Joe Weider Legendary Bodybuilding and Fitness Icon Dies at 93
November 29, 1919 – March 23, 2013
Joe Weider, the legendary fitness and publishing figure who popularized the modern conception of fitness and nutrition, and is considered the father of the sport of bodybuilding, died this morning in Los Angeles of heart failure. He was 93 years old.
Joe Weider’s influence is felt in every area of fitness and health. He created a massive fitness publishing empire, which included Muscle and Fitness, Flex, Shape, and Men’s Fitness magazines. He popularized the use of fitness equipment in people’s homes and was a leader in establishing the use of nutritional supplements. The company he founded, Weider Health and Fitness, became synonymous with fitness, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
A weight training pioneer, fitness crusader, and magazine publisher, Joe Weider overcame the challenges of childhood poverty and lack of education to create a sports movement that changed modern culture’s conception of physical beauty and the way athletes and everyman exercises and diets. Through the magazines he published, the sports federation (International Federation of Bodybuilders) he created, the bodybuilding contests he promoted, and his groundbreaking advocacy of fitness for women, Joe Weider created a sports legacy that has a worldwide reach and affected the lives of millions of people.
Born in 1919, Joseph Weider grew up in a tough neighborhood in Montreal, Canada during the Great Depression. An undersized child, Joe became easy prey for older and tougher teenagers, which prompted him to head off to the Montreal YMHA to request to train with their wrestling team. The coach turned him down for fear he’d be hurt.
Undaunted, Joe made his way to a local newsstand in search of inspiration. “I went to the local 5 and dime store and I bought two magazines for a few pennies,” he recalled. “One was the 1930 edition of the Milo Barbell Company’s magazine, Strength and it really opened my eyes.”
Inspired by the message and images within their pages, Joe scavenged a local train yard for an old axle and two flywheels, which he cobbled into a makeshift barbell. He lifted, pumped and pressed the scrap metal endlessly, transforming his physique from scrawny to brawny. His reputation as a powerhouse quickly began to spread throughout Montreal.
“Then somebody knocked at my parents’ door and asked for me,” he continued. “He said ‘I represent the Verdun weightlifting club. Would you like to come try out for our team?’ When I saw the gym, saw the guys working out, supporting one another, I was mesmerized. That experience changed my life.”
At 17 Joe competed in his first weightlifting contest which earned him a national ranking. Letters and calls began inundating the Weider household with requests for Joe’s advice. Realizing he hadn’t the time to attend to each query he chose to create his own magazine.
With $7 in his pocket he began to work on the first issue of Your Physique, which was published in August of 1940. Orders poured in immediately and within 18 months Joe had turned a $10,000 profit. Soon he started the Weider Barbell Co., a mail order business, using his magazine to advertise its wares.
In 1946, Joe and his younger brother Ben rented Montreal’s Monument National Theater to host the first Mr. Canada contest. They formed the International Federation of Bodybuilders that night.
In 1965 Joe created the Mr. Olympia contest, which to this day is the premier event in bodybuilding. Joe created the Ms. Olympia contest in 1980, and added the Fitness Olympia contest in 1995 and the Figure Olympia in 2003. He also mentored numerous young bodybuilders, including young Arnold Schwarzenegger. Recognizing Arnold’s potential, he said, “Every sport needs a hero and I knew that Arnold was the right man.” Joe brought Arnold to the United States from Austria, financing his trip and helped him become established in business. Joe maintained a very close relationship with Arnold for the rest of his life-they were close friends and visited frequently.
To help support his family young Joe Weider was forced to drop out of school in the seventh grade. Self educated, he was an avid student of history and a collector of art, particularly of the American West. In 2010 he oversaw the donation of money and priceless bodybuilding artifacts, photos and documents that established the Joe and Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture at the University of Texas, Austin.
Twelve years ago Joe was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a heart condition with which he was expected to survive about three years. Doctors credit his amazing fitness and nutrition ethic—until recently he trained every morning and made frequent public appearances—for allowing him to survive an additional nine years.