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Legends of Bodybuilding

Richard Baldwin: The Seeker

Richard Baldwin, Ph.D., can discuss Sartre and world politics at the drop of a hat, engage any scholar in an animated discussion on ancient religions and enthrall a college classroom of young (and sometimes not so young) students. Away from academia he might be spied strolling Florida’s sandy white beaches, pensive, an expression of dreamy bliss on his still youthful face.

But if you see him at the gym, stand clear. That’s where Rich enters a world of his own. Muscle is the subject, creating art the goal, a lifelong objective that burns like wildfire. There’s no chitchat, no philosophical dissertations on existentialism or Kafka’s Metamorphosis. An intriguing dichotomy, definitely. Could Richard Baldwin be Clark Kent? Bruce Banner? Jekyll and Hyde? You’re close. Try legend.

Rich would be the first to reject so grand a label as ‘legend.’ His bodybuilding career was but a minor thread in the tapestry of our sport. Hardly worth a second look, he’d joke, let alone legend. He’d laugh at the notion of an interview, claiming to be too busy or unworthy.

Many things make up an IRON MAN legend. For one, the inductee has to have made an impact. Next, he or she must possess some unique talent. Number three, and perhaps most important, an IRON MAN legend should continue to shine long after the spotlight has dimmed. Dr. Baldwin easily meets those qualifications, while adding another: thoughtful intelligence.

In the mid-’70s and throughout most of the ’80s, Richard Baldwin’s classic physique had pundits and fans fumbling for superlatives. From any angle, it glistened like a brand-new race car’and when the clutch was popped, he laid down major rubber. Even now, when mass rules, his proportioned build is an example to us all. Is that what bodybuilding could have been? Should have been? I think we know the answer.

Rich no longer competes, but he’s not lost that ever-startling ability to draw stares. As we sat across from each other, I couldn’t help noticing how the locker-room lights made him look outrageously shredded. It wasn’t mere illusion. He maintains a superlative physique, incorporating plenty of beef with ferociously cool Baldwin aesthetics.

Heck, I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, he’s a legend.

IM: Isn’t life strange? Here I am, interviewing idols from my youth, and it seems so natural, so predestined.

RB: I understand how you feel because I’ve often experienced the same with my idols. Larry Scott, for one.

IM: Larry’s awesome. A true gentleman.

RB: He’s always looked incredible, and you won’t meet a nicer guy. But, ahem, are you saying I’m one of your idols? [Laughs] Come on, now.

IM: I admit it. It’s easy to see why I admire you. In the late ’70s and early ’80s nobody exemplified balanced muscle better than Zane and Baldwin. Mass is cool, but give me clean aesthetics every time.

RB: I’m flattered to hear that. Guess I did something right. My body is naturally lean, and I wanted to have a beautiful build, the kind you see on a statue. I’m frankly surprised by e-mail I receive after all these years’people are apparently inspired by my efforts in bodybuilding. I assumed my time as a minicelebrity was over.

IM: Not a chance. My tape’s running, and the world is waiting. Let’s hear Richard Baldwin’s saga.

RB: Ah, sweet memories of childhood. Such a happy, glorious time. I lived in St. Louis with my parents, a sister and three brothers. Being the oldest, I had a blast doing the big brother thing by harassing my younger siblings.

IM: Did you go the sports route?

RB: Well, I’ve never liked team sports per se. I took a class in gymnastics at college, and they offered me a spot on their team, but I declined it. I’d just started lifting and didn’t want to remain at the low bodyweight necessary for competition.

IM: What solidified bodybuilding as Baldwin’s sport of choice?

RB: That’s an easy one. A picture of John Grimek in Strength & Health. As early as third grade I’d started a program of physical fitness because I didn’t want to be an out-of-shape adult. I began running and doing pushups, chinups and situps. Then I saw Grimek’s picture and realized that bodybuilding was my sport.

IM: I’d think lifting would be a demanding discipline for any kid.

RB: No, not at all. I loved it. I weighed only about 125 pounds when I graduated from high school. Once the weight training hit its stride, I consistently gained 10 pounds of solid muscle each year. You’ve heard bodybuilders say that they sculpted their bodies? I did the same thing. Just like an artist.

