billy was selling his papers and helped a rather old man who was down on his luck. That man, had a secret, for he was actually a wizard from the dawn of time, and was looking for someone to bestow with the power of the ancients and Billy, by doing what came naturally, had been chosen to receive these powers. He would have the wisdom of King Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury. Well, with all that under anyone’s belt, they’d be a superhero and that is precisely what Billy becomes as he exclaims the wizard’s name “Shazam” he is transformed into Captain Marvel and in doing so, becomes the mightiest man on the planet and gives the Axis powers in Germany more than one or two headaches.
In fact, the Second World War was quite the catalyst for superheroes and the like, none more so than
Steven Rodgers (born 1921, still living, created 1941)
You see, when war broke out across Europe in 1939, America wasn’t involved, but they knew from their European allies that something was needed but that something was rather eluding them, that is until 1940 when Abraham Erskine, working under the code name Dr. Josef Reinstein, came up with a rather clever invention. Through a combination of a chemical compound and exposure to what were termed “vita rays”, he believed that a person could be made into a literal superman, and if that person was a solider, then they would become a super soldier. Well, this certainly piqued the interest of the Americans, but they needed proof and they sought that proof in the most extraordinary fashion. They didn’t seek out the biggest, heaviest and strongest member of the American army, they went for the complete opposite, and that complete opposite was Steven Rodgers.
He was born in the 1920s in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City, to poor Irish immigrants, Sarah and Joseph Rogers. Joseph died when Steve was a child, and Sarah died of pneumonia while Steve was a teen, and by 1940, Rogers is a tall, scrawny fine arts student specializing in illustration and a comic book writer and artist but that European war was the final straw for him and so he volunteered to join the army. Or at least would have done, if he’d been any good. You see, tall and scrawny did not cut it in the 1940’s and he was rejected, not once, not twice but three times in total and exhausted, the army let him join. It was this persistence that earned the attention of General Phillips and as they needed someone to test this super soldier formula, Steven was chosen to be that guinea pig.
Of course when he becomes the first person to take this formula, there is a great deal of expectation and although the first signs are not promising, as Steven complains of feeling like he’s about to black out, his stamina is rewarded and he literally explodes with muscle. The project is a complete success and he will be the first of many. Or rather would have been, if a German spy didn’t shoot the creator dead. You see, the creator was worried that if he wrote it down it would be stolen, so memorized it. Steven gave chase and somehow or another, the gunman was killed when he got electrocuted. This left the military with a problem, only one super soldier and a whole world at war. Thankfully, the boffins had a plan, and that plan was to announce that, just like Superman a decade before, a powerful being had arrived in America, seen the problems in the world and had volunteered his services, that being was called Captain America, and that being just happened to be Steven.
Leo Robert (born 1921, died 2016)
Quebec has long been known for the many musclemen who’ve called the region home. Beginning with Louis Cyr in the 19th century, powerful men have been honored and appreciated in la Belle Province down through the years. It was perhaps natural that one of the greatest physique stars of the 1950s should also hail from “the Cradle of Strongmen,” as it was known.
Leo Robert was born in Montreal on January 16, 1921. When he was old enough to support himself, he went to work on the docks along the St. Lawrence River in his hometown. Although it was a tough job, working on the pier laid the foundations of Robert’s heavily muscled physique even before he ever started to work out seriously with weights.
Although he was 5’7″ tall, weighed about 140 pounds and had an upper arm that measured 14 inches, Leo’s physique was not good enough. By his own description his body was “flabby and soft,” and he longed to improve it. So at the relatively late age of 23 he began to lift weights. At first he used an expander hoping to sprout the muscles he so desired, but after weeks of rather slow progress he became discouraged.
When a friend took him to Jerry Lemay’s gym in Montreal, Robert hardly knew what to make of it all. After being assured that weights were the answer to his problems, Leo reportedly said, “That’s ridiculous. I’ll never have muscles. My body will never amount to anything good!” Still, he decided to give lifting a try.
Within three months Robert must have surprised even himself with his rapid progress. Under the influence of the iron his flab melted away, and the muscles began to bulge out in all their rippled magnificence. As he quickly put on pound after pound of solid muscle, Leo became convinced once and for all that he was on the right track. He decided to continue his workouts.
Eventually, Robert met another muscle-mad Montrealer who began to coach the youthful athlete in the finer points of training and physique presentation. That man was the young Joe Weider. After a yearlong regimen Leo found that he had gained a great deal of bulk and muscular size. Weider suggested that Robert capitalize on this size by specializing on shoulder, pectoral, arm and abdominal work in order to give his physique a more classical and proportional look.
