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Because of my lifelong interest in bodybuilding, I’ve had the good fortune to meet and become friends with a wonderful cast of characters, many of whom are larger than life in the Damon Runyon sense. When it comes to personality, the trio in the photo below goes to the head of the class.

The photo was taken by Mike Neveux in 1990 at the IRON MAN studio in conjunction with Arnold’s work on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. What a piece of history! Arnold: bodybuilder/movie star/entrepreneur/future governor; Joe Gold: founding member of Muscle Beach, part of the Mae West stage show, founder of Gold’s Gym as well as World Gym and a gym-equipment innovator without peer; and in the middle, Tony Nowak—not a household name like the other two but no less a special personality and special friend. I’m sad to say that Tony passed away on April 6, 2010, while on vacation in Italy with his 17-year-old son, Enzo.

I first met Tony at Gold’s Gym in the mid-’70s and was always taken by his enthusiasm for anything he was doing and for life in general. Later Tony started a garment business that specialized in custom-made leather jackets. It’s really a gross understatement to call his jackets “custom-made,” however. Maybe I should say that every detail to the last stitch was important to him. Perfectionist is not a strong enough word—obsession is closer. The jackets were just one of Tony’s passions.

The last time I saw Tony was at the ’10 Arnold Classic with his commemorative jacket for the event. He had created the Arnold Classic jackets for years and always presented one to the winner onstage. Tony was a good friend of Arnold’s, and he created a special jacket for the cast and crew of every movie Arnold made.

Many of the people attending Tony’s memorial mass wore his jackets in homage to him. Arnold’s eulogy hit on the areas that always came up in any conversation with Tony—he had pure, unbridled enthusiasm, the kind that grabs you up and sweeps you away. His love of his family always surfaced. Included in that family were Gold and Arnold. When you talked with Tony, you became part of the family.

A naturalized citizen, originally from Poland, Tony also had an absolute love of the U.S.A. In his eulogy Arnold told a story of hanging out with Tony after a workout in the ’80s. When they heard someone at the end of the bar running down his beloved adopted country, Tony walked over to the guy and knocked him out with a single punch. Extreme? That was Tony. Every one of the 500-plus people in the church nodded knowingly. Only Arnold had witnessed it, but everyone knew that it was just Tony being Tony.

I had many conversations with Tony about his being an immigrant and what America meant to him. He spoke of a thousand different ways that his story could only happen here. Tony never left anyone “untouched”; he was a character that Damon Runyon would have loved to write about. In the beginning of his eulogy Arnold said that Tony’s passing made him angry—I feel the same way. We have no replacement for him. IM

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