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Joe Weider, Bodybuilding and Fitness Industry Pioneer, Dies at 93

Joe Weider, the bodybuilding and fitness industry publishing pioneer who mentored a young Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstardom, died Saturday at the age of 93.

Two days after the death of Joe Weider, the bodybuilding and fitness industry publishing pioneer who mentored a young Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstardom, his office continued to field responses from all walks of life, his publicist says.

Weider died of heart failure Saturday in a Los Angeles hospital at the age of 93. Charlotte Parker, his longtime publicist, tells Club Industry that she has heard from well-known people as well as people who simply enjoyed reading his famous magazines.

"Responses have been pouring in from everyone," Parker tells Club Industry. "We've gotten hundreds of responses from people saying things like, 'He changed my life. He was an amazing person.' It has been amazing."

Joe Weider, who died March 23 at the age of 93, was the first recipient of Club Industry's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. (File photo)

Weider's publishing empire included Muscle and Fitness, Flex, Shape and Men's Fitness magazines. In addition to publishing and creating bodybuilding events, Weider popularized the use of fitness equipment in people's homes and was a leader in establishing the use of nutritional supplements.

Strength magazines opened Weider's eyes to the world of bodybuilding as a young boy growing up in Montreal, Canada. Weider, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, was born in 1919 and spent his formative years in the Great Depression. An undersized kid, Weider was roughed up by teenagers in his tough Montreal neighborhood.

Inspired by the message and images in those magazines, Weider went to a local rail yard and produced a makeshift barbell from an old axle and two flywheels. After religiously working out, his body, and his reputation, quickly began to spread throughout Montreal.

"Then somebody knocked at my parents' door and asked for me," Weider recalled. "He said, 'I represent the Verdun weightlifting club. Would you like to come try out for our team?' When I saw the gym, saw the guys working out, supporting one another, I was mesmerized. That experience changed my life."

At the age of 20, with a seventh-grade education and only $7 to his name, Weider began to work on the first issue of Your Physique, which was published in 1940. Orders poured in immediately, and within 18 months, Weider had turned a $10,000 profit. He soon started the Weider Barbell Co., a mail order business, using his magazine to advertise its wares.

In 1946, Weider and his younger brother, Ben, rented Montreal's Monument National Theater to host the first Mr. Canada contest. They formed the International Federation of Bodybuilders that night. In 1965, Weider created the Mr. Olympia contest—the premier event in bodybuilding—and added the Ms. Olympia, Fitness Olympia and Figure Olympia contests in later years.

Arnold and Joe

Weider is perhaps most famously linked to Schwarzenegger. He and his brother Ben brought a young Schwarzenegger from Austria to California in 1968 in hopes of attaching a star to the sport of bodybuilding.

"Every sport needs a hero, and I knew that Arnold was the right man," Joe Weider once said.

In a statement released Saturday, Schwarzenegger mourned the loss of his friend, saying it was Weider's magazines that inspired him to come to America.

"Today, I lost a dear friend and mentor, and the world lost one its strongest advocates of living a healthy lifestyle," Schwarzenegger said. "Joe Weider was a titan in the fitness industry and one of the kindest men I have ever met."

Joe Weider poses with Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom Weider brought to the United States from Austria as a young bodybuilder. The two remained close friends. (Photo courtesy of Business Wire.)

Schwarzenegger went on to say that Weider advised him on his training and his business ventures, "and once, bizarrely, claimed I was a German Shakespearean actor to get me my first acting role in 'Hercules in New York', even though I barely spoke English."

Weider sold his magazines to American Media Inc. for $350 million in 2003 but kept other parts of his company, according to The New York Times. That same year, Weider became the first recipient of Club Industry's Lifetime Achievement Award.

In a 2009 interview with Club Industry for the Lifetime Achievement Award profile of Weider's good friend Jack LaLanne, Weider said he continued to work out every day.

"I will never quit," Weider told Club Industry. "If I desert my body, my body will desert me. You've got to work on your body. You've got to keep it alive. It's just like a car. If you want to keep it alive, you've got to take care of it."

In 2001, Weider was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a heart condition with which he was expected to survive about three years. Doctors credited his fitness and nutrition ethic—until recently Weider continued to train every morning and made frequent public appearances—for allowing him to survive an additional nine years.

Weider is survived by his wife, Betty Weider. Ben Weider died in 2008.

A date for a memorial service will be announced soon, says Parker, who recalls Weider's kindness and generosity.

"He was through and through a bodybuilder first," Parker says, "a person who was completely into fitness and passionately wanted to give the world the experience that he had. That was his passion. That's really what fueled him all those years."

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