Leo’s once sluggish muscles now seemed to jump into a highly defined state. Soon his arms, shoulders and especially his corrugated abdominals were the envy of bodybuilders everywhere. The darkly handsome Canadian was able to get himself into competition shape in a ridiculously short period of time. “I guess I was very fortunate in possessing responsive muscles and the right type of instruction right away,” he later speculated in a typical understatement.
Robert began winning contests right and left, and he soon appeared to be invincible. The titles Mr. Montreal, Mr. Province of Quebec, Mr. Canada and Most Muscular Man in America all fell to him within a few short years. Finally, he was able to garner the greatest prize of all. In 1955, in London, Leo became the first Canadian to win the Mr. Universe competition. It was a crowning glory to an already splendid career, but there were other, different rewards still awaiting him. Several years before he won the Universe, Leo was asked by an interviewer what his goals were for the future. His reply revealed a profound interest in improving the lot of his fellow man.
“I want to devote my full time to training others,” Robert had announced. “I feel that this is the most important job I can ever do: to make others strong and healthy.”
In pursuing that goal, Leo opened a small gymnasium of his own in Montreal’s rue Plessis. Thanks to his skill and knowledge he experienced moderate success in his business, and he was able to help others achieve health and strength as he had long wished to do. Eventually, he operated four gymnasiums.
Five years ago Leo left Quebec and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. Until his recent retirement he continued helping people-in this case helping senior citizens regain and maintain their muscular strength. No matter where he goes, however, there’s always a vestige of the former champion beneath the exterior. The photographs of Leo Robert that appeared in the muscle magazines of the ’50s captured him as he was in his prime. There’s a charisma there that makes him unique. One analyst of physical culture has called it Robert’s “tough sensuality.” Whatever it is, that quality is the mark of a true star.July 6, 2017 at 8:05 pm #9918
Damn man, you really put a ton of time, energy, and effort into these. Job well done broJuly 7, 2017 at 10:37 am #9925
Miklos Hargitay (born 1926, died 2006)
Eastern Europe in the 1950’s lived under what most people would call today an “oppressive regime” as after the Second World War, power politics came into play as the then Soviet Union rushed in and claimed all the land that the defeated Germans had to surrender, Hungary was one of those countries and Milkos, born in the country in 1926, was one of the first people to realise this. In his early life, Hungary was part of the famed Bohemian lifestyle and one thing that Bohemians did was study. Miklos and his brothers gave them plenty to study as they did an acrobatic act that was so impressive, they played at the largest opera house in the capital! When was he introduced to sports, he took to them like a duck to water, including speed skating and just to show how good he was, not only was he an underground resistance fighter during the war, but after the war, he won the European Speed Skating Championship at the 500m and 1,500m in the short event, and came second in the 5,000m long track event too. However, by now the spread of the Soviets was increasing and so in 1947, he emigrated to the United States where he met Mary Birge, also an acrobat, and celebrated the birth of Tina in 1949 whilst still dabbling in the fine art of acrobatics with his wife as well as being a plumber.
It was during this time that bodybuilding started to take over Miklos’s life and it all started when a certain someone we will meet soon appeared on the front cover of a muscle magazine posing as that Greek hero, Hercules. From that moment on Miklos trained like the Greek hero and in 1955 won the NABBA Mr. Universe contest, this brought him to the attention of that other famed import from the east, Mae West, who recruited him to her “muscleman revue” however the constant travelling from his home to New York as well as what it took to be a bodybuilder, strained their marriage and he divorced his wife around the same time. During that time he met Jayne Mansfield and in 1957 appeared together on the screen in “Will success spoil Rock Hunter?” and they married the following year creating the first power couple of the modern era to which Jayne was attributed as saying they met when he told a waiter at the show “I’ll have a steak and that tall man on the left”
Their first joint lead roles, after 20th Century Fox didn’t like the idea of a married sex symbol, was “The Lovers of Hercules” in 1960, however if you wish to watch this movie you need to be aware of two things. First, it’s American title is “Hercules vs Hydra” and secondly, you have to subscribe to online movie providers to watch it as it has never been given a standard US release. Over the next four years the pair starred in two more movies in 1963 (Promises, Promises) and 1964 (L’Amore Primitivo) and in 1965 he played the lead role in “The Bloody Pit of Horror” but not alongside his wife. The reason for this is that in May 1963, they filed for divorce, but although they seemed to reconcile in October 1963, the birth of their third child in 1964 reignited the proceedings and the divorce was granted in August 1964. Jayne Mansfield died in a car crash just three years later and Miklos sued the Mansfield estate for $5,000 for child support. It was revealed that as part of the settlement Mansfield had agreed to pay $70,000 in cash and property as part of the support arrangement. Milkos married again in September 1967 to Ellen Siano.
