If there is one man whose name is synonymous with health and fitness, it is Joe Weider. The Canadian bodybuilder and entrepreneur is almost single-handedly responsible for changing the shape of not just bodybuilding but fitness in general. A giant in the industry and an inspiration to countless people, he sadly passed away on March 23rd at the age of 93.
Born in Canada in 1919, he developed his passion for fitness and bodybuilding at a young age. The 14-year-old Weider published the first issue of Your Physique, which would later become known as Muscle & Fitness. This was the first of many business investments, with others including the founding of Weider Nutrition in 1936. Now known as Schiff Nutrition International, it is generally considered to be the first sports nutrition company.
An advocate of health and wellbeing, he popularised many of the machinery and techniques that are still used in gyms around the world today. Amongst various fitness training courses and a large magazine publishing empire, Joe Weider and his brother Ben Weider founded the International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness in 1946. The Mr. Olympia competition was devised by Weider to enable the Mr. Universe winners to continue competing and to earn money, and helped bring bodybuilding to mainstream attention. The first Mr Olympia competition was held on the 18th of September 18th 1965, and saw Larry Scott win his first of two straight titles.
The 1977 film Pumping Iron focused on the competition for the Mr Olympia title, featuring an unknown Austrian bodybuilder by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film largely followed Schwarzenegger and his main competitor Lou Ferrigno, now famous for his role in the 1970s TV show The Incredible Hulk.
Schwarzenegger went on to win Mr. Olympia seven times, and Pumping Iron made him a household name. He became Weider’s protege and the rest, as they say, is history. 43 films, $4 billion at the box office and two terms as the Governor of California later, Schwarzenegger is one of the world’s biggest superstars and credits Weider with inspiring him to begin bodybuilding.
In 2006, Schwarzenegger presented Weider with the Venice Muscle Beach Hall of Fame’s Lifetime Achievement award. It was well-deserved, as Weider’s ideas and publications created a platform from which many of today’s fitness trends have spread. From sports nutrition and training regimes to the very notion of the importance of being healthy, Joe Weider dedicated his life to influencing the way people think of fitness.
He was a champion of bodybuilding, stemming from his genuine passion and personal experience of the sport. His publications and business ventures reflect this enthusiasm and energy, and he devoted himself to inspiring not just bodybuilders but everybody.
Joe Weider’s passing is a loss not just to the fitness world, but the world as a whole. In an age of increasingly sedentary lifestyles and rising numbers of obesity-related illnesses, his passion and dedication will be sorely missed. Yet his legacy will be long-lasting, and his name will live on as the true Mr Olympia.