Publishing empire grew from bodybuilder's passion




29-11-1919 - 23-3-2013

A bodybuilding pioneer who created a multimillion-dollar fitness publishing empire and mentored a teenage Arnold Schwarzenegger has died of heart failure in Los Angeles. He was 93.

A masterful marketer, entrepreneur and promoter with a rags-to-riches — and scrawny-to-brawny — story, Weider had a faith in the power of bodybuilding that he compared to religious fervour. He popularised 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.

Schwarzenegger mourned the loss of a man he called a father figure. Weider "was the godfather of fitness who told all of us to 'Be Somebody with a Body'," the former California governor said. "He taught us that through hard work and training we could all be champions."

Joseph Weider was born in a tough section of Montreal, where his parents struggled to make a living. His father worked as a pants presser in a factory, and at the age of 12 Weider left school to work, first as a grocery delivery boy and later as a short-order cook.

To keep from being threatened by neighbourhood toughs, Weider made his first barbells out of scrap metal and began lifting weights. He became obsessed with muscle-building and at 17, over the objections of his mother, started his first magazine, a newsletter he printed on a mimeograph machine.

He soon convinced a big magazine distributor to put the publication, Your Physique, on news-stands and sales took off. In 1946, he and his younger brother Ben hosted the first Mr Canada contest, and on the same night formed the International Federation of Bodybuilders.

In 1965, Weider created one of bodybuilding's premiere events, the Mr Olympia competition, later adding other contests that drew weightlifters from around the world.

In 1972, recognising that the sport needed a charismatic star, he paid for Schwarzenegger's move to California, setting him up in a Santa Monica apartment, paying him a weekly $100 stipend and splashing his victories across the covers of his magazines.

Weider, who taught Schwarzenegger about business, also helped him land his first movie role in the 1969 film Hercules in New York. He told producers that the Austrian weightlifter was a German Shakespearean actor - "even though I barely spoke English", Schwarzenegger said.

Weider is survived by his wife, Betty, who for many years wrote a fitness column for one of his publications.

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