When he retired from bodybuilding he still appeared on screen in the 1988 production of Mr. Universe, directed by his fellow countryman György Szomjas and in 2003 he even appeared in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as a witness to an assault, and the reason for his appearance? His daughter, the daughter who caused a moment of reconciliation between him and Jayne Mansfield, was one of the actors on the programme. However, by now, his fame was starting to recede as in 2002, his famous “Pink Palace” was razed to the ground by developers who had purchased it from Engelbert Humperdinck and in 2006, he died at the age of 80.
So who was the man posing as Hercules who inspired Milkos to take up bodybuilding? It was none other than
Stephen Reeves (born 1926, died 2000)
Yes, the immortal Steve Reeves, the humble lad born in Montana in 1926, who moved to California a decade later following the death of his father in a farming accident. The man who trained at the gym of Ed Yarick in Oakland after gaining an interest in bodybuilding whilst at Castlemont High School, the man who enlisted in the US army and served in the war in the Philippines and the man who after winning the 1947 AAU Mr. Universe, caught the acting bug that would secure his name in the world.
At this time, Hollywood was all about the epics, and the main epic in production at the time was Samson and Deliah filmed by that legendary director Cecil B. DeMille and he wanted Steve for the lead role of that Biblical powerhouse, Samson, where he was trained in all the things needed to pull off the role, but when he was told that he was fifteen pounds overweight he walked out of the production because it would interfere with his bodybuilding career. As we know, the role was then cast with Victor Mature alongside Hedy Lamarr, which prompted the comedy actor Groucho Marx to comment “I never before saw a film in which the hero’s bust is bigger than the heroine’s!”
As Steve continued to combine his dual interests of acting and bodybuilding, filming a pilot called “Kimbar of the Jungle” in the same year as winning the 1950 Mr. Universe contest, it was in 1954 that the acting industry really came calling as he appeared in first “Athena” playing a boyfriend of a character, then a policeman in “Jail Bait” and these two appearances are unique for they feature Steve’s actual voice, never heard again for the rest of his film career. He also appeared on television as a gym owner in “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show” and “Where’s Raymond?” as a song and dance man, but in 1957 Steve hit the big time when he travelled to Italy to star as Hercules and from that moment on, his legacy was sealed. A $5 million box office receipt generated by ten million tickets sold (according to estimates by Box Office Mojo) lead to a sequel Hercules Unchained which in turn led to him appearing over five years in a string of peplum movies so that by 1960 he was the number one actor in twenty five countries around the world, but he was just Hercules. He was Glaucus of Pompeii, Goliath, Hadji Murad, Romulus, Pheidippides, Captain Henry Morgan (the famed Welsh pirate), Randus, Karim, Aenas of Troy and last, but by no means least, Sandokan, the hero of Malaysia.
He could have had even more fame as he refused to play that British secret agent “Bond, James Bond” in Doctor No from 1962, a role that made a star of Sean Connery, himself a former bodybuilder and he even turned down “A Fistful of Dollars” from 1964 that make Clint Eastwood the star of Westerns he is today as Steve was sure that “Italians couldn’t make a western” (a sentence that was proved wrong in 1968 when he appeared in his own production of “A Long Ride from Hell”) and if it had not been for a Hollywood writer’s strike, he would have appeared as “Doc Savage : The Man of Bronze” as part of the long tradition of pulp fiction heroes transitioning to the screen.
During the filming of “The Last Days of Pompeii” a chariot he was riding in, slammed into a tree, dislocating his shoulder, and although repaired on scene, in a later scene swimming underwater, he injured it again. Each film thereafter aggravated the injury and led to his retirement from the movies in 1968 and he retired from bodybuilding the same year where his agricultural roots came to the fore as, as well as promoting natural bodybuilding, including the publication of the book “Building the Classic Physique – The Natural Way” he also took up horse breeding and retired to a ranch in California. In the millennium, he went in for surgery, but died two days later from a blood clot on May 1st. That weekend the news of his death was broadcast globally and even here in the United Kingdom, a country that usually ignores bodybuilding, his death was reported as part of the local election coverage and both his films were screened in tribute on the BBC’s arts channel along with a documentary about the man, but even now his legend lives on. In 2016, Laverne Cox became the latest incarnation of Doctor Frank ‘N Furter to state, in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” that “If you want something visual, that’s not too abysmal, we could take in an old Steve Reeves movie” declaring themselves to be a “Sweet Transvestite from transsexual Transylvania!
