Commentary

Joe Weider, 93, Put Marketing Into Muscle

Joe Weider, the archetypal (fill in the blank)-pound teen weakling who bulked up and created a far-flung media, business and social network -- including the phenomenon that became Arnold Schwarzenegger –- died Saturday of heart failure in the San Fernando Valley, Calif. He was 93, and among the pantheon of influential bodybuilders -- cf. Charles Atlas and Jack LaLanne –- whose branding instructs matched their muscle mass.

 “A masterful marketer, entrepreneur and promoter with a rags-to-riches -- and scrawny-to-brawny -- story of his own, Weider had a faith in the power of bodybuilding that he compared to a religious fervor,” writes Rebecca Trounson in the Los Angeles Times. “He popularized the sport worldwide, riding the health and fitness wave with such publications as Muscle & Fitness, Flex, Men’s Fitness and Shape, which was for women.”

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Weider was born in Montreal to Polish immigrants. “He hated being roughed up by neighborhood hooligans, discovered bodybuilding in a magazine and bought into it for life,” writes Robert D. McFadden in the New York Times. “He developed a V-shaped torso with bulging biceps and abs like Michelangelo’s David, and he was still muscular and jut-jawed in his 70s and 80s.”

He published Your Physique magazine in the early 1940s and with his younger brother Ben rented Montreal’s Monument National Theater to host the first Mr. Canada contest, according to Reuters. “The two brothers also founded the International Federation of Bodybuilders and in 1965 Weider created the Mr. Olympia competition, the sport’s premiere bodybuilding contest,” reports Dan Whitcomb.

“Weider had a knack for pseudoscientific, muscular-sounding names,” McFadden writes. “He became ‘the Master Blaster’ and developed fitness equipment like the Solid Steel Tricep Bomber and food supplements like Dynamic Muscle Builder protein powder, Carbo Energizer Chewables, Performance Foods and Anabolic Mega-Paks, which featured an ingredient that he said had been scraped from the floor of the Pacific.”

After discovering Schwarzenegger at a body-building contest in Europe in 1967, Weider convinced the future movie star and politician to move to the U.S. “Every sport needs a hero, and I knew that Arnold was the right man,” he once said.

“Today, I lost a dear friend and mentor, and the world lost one of its strongest advocates of living a healthy lifestyle,” Schwarzenegger writes on his website. “Joe Weider was a titan in the fitness industry and one of the kindest men I have ever met. Joe didn’t just inspire my earliest dreams; he made them come true the day he invited me to move to America to pursue my bodybuilding career.”

Weider evidently had no compunction about fudging Arnold’s resume a bit to help his protégé find work. “He advised me on my training, on my 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,” Schwarzenegger continues.

“Joe Weider’s influence on bodybuilding and the fitness industry is so pervasive that it defies measurement,” Jeff O’Connell writes on BodyBuilder.com. “The websites we visit, the magazines we read, the contests we attend, the diets we follow, the workouts we undertake, the lexicon we use, the careers many of us pursue -- they all exist in large measure because of Joe Weider.” And, O’Connell says, he was a “marketing genius” who figured out how to “bottle” self-confidence, health and vigor.

He was not without his critics, -– indeed, he was “one of the more controversial figures” in the fitness realm, Bret Contreras and Brad Schoenfeld blogged on T Nation (yes, the “T” is for testosterone) last year. But, they caution, although his “Weider Principles” of body building “are often dismissed as bro-science, it turns out that many have solid research to back up their use.” They then list six of their favorites.

In 2011, Weider donated much of his bodybuilding memorabilia to the University of Texas at Austin, which opened the Joe and Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture, John Rogers reports on Huffington Post. Its current exhibition, “Muscle and Grace,” features more than 650 photographs arranged thematically in 10 galleries documenting the modern history of bodybuilding. 

Weider was married to his first wife, Vicky Uzar, “until around 1960,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. “Together they had one daughter, Lydia Ross. Weider married his second wife, model Betty Brosmer, in 1961. They had no children together.” He is also survived by three grandchildren.

Weider “prided himself on remaining physically fit well into old age,” according to the obit compiled in the Washington Post. “There’s no reason whatsoever to give into the aging process,” he said in an interview in the New York Times when he was a mere lad of 67. “There is no reason you can’t continue to build muscle mass into your 60s, 70s and 80s.”

And, as Weider amply proved, there is no reason why you can’t continue to build your legend into your 90s.

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