A prodigy by definition is an extraordinarily talented youth. When Sergio Oliva exploded on the bodybuilding scene, he did so with a complete physique. Sergio was in his native Cuba during his teenage years, so we can only go by what he said about his early life, before he defected to the United States. He told me he had been squatting 500-plus pounds when he was 15. That was enough for me to put him in the prodigy category.
Sergio and Casey Viator were both prodigies, each having a unique structure and musculature, but prodigies none the less, as they were able to build muscle almost at will. I first saw Casey at the ’70 AAU Mr. America contest, which I co-promoted with Bill Pearl. Coincidentally, it was also my first introduction to Arthur Jones, the creator of Nautilus machines. An amazing weekend, to say the least.
Casey had won the Teenage Mr. America and Most Muscular titles just weeks earlier. As he walked onto the stage at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Culver City, California, the audience gasped. No one had ever seen a 19-year-old who looked the way Casey did that day. I was standing next to Bill Grant backstage, and Bill—who usually won the best-arms trophy—said, “There goes the best-arms trophy.” In fact Casey won every bodypart award but abs and garnered third place overall.
While Casey would be leaner in later years, the unbelievably full muscle bellies and spectacular calves that became his trademark were all present on that day. His forearms, like Sergio’s, had to be seen in person to be appreciated. Even at 19 they were the equal of any on the scene at that time—and maybe anytime! Also like Sergio, Casey was very strong. Every genetic advantage seemed to have landed in Casey’s pool, and he worked hard to reach his potential.
Over the years I photographed and traveled with Casey many times, in addition to being involved in countless of his workouts at Gold’s, when it was on Second Street in Santa Monica. Casey’s workout intensity always drew a crowd. He was fun to be around. He had that Louisiana good-old-boy persona—he was always ready to greet you warmly—and he projected a certain laid-back confidence. He had no enemies, just friends, and if you were a friend, you knew that if you needed help, Casey would be there if he could.
The physique world lost one of its true prodigies, and I lost a friend. Rest in peace, Casey. IM