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Q: Was Body Builder Charles Atlas A Real Person?

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A: You’ve probably seen the comic book ads: a 98-pound kid trying to impress the ladies gets sand kicked in his face by a bully. Desperate to change his life, the kid stumbles into Charles Atlas’ body building program, works out, and after just a few panels the our now buff hero turns the tables on said bully.

But how much of this is for real? Well, a former self-described “scrawny weakling” himself, Charles Atlas did become the most perfect physical specimen of manhood in the mid-20th century—at least according to him. Angelo Siciliano immigrated to New York from Italy as a child, and after getting pounded on by Brooklyn bullies for a few years, he came up with the idea of muscle-against-muscle fitness training, now known as isometric exercise.

He soon grew to be a huge hulking mass of man-dom, got a job as a strongman in a Coney Island freak show, and changed his name to Charles Atlas. It wasn’t long before he’d started his mail-in sales fitness business in 1928, and it’s still around today (although admittedly, it’s not the commercial juggernaut it once was). Atlas himself, however, is not. He died at 79, shortly after his daily jog — which just confirms what 98-pound weaklings like us have always thought of jogging.

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  • I met a woman who claimed to be married to him at one time and I think she legit. She told me he was a prick, and she once swung and hit him with a suitcase (she was short, and standing on the bed at the time) in Vegas. That was pretty much the end of their marriage. 🙂

  • Atlas Man

    I think its unbelivable that you took a shot at Atlas dying after his morning run. HE WAS 79!!! I’d like to see you at 79. Let’s see if your 10 miles a day like he was.

  • Bill Gibbons

    I was a Charles Atlas student, and even knew his son, Charles Atlas Jr, who passed away in August 2008 at the age of 89. Atlas Sr was married only to one woman during his life – Margaret Cossano, from 1918 until her death in 1965 following an operation to remove a malignant tumor. Mr. Atlas himself passed away from congested heart failure at the age of 80 years on December 24th, 1972. He was experiencing chest pains after his exercise routine and was admitted to hospital for tests. he passed away in his sleep. The story that he died after a long run on the beach is pure fiction, as is the woman who claimed she was married to him for a brief period.

    Bill Gibbons
    Calgary, Alberta

  • Jack Jensen

    I lived in Brooklyn,NY in the late 30’s, on 79th street below 13th Ave (Dyker Heights).
    Charles Atlas lived on the corner of 79th street and 12th Avenue. My brother used to mow his lawn. I also met his son. Never met his wife.