IM: You were building a kick-ass body, but to what end?

RB: At first I lifted for health purposes. During my junior year in college a few buddies saw my collection of muscle magazines and said I looked better than those guys. That flicked on a mental light bulb, and I decided to find out if they were right. First contests are wondrous experiences. I’d worked on individual poses but hadn’t melded them into a coherent routine. Casey Viator was there, and we struck up a conversation. He very kindly offered to help me with my posing’and I won. I don’t remember ever thanking him; I was too busy floating on air. Now’s my chance. Thanks, Casey! ALL IM: Taking that first contest ignited your career.

RB: I did the best I could. I attended contests and bought films of the great bodybuilders of the day’like Zane, Corney and Pearl’so I could study their routines. Behind it was the thought that I wanted to present something beautiful, not just a big hunk of veins and gnarly muscle.

IM: The Baldwin physique had much in common with Frank’s’smooth lines, great balance, all presented with an aggressive testosterone punch.

RB: Personally, I never liked the chunky, fireplug look. I didn’t want to have a physique like a lumberjack. I wanted to be a Greek god. The emphasis has always been on proportion and symmetry, with broad shoulders and a small waist.

IM: Not like today’s behemoths.

RB: They’re not really new, are they? Mass monsters have been around for almost two decades.

IM: Yeah, unfortunately.

RB: Whenever you have a genetically gifted bodybuilder who accentuates proportion and symmetry, it’s a good bet he won’t be winning Mr. Olympia. Not to sound like an old fogey, but most of today’s waistlines are much too big. My favorite recent bodybuilders continue to be Lee Labrada and Shawn Ray.

IM: From your perspective, is contemporary bodybuilding an endeavor you’d recommend for young athletes?

RB: No! I recently saw Ronnie Coleman give an exhibition, and I didn’t care for his physique at all. The extreme level of today’s chemically enhanced builds isn’t bodybuilding to me. And I’m not just picking on Ronnie. Almost every top pro’with the exception of Shawn Ray’looks unhealthy and bloated. Great arms, backs and huge legs don’t make up for enormous protruding stomachs.

IM: Women’s bodybuilding is an issue that can raise a few hackles.

RB: I may be wrong in thinking this, but the powers that be have given up efforts to move Ms. Olympia into less of a who-takes-the-most-male-hormones competition. That contest has almost been killed off by competitors turning themselves into male bodybuilders, complete with low voices, facial hair and so on. Splitting female bodybuilding into hardcore and fitness, and now figure, just bled off interest in the hardcore.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denigrating bodybuilders as individuals. I admire their drive and determination. I’m amazed at the hard work and dieting and constant illegal drug-taking it takes to achieve that look, but it holds absolutely no appeal for me.

IM: Don’t you believe the same guys and gals would be winning if steroids were gone tomorrow?

RB: Drugs only kick things up a notch. Ronnie Coleman has a natural physique with good bone structure. He’s had to go to the extreme to be the world’s top bodybuilder. My problem is that pro bodybuilding has become chemical warfare, and the bodies produced by all the drug-taking have become unaesthetic, even ugly.

There won’t be real change! The general public isn’t there, and so bodybuilding will remain a subculture. Pros will never get the money that other athletes do in more accepted sports.

IM: Whenever I’m at the gym, invariably there’s a monster in residence. But the dudes who get noticed are those who know a thing or two about aesthetics.

RB: Exactly. And I’ll bet they feel much better, too. Carrying around so much bloat can’t be a pleasant experience.

IM: What were your competitive stats?

RB: I wasn’t concerned so much about actual measurements, but as I made progress, I kept measuring my arms until they reached the 19-inch mark. After that, I worked on shape and used the mirror to chart my progress. My waist looked too small at 29 inches, so I used weighted exercises until the muscle expanded to at least 30. The same goes for my thighs. I worked them until they were a muscular 26. My chest was 48, I believe, and calves around 17.

IM: You left the field on top of your game. Why?

RR: For several reasons. First, bodybuilding was becoming a job instead of a fun thing. My whole life was dedicated to eating, sleeping and training’though I did find time to earn some master’s degrees and eventually a Ph.D. Second, I didn’t like the fact that bodybuilding had deteriorated into a chemical war zone. It got out of hand. I simply didn’t want to be involved in what I considered the destruction of our sport.