Albert Beckles (born 1930, died 2016)
Albert was born in the Caribbean nation of Barbados, which whilst renowned for its sun, sea, sand and calypso music, wasn’t immediately known for its muscle, but Albert soon put that to rights. In the mid-1960s, he won several British regional titles before winning the 1969 and 1970 NABBA Mr. Britain titles and the following year Beckles joined the IFBB, earning the overall at the IFBB “Mr. Universe (which wasn’t bad for someone who had only been in completion for a couple of years). Beckles was one of the most active participants in bodybuilding history, having been in over a hundred contests, plus he also had staying power as well as in 1982 he won the Night of Champions competition in New York. Of the 13 occasions he competed in the Mr. Olympia, he gained a top five placing on six occasions, he best result being runner up in 1985 to a certain Lee Haney, and to prove that he could keep on going, in 1991, aged 61, he won the Niagara Falls Pro Invitational. At his peak contest weight of 218lbs, which considering he stood 5 foot, 7 inches tall was pretty impressive, he commanded a 48½ inch chest, 19 inch biceps and a 31-inch waist.July 9, 2017 at 11:47 am #9934
David Banner (born 1937, still living, created 1962)
So far on this list we have had super powered newspaper delivery boys, members of the nobility and even a horse breeder, so let’s add a new class of person to the mix, a scientist. Now, most people think science is just plain boring. So what if the angle of incidence of a beam of light equals the angle of reflection? So what if you cannot bring two like poles of a magnet together? So what if the electromagnetic spectrum is divided up into bits. Well for David these were questions that he revelled in and thanks to the time when he was at his prime, he immediately went into the military who had a rather interesting question. Would it be possible to create a device that when exploded would kill millions yet leave the main infrastructure of a settlement intact? This is where David’s knowledge of the electromagnetic spectrum came into being and he proposed a bomb where instead of using explosives to cause damage, you used the part of the spectrum with some of the longest wavelengths around that would be stopped by buildings but be absorbed by people and therefore kill them off. Well, the military loved this idea and gave the go ahead and on May 1st 1962, the test was ready of the world’s first bomb that gave off gamma radiation.
By now, several of you will have put two and two together and come up with four, but there is still one more person to throw into the mix before we get to that four and that is Rick Jones, for without him, four wouldn’t come into it, as it was Rick Jones would found himself on the test site. Well, of course, you can’t have civilians running around a bomb site can you, so David went out to shoo him away, unaware that back at the control centre, another member of the military, not keen on delays had overruled that the countdown be halted. And there you have four, for just as David shooed Rick away, by shoving him into a trench the bomb goes off and it’s David who gets the full blast. And for the first few hours, aside from looking like a statue, he seems quite all right. However, as the sun sets, he starts feeling a little on the woozy side and becomes, yes, you’ve guessed it “The Incredible Hulk”
So how incredible is he? Well, how does having so much strength at your disposal that nothing is a problem (as demonstrated when the Hulk lifts an entire mountain), or being able to breath underwater or his personal favourite being able to regenerate from any injury (useful if you are thrown into a volcano for instance).
Of course, this was all a work of fiction to raise concerns about the use of nuclear weapons but considering the number of times the Hulk has appeared on television, movies and even cartoons, it is safe to say that this is one nuclear fallout victim that most people like.
Cain Marco (born around 1935, still living, created 1965)
Family trees can be exceptionally complicated on occasions, and believe me I know from personal experience, so imagine the situation that Cain finds himself in when his father marries a widower who already has a son and then just to make things even more complex, the father had an involvement in the death of her first husband. So, it should as no surprise to hear that Cain bullies the original son with a vengeance, yet despite this the two seem to do a lot of things in common and that includes joining the US Army and taking part in the Korean War.
During one of their off days, the two go exploring and find a temple dedicated to a being called Cyttorak and in the middle of it is a whacking great big ruby. Cain immediately says “Hello, pension” and decides to make off with it, despite the other sons’ insistence that would not be a good idea and with good reason, for when Cain picks the ruby up, estimating it must be worth a million dollars, an inscription appears and he decides to see what it says. “Whosoever touches this gem shall be granted the power
of the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak! Henceforth, you who read these words, shall become … forevermore … a human juggernaut!”
