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Good-Bye, Zabo

albumopenr_00049_zaboAnother legend has passed on, with the sad news that Irvin “Zabo” Koszewski died Sunday at age of 84. Zabo, according to my sources, came down with pneumonia, which led to a staph infection; eventually renal failure resulted in his death.

I first met Zabo at Joe Gold’s World Gym in 1983. Known for his tremendous mid-section-he dominated the “Best Abs” competition whenever he stepped on stage-during his illustrious 20 year career, Koszewski struck me more for his laid back persona, and wit, than for his championship physique.

He worked the front desk at the gym, but most of the time he was either reading a book, or sleeping, while members and guests alike, after failing to get his attention, would just enter the facility, train, and leave-while Zabo continued to dream away. Sometimes he would take the phone off the hook, and when an irate Gold came back from a break and asked why the phone was busy for hours, Zabo would innocently say the receiver must have been knocked off accidentally. Honest injun!

Eventually I did a couple of in-depth pieces on him in IRON MAN, and found out so much more about this understated gentleman.  He was born August 24, 1924, in Camden, New Jersey. His quest for the perfect midsection began at the age of seven, after seeing photos of Eugene Sandow’s beautifully sculpted abs. Zabo was a standout high school athlete, where he was captain of the football team, earning all-state honors as an offensive guard; he also lettered in track, swimming and wrestling. In 1943 he enlisted in the Army infantry; during his time in the service Zabo served in New Zealand and Australia, and fought in three combat landings.

albumjgold_00041_zaboAfter returning stateside, Zabo won the Mr. New Jersey title in 1948; in 1951 he made his first appearance at Muscle Beach and immediately fell in love with the location; Zabo had found a new home. At the 1965 Mr. America, held in conjunction with the inaugural Mr. Olympia, Koszewski finished third in the Medium class-he won, natch, “Best Abs” as well.

Two years later he won his class at the Mr. International and his success on a posing dais eventually led to mainstream notoriety as he landed a part in the television series “Combat”, for five years. He also worked in movies, and toured with the Mae West Show.

In 1970, while Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sergio Oliva faced off in the Tall division at the Pro World competition, Zabo landed in fourth in the Short class. In May, 2007, Zabo was inducted into the Joe Weider Hall of Fame; he was honored at last year’s Independence Day show at Muscle Beach.

The last time I saw Zabo was at the Reg Park Memorial in December of 2007. I tried to get him to open up on camera but, as expected, he wanted to shed the limelight.  A modest, funny man indeed, who epitomizes the “actions speak louder than words” credo.

Plans for a memorial service are in the making; check back at this site for updates. In the meantime, the IRON MAN staff sends out deepest condolences to the Koszewski family.

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