IM: You’re living proof that the lean, mean physique never goes out of style.

RB: It makes me happy to know that my achievements have inspired others to do their best at physical development. This year, I’ve teamed up with Diane Fields to write a weekly column for You can access our latest column at I’ve received dozens of e-mails from fans who want advice, which makes it difficult to respond in a timely manner. But I try to personally answer every one. IM: Describe the pinnacle of your competitive career.

RB: As with any bodybuilder, the high point is the first contest won. In my case, it was Mr. South Texas’although winning Mr. Texas drug-free against competitors who were on steroids also proved a very satisfying experience. Don’t get me wrong. Being a national NPC champion and first runner-up in the IFBB Mr. Universe was also wild, but by then, it seemed like work instead of fun.

IM: Any judging disappointments along the way?

RB: I haven’t had too many disappointments, but there were contests that I thought I should have won and didn’t. After one such event the judges came to me and said they couldn’t figure out what had happened because they’d voted for me. When I asked the promoter for his score sheets, he said they’d been lost. I can think of one other show where politics were against me. In fact, I’d been warned beforehand that the hometown boy would win, no matter how good the other competitors looked. The poor kid came up to me afterward, apologized, saying he had nothing to do with it.

But it all worked out. I’ve won contests that might have gone either way and were a big disappointment to somebody else. But I’m not aware of any that were rigged in my favor. Besides, I didn’t have to enter the ones that I knew beforehand were rigged. I was young, loved competition and just couldn’t believe someone would rig a contest.

IM: Since your departure, the bodybuilding scene has deteriorated into a landscape of drugs, politics and cutthroat tactics.

RB: I don’t think the Mr. Olympia will ever see a physique like Zane’s, Dickerson’s or Samir Bannout’s winning again. It’s grand that Shawn Ray garnered top-five status in recent years, but he should’ve won the Mr. O on at least two occasions, in my opinion. Is his big mouth crippling his career? I don’t know. But I do know that, with very few exceptions, recent physiques don’t do a thing for me. Instead, I refer to my stack of old magazines, featuring outstanding photos of Scott, Zane, Schwarzenegger, Columbu, Benfatto, Grimek and Pearl.

IM: Yeah, those guys had the power to send the adrenaline pumping.

RB: I saw Pearl give his last exhibition in the United States before that mind-blowing ’71 Mr. Universe victory, and let me tell you, he looked like a Greek god’or an alien. Bill has to be the most proportionate big man in our sport. He challenged everyone to compete against him by announcing a year earlier that he’d be entering’and winning’the Professional Mr. Universe one last time. All the great bodybuilders answered’Frank Zane, Boyer Coe, Sergio Oliva’except Arnold. His contract with Weider wouldn’t allow it. Pearl won the title, although he was 41, and immediately went down in bodybuilding history.

IM: You have a particular liking for Larry Scott.

RB: Man, who doesn’t? Larry was the blond beach god of his day. I don’t think anyone’s ever drawn fan worship like Scott. He was the first bodybuilder to have huge arms that flowed nicely with the rest of his physique. A wonderful individual in every respect.

IM: How about Zane?

RB: Frank Zane looked like a tennis player in clothes, but when he went up on that platform, he transformed into an unbeatable combination of art and eye-popping muscularity. And what a spectacular poser. Few men’other than Pearl, Labrada, Chris Dickerson and maybe Ed Corney’have ever come close to him.

IM: Time to embarrass you. Everybody knows that part of the Baldwin mystique had to do with your sex appeal. It is, shall we say, potent.

RB: I’ve had surprising reactions everywhere I go, from the beach to everyday life. One time, before bodybuilding was mainstream, I was sunning for a contest. A couple came strolling down the beach in my direction. The guy did the talking: ‘Hey, I noticed you’re a bodybuilder, and I just wanted to ask a question about my waist. I’m not interested in getting all muscley or anything, because girls don’t like that, do they, honey?’ He turned to his girlfriend, who was eyeing me up and down. ‘Yeah!’ she exclaimed. I couldn’t believe she was being so obvious, what with her boyfriend standing right there.

IM: You revved her motor, dude. How often do you hit the gym now?

