By Megan Garvey
Joe Weider, who made millions from a fitness empire and mentored a young Austrian bodybuilder who went on to become a major movie star and governor of California, has died.
Weider, 93, passed away Saturday of heart failure at his home in Los Angeles, according to a news release. The multimillion-dollar publishing empire he built included Muscle and Fitness, Flex, Shape, and Men’s Fitness magazines.
His death was marked by his protege Arnold Schwarzenegger, who called Weider “the godfather of fitness.”
“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,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “I will never forget his generosity.”
Weider was born Nov. 20, 1920, in Montreal. He first dreamed of power as a young teenager living in a gang-infested ghetto there. When he was 13, he crafted crude dumbbells and then worked out until he was able to stand down bullies who beat him up.
He created the Mr. Olympia event in 1965. Two years later, Weider discovered Schwarzenegger at a body-building contest in Europe.
He soon invited Schwarzenegger to move to California and funded the young bodybuilder’s first apartment in Santa Monica, giving him enough money to make ends meet. Weider also orchestrated Schwarzenegger’s first acting role in a TV movie.
Asked by the producers of “Hercules Goes Bananas” for a “a muscleman who could act a little,” Weider pointed them to Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger told The Times in 1989 that Weider pumped up his resume to get him the job, telling the producers that Schwarzenegger had done Shakespearean plays in Germany.
“It was all bull,” Schwarzenegger admitted. “I didn’t speak much English at all. We went to meet these guys and Joe said, ‘Don’t say anything. I’ll do the talking.’ ”
While he had staunch supporters, Weider’s critics complained about his outsized ego and bruising business style. Weider at times called himself the Jesus Christ, the Mahatma Gandhi and the Karl Marx of his field.
He studied the tactics of leaders who inspired the masses, including Winston Churchill, Moses, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, and collected the original letters of men like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud.
“You think anybody says negative things about Jesus? About Moses?” Weider asked The Times during a 1989 interview. “You get a lot of atheists and devil worshipers that hate God. Why should I be loved by everybody?”
He is survived by his wife, Betty Weider.