It was about 5 p.m. on Saturday when I heard the tragic news. The sad information came via a Facebook post from IFBB pro Rodney Davis; former IFBB pro Frank Hillebrand passed away Saturday while working out at the gym in Las Vegas. Hillebrand, who was one of the area’s most popular personal trainers, was only 45 years old. Davis said early reports indicate a heart attack as the cause of death, but nothing was official as of this reporting. Davis followed up with a more in-depth email regarding the specifics of Hillebrand’s death, and I quote him:
"Lonnie, I went to Gold’s Gym on Lake Mead & Buffalo (it’s one of the two most popular Gold’s in Las Vegas…Jay Cutler, Dennis Wolf, Jeannie Paparone and other pros train there) on Saturday afternoon, February 19. It had rained the night before, so it was an especially clean and clear day.
"I got there at 2 p.m. to train arms, and I saw Frank there with two of his good friends/clients that he works out with. One of them was Dr. Julio Garcia. This was one of those days where I saw Frank across the gym, but we never directly crossed paths so, sadly, I didn’t speak to him this day.
"After I was done training I was leaving the locker room and saw a fireman running inside to meet other firemen who were already inside. I knew something was seriously wrong because there were at least six firemen there all hovering and working on someone in the front lobby.
"I was expecting to see an older member or someone out of shape, but to my total shock it was Frank laying lifeless on the floor, with his feet elevated, shirt opened, with an EKG and defibulator hooked up to him. Apparently, he was having trouble breathing during his training, so he was taken to the front lobby to relax, but he collapsed to the floor shortly after.
"A fireman was doing compressions; they worked on him while a large group of us, in a semi-circle, were pulling for him. After about 15 minutes an ambulance took Frank to the hospital, but it was too late. I think he died in the gym, which is probably the way he would have wanted it—with all his friends surrounding him, in the environment he loved.
"Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE who knew Frank liked him very much. He was a very sweet man, and you could see that smile on his a mile away. The gym will never be the same. Rest in peace, my friend."
I was the emcee at several of Hillebrand’s contests—the 1992 IRON MAN Pro (10th) and Arnold Classic (11th), and the 1993 Arnold Classic (12th) and the San Jose Pro Invitational (7th). Hillebrand, a former World Amateur champion out of Germany, placed seventh in the 1990 Mr. Olympia.
Hillebrand appeared on the August, 1996 cover of IRON MAN with model Camille Jones. If I remember correctly, I interviewed him as well for that issue. And, that he had already retired from competition by that point.
Heartfelt condolences to all of Hillebrand’s family and friends.