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A Light Goes Out Over Bodybuilding

 

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At the Arnold Classic this year, a feeling of melancholy came over me and never left all weekend. A sense of dread permeated the air, leaving me to feel depressed and sad as the weekend wore on.

 

The famous movie star Bette Davis once said, “Getting old is not for sissies.” It’s inevitable that time will move on. We will all get old and die and the people around us will do the same. Nothing stays the same, change is constant.

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When I received the news that the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, the site of the Arnold Classic and so many other historic bodybuilding events, was going to be torn down in 2014, I was shocked. So many of my early childhood memories of attending the Mr. Olympia contest in Columbus, Ohio, were tied to the Veterans Memorial Auditorium. The image of a bulldozer thoughtlessly tearing down this iconic landmark to make room for condos made me sick to my stomach.

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After attending the evening show on Saturday night, I stood outside the Veterans Memorial Auditorium and took in the sights for the last time. I looked up the stairs leading to the theater, I watched the crowd gather in front of the windows as they mingled in the lobby, I stood in front of the Arnold statue and watched the bodybuilding fans take pictures by it. I don’t think I’ve ever been more sad at the loss of a piece of property but it was the memories attached to this historic structure that made me feel that way.

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Earlier that day, I had attended the International Sports Hall of Fame. As I stood behind the numerous photographers and watched the ceremony, it was hard not to notice that even my bodybuilding heroes were now getting much older. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Muhammad Ali of the Bodybuilding World (“The Greatest!”) is now in his late 60’s. His best friend, two-time Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu, is in his 70’s. An award was presented that day to Betty Weider on behalf of her late husband Joe and his brother Ben Weider. Betty is now 78 years old.

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When Arnold reminisced about posing with Betty on the beach for Joe Weider’s magazines, everyone in the room visualized a young 21-year-old Arnold, freshly arrived in this country, holding the former pin-up model in his massive arm while flexing his enormous biceps on his other arm. As Arnold humorously shared with the audience, his arms measured one inch bigger than Betty’s waist back in those golden days.

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Bodybuilding is a sport catered to the youth. Although many bodybuilders continue to train hard and some even compete in their later years, it is the young bodybuilders and fitness athletes who garner the majority of the attention. Writers talk about “young muscle,” when the muscles pop and seem fresh and new. As a bodybuilder ages, this young look is replaced by muscles that look worn and tired, often depleted and atrophied. Some may try to push back Father Time by using artificial hormones but the decline is inevitable in all of us.

 

In the last few years alone, the bodybuilding world has lost so many of the legendary bodybuilders who once stood on the stage and ruled the iron world. Bodybuilders such as John Grimek, Steve Reeves, Reg Park, Jack LaLanne, Vince Gironda, Dennis Tinerino, Serge Nubret, Sergio Oliva and Casey Viator have all passed away. The men who were the founders of the many bodybuilding magazines that many of us read when we first started the sport are also no longer with us. Joe Weider, the publisher of Muscle Builder, Muscle and Fitness and Flex Magazine; Robert Kennedy, the publisher of MuscleMag International; Peary Rader, the publisher of the original Iron Man Magazine; and Dan Lurie, the publisher of Muscle Training Illustrated, are all gone now.

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One week after the last Arnold Classic to be held at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium took place, the bodybuilding world received the news that Larry Scott, the very first Mr. Olympia champion, had passed away. At 75 years of age, Larry had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for the last few years.

 

Larry was Bodybuilding’s Golden Boy, the epitome of the glamour and glitz that Joe Weider wished to sell to the young, aspiring lifters in the world. Larry was blond, good looking, smiling that Colgate smile and he usually had one or two beautiful bikini babes hanging on his massive arms in the pictures of Muscle Builder and Mr. America magazines. Who didn’t want to be Larry Scott back in those days?

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Larry was born in Idaho in 1938. He was the typical skinny teenager and showed little promise of becoming the bodybuilding legend he would later grow into. He began lifting weights at 16 years old and won the Mr. Idaho title at the age of 20.

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Larry moved west to Los Angles and won the 1960 Mr. California title. By 1962, Larry won the IFBB Mr. America contest, beating out Rock Stonewall for the win. In 1963, he took first place at the IFBB Mr. Universe contest but lost the overall to Harold Poole. Larry and Harold would meet again onstage in the near future. The next year, Larry came back to win the overall at the 1964 IFBB Mr. Universe.

