It was sad to wake up on Saturday morning and learn about the death of Joe Weider, the phenomenally successful fitness icon whose empire included a number of publications (all still in print today) and the management of many athletes, most notably Arnold Schwarzenegger, who acknowledges a debt to Papa Joe.
Weider was born in a tough Montreal neighborhood in 1919, and the constant threat from neighborhood gangs motivated him to build his own dumbbells at age 14 and develop his body until he was able to defend himself. He also began publishing Your Physique, the magazine that would eventually become Muscle and Fitness.
The Weider empire grew quickly, giving rise to divisions for equipment and supplements. Muscle and Fitness was soon joined by Flex, Men’s Fitness, Muscle and Fitness Hers, Shape, and Fit Pregnancy, all of which are still in print today.
Joe became kown as the “Master Blaster” and was involved in the careers of other bodybuilding stars like Franco Columbu, Ronnie Coleman, Dorian Yates and Lou Ferrigno. Among his most notable achievements was the creation of the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB), with his younger brother, Ben (who left us in 2008), as well as the celebrated Mr. Olympia competition.
I worked for Weider Publications from 2000 to 2003, in its strange, artwork-packed building in Woodland Hills, California. And it was one of the best jobs I’d ever had.
I saw Joe frequently. Our offices were next to the parking lot exit where his driver picked him up and dropped him off. He always seemed interested in what we were doing (marketing and events), and when I was in his office for meetings, it always amused me how much he sounded like Jimmy Stewart.
It was lots of fun doing Weider events; they took us to great places. The Olympia Weekend in Vegas, of course, was at the Mandalay Bay resort and we put up an impressive booth with Weider athletes making appearances and signing autographs every day. One year I was given the assignment of making a promo video of the Mr. Olympia competition itself, both backstage and front. It was great to see Ben and Joe, living legends of fitness, presenting the award to Ronnie Coleman. We also exhibited at the Miami Beach Fitness Festival and had Zumba classes with Beto Perez, creator of the dance craze. We also got to meet the Governator himself at the Arnold Classic in Columbus, Ohio.
Joe started a lot of people on the road to good health and I was one of them. Although I exercised regularly, the Weider influence made me step up my game, and the fitness regimen continues to this day. And the athletes we worked with, including Ferrigno, Coleman, Gunter Schlierkamp and Roland Kickinger, were terrific. They made me realize that bodybuilders are just like us…only much, much bigger.
Joe sold the publishing group in 2003 for a whopping $357 million and, faced with the inevitable “restructuring,” I was forced to move on.
But I’ll never forget the Weider days. It’s truly the end of an era.