Tuesday, 26 March 2013


My obituary of Joe Weider, the bodybuilding guru, is up at the Guardian online (link to it here) and should be in the paper paper today or soon. Obviously the big hook for the story was Arnold Schwarzenegger, for whose infliction on the wider world Joe can fairly be blamed. Had I but space enough and time, I might have gone back and rewatched the two films that made Arnold's career: Pumping Iron (my enduring memory is that Arnold's cruelty to Lou Ferrigno makes Ali's to Joe Frazier look tame) and Stay Hungry (my memory is all the faux philosophy doesn't quite work, though Jeff Bridges is great and Arnold seems to be playing himself, all ego, as the documentary had suggested, but also borrowed in large part from Joe, who was once quoted, when asked about his critics, as saying 'lots of people hate God too'.)

As you can see from the photo on the right, Joe practiced what he preached -- and as he grew older you can see the way he served as a walking advertisement for the Muscle Beach lifestyle. And, after all, he did live to be 93. It might also have been good to detail all the various ways Weider's products were under constant assault from regulators, and whether his miracle ingredients were really scraped off the sea bottom. Maybe Jack LaLanne (whose 2011 obit I wrote for the Indy, you can link to that here) held his breath and dived for them. Just kidding. But it's hard to overstate the effect of Weider ads, which were ubiquitous in my childhood, and strangely alluring. The 98 Pound Weakling of Charles Atlas fame was what Joe had been, and he knew how to sell to that adolescent (of all ages) insecurity. I was impressed to see that Joe's ghostwriter on his books about his bodybuilding system was Providence's Bill Reynolds, who's very good. But Joe's guides went beyond bodybuilding guide: I found a picture of the pamphlet on the left, and wonder how I missed this when I was young. It surely might have helped! It makes it pretty clear that the Arnold character in Stay Hungry certainly was modeled on Joe Weider.