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During this time, Larry was being featured extensively in Joe Weider’s Muscle Builder and Mr. America magazines. Larry, along with Dave Draper, was the perfect image that Weider wanted to promote to his magazine buying public. The blond haired (Larry was asked to dye his hair), muscular bodybuilder, casually lounging on the beach with beautiful girls clad in bikini’s, was the ultimate dream for the skinny kid stuck in Hoboken, New Jersey or Dubuque, Iowa.

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Legend has it that Larry Scott and Joe Weider were sitting around having a beer when the discussion came up about what happens to bodybuilders when they have no more titles to win. Joe lamented that Steve Reeves quit competing far too early because he didn’t have any contests left to strive for. Larry himself had just won the Mr. America and Mr. Universe contests. Where could he go from here?

Joe had the idea of creating another contest where only the top contenders would be allowed to enter. It was only after winning the Mr. Universe title that you would even be eligible to compete in this top event. But what should they call it? Mr. Galaxy? Mr. Everything? Larry, who was drinking from a bottle titled Olympia Beer, offered the suggestion of Mr. Olympia. And so the greatest contest in bodybuilding history was born, all from a lazy evening drinking beer.

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In 1965, Joe Weider sent out the challenge to all of the top bodybuilders in the world about this new event, created to decide who would be the best of the best in bodybuilding. Only Mr. Universe champions were allowed to compete. Joe was hoping to see such bodybuilding luminaries as Bill Pearl and Reg Park take the stage against the top IFBB champions like Larry Scott, Harold Poole and Chuck Sipes.

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When the big day arrived at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, Weider had stirred the pot enough that all the rabid bodybuilding fans had packed the auditorium to the rafters. The Mr. America and Mr. Universe titles would be held on the same day as the inaugural Mr. Olympia contest. After popular Dave Draper overwhelmed the competition to win the Mr. America and big Earl Maynard beat out Rick Wayne and Frank Zane for the Mr. Universe title, it was time for the big event.

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With the absence of both Pearl and Park, the first Mr. Olympia featured a mere three competitors. The newly crowned Mr. Universe, Maynard, decided to jump into the fray against top competitors Harold Poole and Larry Scott.

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When Larry made his appearance onstage that night, it was to an ovation that was said to have rivaled the debut of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. Pure pandemonium! Those who were in attendance that evening, including a young Lou Ferrigno, still talk about the sheer noise level in the auditorium on that special night. Scott was a bodybuilding god to the crazy fans who were lucky enough to see him grace the stage.

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In his prime, Larry was the epitome of the California bodybuilding dream. His massive arms are still regarded as some of the best in the history of bodybuilding. Combine those thick, full biceps with the charming Scott charisma, the Troy Donahue hair and the sparkling smile and you have the makings of a superstar. Larry Scott was the first Mr. Olympia and he created the image and the mystique that made the contest the magical event it was to become.

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After defending the Mr. Olympia title in 1966, Larry Scott decided to step down and retire. A devout Mormon, Larry had recently wed his lovely bride Rachel and he didn’t want the allure of the stage, as intoxicating as it could be, to take him away from his role as a husband and, eventually, a father. Larry decided to become an insurance salesman and leave the Mr. Olympia title for someone else.

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Although Larry decided not to compete anymore, he still remained active in the bodybuilding scene by writing his own column in Joe Weider’s Muscle Builder magazine. When I began bodybuilding in the late 1970’s, Larry was still answering questions on training and nutrition, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu, each month in Muscle Builder.

One thing that struck me about Larry Scott back in those days was his genuine compassion for the bodybuilding fans. When Larry answered a question in his column, he would always begin by addressing the person by their first name. He would then go on to fully explain his answer to the question in such detail, that you could tell he really cared about the person he was writing to. It was in stark contrast to the often narcissistic behavior exhibited by superstar bodybuilders, both then and now.

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Larry remained genuine and caring throughout his life. If you were ever lucky enough to meet him at a bodybuilding expo or competition, he would firmly shake your hand and look you in the eye as if the pleasure was all his. There was never even a hint of selfishness or ego in the presence of Larry Scott.

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The bodybuilding world will miss our first Mr. Olympia champion. He was not only the superstar physique champion who blazed the way to the Olympia crown with an incredible physique, charisma and stage presence but he was a champion off the stage as well. His kindness, consideration and genuine compassion for his fellow bodybuilders was an example that all of us should follow in our lives as well. Rest in peace Larry, we’ll all miss you!

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