And cue the mass nodding of heads because that’s exactly what happens and what does he get for his troubles? A cave in, but since when does that stop a juggernaut eh? So how much of one is he? Well, can he shatter a mountain? Check! Lift a building? Check! And that’s not even a half of it, because on one occasion he found out he was only using a fraction of the power available to him and with that he becomes literally unstoppable and becomes so strong, he wonders if he could bench press Jupiter!
There is however one small downside to all this though and that is, he’s a bad one. Yep, when he becomes all powerful does he help kittens down from trees? Hardly, he’s more the type to bend the tree down and just when the kitten is about to jump let the tree go and fling that kitten into the next county and when you’ve got an unstoppable villain, you know you’ve got it bad!
Larry Scott (born 1938, died 2014)
When you think of the state of Idaho what is the first thing that comes to mind? Potatoes? The Rocky Mountains? Wildfires? Well, in 1938, muscle was added to the list when Larry was born to a machinist and his wife from Pocatello. He must have had a good physical upbringing because he was already training at the age of 16 and in 1959 won the Mr. Idaho title at the tender age of 20, he then decided to head west and swept all before him winning the Mr. California title in 1960, Mr. Pacific Coast in 1961, Mr. America in 1962 and Mr. Universe in 1964. This last contest impressed the maker of a film wishing to cash in on the teenage movie genre and so, although a small part, he appeared in Muscle Beach Party.
During this time, he was working as a physique model for the likes of Don Whitman (of the Western Photography Guild) and the work that he did for Pat Milo has been likened to the works of the great masters of the Renaissance. Milo introduced him to a wider audience and homed him into the literal “boy next door” which earned him appearances in everything from Muscle Builder to The Young Physique magazines. So it should come as no surprise to hear that he was the bodybuilder of the 1960’s totally overshadowing other great musclemen and when he won the Mr. Olympia in 1965 “Larry fever” was at its height, mind you even he was a little disappointed when in 1966 he retained the title but not the jewelled crown he won in 1965 as the idea had been dropped.
Soon after though he shocked the world by announcing his retirement from the sport stating that he felt he had done all he could do, and with two Olympia titles who can blame him for saying so, and moved into freelance writing contributing to Flex magazine, Ironman and Musclemag whilst at the same time continuing to advance training even inventing his own exercise the “Scott press” a combination of dumbbell presses and lateral raises, but the lure of the stage was never fully extinguished and in 1979 he entered the Canada Diamond Cup and the Vancouver Grand Prix and although he didn’t place in the latter, the crowds lapped up a chance to see the only man to win Mr. America, Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia and the only man never to lose an Olympia. He retired again a short while later and in 1999 was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame and was a mentor and role model of the professional bodybuilder and actor Sarmad Mohammad, however in 2014 the world was shocked to hear of the death of Larry from a disease that no one should have to suffer from, as he died from complications Alzheimer’s disease in his Utah home, proving that even the fittest and strongest can be struck down by this disease that is now rampant all over the world.July 9, 2017 at 4:09 pm #9935
you really put everything you got into anything you set your mind up to do. What you have accomplished here is bad ass. Filled up with tons of facts, and brought attention to less commonly know athletes. Well done brother.July 13, 2017 at 4:19 pm #9957
Larry was the start of what is known as the “Golden Age of Bodybuilding” and so it is only fit that some of the heroes of that age are next in line to be profiled
Dave Draper (born 1942, still living)
Dave was born in New Jersey and become interested in weight training at around the age of ten, and by the time he was twelve he was an absolute past master, so it should as no surprise to hear that in high school he participated in wrestling, gymnastics and swimming, but could always be found in or around the weights room. After he left school, he didn’t immediately burst onto the scene. His first win was at the age of 21 when he became Mr. New Jersey but six months later he was at Bodybuilding Central (California) working for the Weider company and as a result began to dabble in the film industry appearing in “Lord, Love a Duck” and “Don’t make Waves”
His training was in, what he dubbed “The Dungeon” and was described as “a large, awful space dug out of the ground on the corner of 4th and Broadway” which you would think would make any half decent person run a mile, but with such illumines as Mike Katz, Franco Columbo and Robby Robinson training there, would you? Dave, like most bodybuilders in the 1960’s, had to deal with steroids (which were just making their appearance) and in later interviews was remarkably candid stating “I was ten years into my training, 235 pounds and already Mr. America before steroids came on the scene. I used them sparingly under a doctor’s supervision and noticed marked improvement in my muscularity and separation” and given that when he won Mr. America in 1965 he was six foot tall as well, you might question why he needed to take them in the first place.
