Written by Peter McGough
23 March 2013

joe weider passes

JOE WEIDER 1919-2013

The Father of Bodybuilding Passes

By Peter McGough



What a sad, sad day. It hardly seems possible that Joe Weider is no longer with us. Although he had been ill for some time it’s still a shuddering shock to learn that he passed away this morning, March 23. Of all, his accomplishments a personal feeling is that the word that describes him best is “visionary”. For over 70 years he preached that a bodybuilding lifestyle was a healthy pursuit for everyone.


In the July 1950 issue of Your Physique Joe authored the by now iconic I Predict, in which he made ten predictions for the future. [The Ten Predictions are shown on another thread.] Reading them today is astonishing, because at the time they were written they would've been massive flights of fancy to scientists, the sporting community and the general populace. And yet all those predictions have come true. Not some of them, not most of them, all of them. Like Alexander Graham Bell testing his first phone, Joe called it.


Such prophetic skills are the mark of a true visionary. And Joe's whole life has been about making visions and ideas a reality. We all hear tales of kids from poor backgrounds making it big in industry, commerce or show biz, but those fields already existed. Joe's story is different. By sheer force of will, he and his brother Ben barreled their way out of the ghettos of Montreal and created, from nothing, a sport and an industry that had no template or previous foundation.


Against that background of accomplishments, it's only right and fitting that Joe is regaled as the Father of Bodybuilding. His 1940 immersion into publishing was the clarion call for turning bodybuilding competitions (which, in those days, were held at midnight in drafty church halls after weightlifting events) into a true sport. Then he proceeded to pioneer the manufacture of sports supplements, which today is a business that drives the whole sport. That really is the work of a visionary.


Thinking of Joe on this day, as I’m sure millions now are, it is impossible to generalize: We all have a personal memory and a debt we owe to Joe. So indulge me as I speak about the Joe Weider I know – I refuse to say knew.


As a youth in the early '60s, my interest in the subject of physical culture was first tweaked by way of the Superman comics, which used to have a Weider ad in the back. Anyone remember the phrase, "Be a Weider Wildcat, baby!” Seeing those ads, I was amazed at the arms of Freddy Ortiz and, later, those personifications of California beach muscle--Dave Draper and Larry Scott. To a young Brit living in northern European climes, the weather seemed heavenly, the bodybuilders like gods. But, elevated above even their celestial level, on an altogether different plane, was Joe Weider. To me, the name had a Zeus-like quality to it. Joe was the god of gods.


Fast-forward to the present day and I still feel the same way about Joe. I still have cause to pinch myself that I used to get to sit down a couple of times a week with Zeus and shoot the breeze. Originally awed by the two-dimensional Joe from the pages of a DC comic book, I find myself more in awe of the multidimensional Joe Weider I came to know. He would call me from his office 20 yards from mine and in that much imitated voice would ask, “Can you spare me a few minutes?” Can I spare Zeus a few minutes? The teenage backstreet kid still lurking inside me would think, Are You kidding me? It was always longer than a few minutes as I sat in his office listening to his stories, and he never ceased to amaze me. What may have started out as a discussion about how Jay Cutler looked at a recent photo shoot would progress into a review of the problems in Iraq, segue into a discourse on the protocol that wolves follow to determine the leader of the pack and swing effortlessly back to bodybuilding, as Joe regaled me with anecdotes from the past.


One story he related to me occurred when I told him of my introduction to the sport via the Superman comics, and brought up the famous Charles Atlas "kick sand in my face" ads that appeared in the same publications. Atlas promoted his dynamic tension program, which involved no weight equipment but instead involved self-resistance exercises pitting one muscle against another. At the mention of Atlas' name, Joe's face brightened, his eyes twinkled as he told me of the first time he met Atlas, whose real name was Angelo Siciliano. It was at the New York Athletic Club in the late '40s. Joe was working out when Atlas walked over and introduced himself. During the conversation, Atlas told Joe, "You know, I'm a better businessman than you." Intrigued, Joe asked why. Atlas replied, "Because, for your barbell business, you have to get the stuff made and delivered to your warehouse. Then you have to pack it up and ship it to the customer, and it costs you a fortune. For my business, I just get eight-page pamphlets printed and then send them out through the post office." Having finished the story, Joe started laughing, obviously getting a kick out of recalling it.


Hearing stories like these, from the mouth of a living legend, still, to this day, makes me thank my lucky stars that Joe invited me to move to the United States and work for FLEX in 1991. Upon my arrival, he told me, "I brought you here for your sarcasm." I replied, "Wow, it's great to feel wanted." Working with Joe, I learned a lot--an awful lot--and saw his creative genius executed at close hand. He gave me the ball and I ran with it like a bat out of hell. My wife Anne and I came to know Betty and forged a warm friendship with her.


Joe changed my life as he has changed millions over the decades. But he not only gave me the opportunity to meet and work with one of my heroes, he allowed me to form a relationship in which he was a mentor, friend and finally like a second father. I know countless others feel the same.


Joe’s story of perseverance is a mirror image of the core of his bodybuilding philosophy: start small; set and achieve short-term goals within a framework of larger objectives; learn from mistakes; if at first you don't succeed, try again; at all times have faith in your beliefs; don't listen to your detractors, instead surround yourself with positive energy; don't rest on your laurels; and never, ever, give up. Well, now the only force that could make Joe Weider give up has intervened. We should all cherish Joe’s memory and respect his legacy, because one thing is absolutely certain: There will never, ever, be another Joe Weider. Love ya Joe.

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