It was around this time that television came calling and in 1964, paying homage to the peplum movies, David the Gladiator, dressed like a Roman gladiator would appear on a local Los Angeles television station and present a movie every Saturday from eight until ten. In 1967, he became that year’s Mr. Olympia, and as a result television came running as he appeared as himself in “Mr. Universe Muscles in” part of the long running comedy “The Beverley Hillbillies” in October 1967 having appeared the week before as “Bulk” in “I was a 99 pound weakling” episode of “The Monkees” and also appeared in an episode of “Here Comes the Brides” in December 1969.
In 1970, he was crowned the Mr. World title as well as coming third in the Mr. World contest and the Tall Mr. Universe, however the rest of the decade was not a good time as reports suggested he was battling alcohol abuse by the end of the decade, which was confirmed, but by 1983 he had beaten his demons and guest posed as well as appearing at expos throughout the 80’s and 90’s and in 1999, became the first bodybuilder to produce an online weekly newsletter, which is still going strong some eighteen years later.
Frank Zane (born 1942, still living)
Although Frank was born in the same year as Dave, his introduction to bodybuilder came after a glittering academic career, receiving a B.Sc (Bachelor of Science degree) in Education from Wilkes University in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania in 1964 (but still had time to win the Mr. Keystone contest in 1962). In 1965 he moved to Florida, where as well as teaching math and chemistry, he managed to find time to win that year’s Sunshine State title, the 1965 Mr. Universe title, and become the first man to win multiple Mr. America’s from 1966 to 1968, also clocking up another couple of Universe titles, and won three Olympia’s back to back from 1977 to 1979. It was these titles that really opened people’s eyes. Zane’s proportionate physique featured the second thinnest waistline of all the Mr. Olympias (after Sergio Oliva), with his wide shoulders making for a distinctive V-taper. His abdominals were considered by some bodybuilders to be the best in bodybuilding history. He stood at five foot nine and had a self-declared competition weight of less than 190 pounds when he won all three. However in 1980, things could have come to a terrible end as, although he finished third in that year’s Olympia, it was revealed that he had nearly died at home.
By 1985, Frank had married and between them owned and operated Zane Haven in Palm Springs, CA where they conducted one-on-one sessions with clients who wished to possess a symmetrical physique and although had two book under his belt, Frank churned out another two in the next seven years. And between 1996 and 1998 produced yet another two books as well as a seasonal newsletter. In 2005 Frank Zane played the IFBB Announcer and worked as the consulting producer in the movie “See Arnold Run” and still had time to write another three books over the next four years and just to prove the adage “there’s life in the old dog yet” in 2011, he appeared in the documentary “Challenging Impossibility” describing the weightlifting odyssey of spiritual teacher and peace advocate Sri Chinmoy.
Arnold Schwarzenegger (born 1947, still living)
But by far the most famous person from that Golden Age has to be “Ahnold”. Born in Austria, he was so dedicated to the cause that he picked up his first barbell at age 13, and the following year decided he wanted to be a bodybuilder and like a lot of people his age, frequented the movies to see the likes of Steve Reeves, Reg Park and Johnny “Me Tarzan” Weissmuller. In fact, he was so dedicated that during the year of national service that all Austrians had to do at the age of 18, he actually went AWOL during basic training just to compete in a contest and spent a week in military prison for his troubles. That contest was the Junior Mr. Europe contest which by the way, he won!
The list of contests that he entered is as long as your arm, but the ones that brought him to international fame had to be his Olympias (1971 – 1975) and it was after that last contest he announced his formal retirement from the sport and started to appear in films including “Stay Hungry” in 1976, “Pumping Iron” in 1977, “Handsome Stranger” in 1979. In 1980, he announced that he would be appearing as Mickey Hargitay in “The Jayne Mansfield Story” so when he was spotted in the gym, training, no one thought anything of it, when he boarded a plane to Australia where that year’s Mr. Olympia was being held, the natural assumption was for a documentary about the contest or to celebrate the contest’s history. So, you can imagine everyone’s shock when he stepped on stage and won the contest before retiring again, and that’s when the floodgates opened. “Conan” in 1982 and 1984, “The Terminator” in 1984, 1991, 2003 and 2015 and pretty much anything in-between including a stint as the Governator (governor of California between 2003 and 2011).
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