RB: At least four to five days a week. Bodybuilding has a sensuality that, in the beginning, I didn’t quite understand. I mainly thought of myself as an artist, creating a sculpture from skin, muscle and bone. It surprises me when someone’s turned on by the result. But we’re losing our sensuality too. A big, intimidating monster isn’t sexy, at least to the general public. It’s just scary.

IM: Speaking of sex, wasn’t there some controversy over one of your cover shots? I’m thinking of Muscular Development [July/August ’75] and a letter complaining about the bulge in your shorts.

RB: Yeah. It’s funny, now. The posing trunks I was wearing, a pair of Zane briefs, appeared rather revealing under certain lighting conditions. I’d posed for some shots that were sent in without my having reviewed them first. MD liked them and wanted to use one on the cover’which they airbrushed’but they forgot to airbrush the trunks in a black-and-white photo inside.

IM: Bodybuilders in the ’60s and early ’70s could’ve used a good PR person. Case in point: ‘Don’t Make Waves’ and ‘Muscle Beach Party.’ A fit body was one thing, but whenever it went beyond average, even slightly, labels started being thrown around’usually far from complimentary.

RB: The only negatives I recall were from males who didn’t train. I think the reason I didn’t receive too many nasty remarks was that people perceived me as more than a musclehead.

IM: The mags saw you that way too. You were presented almost as a college student who happened to have a rockin’ physique.

RB: I recall one conversation with an editor of a popular bodybuilding magazine who said, ‘Baldwin, you’re the only bodybuilder I can stand.’ When I asked why, he replied, ‘Most of these guys are bums who can only talk about diet, training and competition, and whenever you and I are together, our conversations are about politics, religion or history.’ IM: What did you do after leaving competition?

RB: Continued my education and began teaching on the college level.

IM: Is teaching your ultimate calling?

RB: Yes, I’d always planned on being a professor. I thought it would keep my mind in shape, while I continued to train throughout life to keep the body in shape. Teaching is the first job I’ve ever had that I truly love, so you could say I’ve found my calling.

IM: Do you hang with anyone in the sport? Like Arnie did with Franco?

RB: It’s sad, but I haven’t kept up with any guys from the old days. Frank Zane and I had an e-mail exchange several years ago, and he sent greetings through a mutual friend a while back. I’m attempting to write a book about Larry Scott and recently got an article I did on him accepted for publication. We’ll let everyone know when it comes out via the Web site Diane and I have called So through my recent writing, I’m actually coming back into bodybuilding, this time strictly as a trainer and author attempting to help others achieve their physical potential.

IM: You seem to have found a measure of satisfaction in your life, a balance.

RB: Life is very satisfying because of the mental stimulation of teaching and writing and the friends I have who share interests in either exercise or intellectual pursuits. My health is good, and my occupation is to my liking. My mind is kept active from interaction with students and colleagues and writing. Female companionship has not been lacking, either’without the chains of marriage.

IM: I’d describe your personality as mellow. Yet there’s something else there, too. An adventurer’s spirit, perhaps?

RB: You hit it. I am a seeker, constantly reevaluating his world view to accommodate new information. I’m also opinionated and do not suffer ignorance well. Some are surprised by the wide spectrum of friends I have, from redneck laborers to lawyers, doctors and colleagues in the academy, from right-wing fundamentalists to left-wing atheists. The one thing they have in common is that they’re thinkers. They may not all be equally educated or well read, but they think.

IM: Are you a spiritual man? Do you ever ponder your own mortality?

RB: Only last night I sat on the beach in awe of the beauty of the sea and sky as I watched the sun go down here in Florida. Earlier, I’d marveled at the crabs, fish, birds and people who were all part of the beach scene I was surveying. Life is short, but I’m alive and part of nature’s wonders. Whether there’s any cosmic significance or not, that’s enough for me. Enjoying loved ones and friends and the world of nature around us is the real key to living a good life, isn’t it?

IM: When you want to have fun and let loose, what’s the deal?

RB: I work out. Since I quit competing, working out is fun again. And I like to walk on the beach with my girlfriend, roller blade, fly kites, read books, go to the movies, have philosophical discussions over lunch with colleagues, travel, visit museums, go to plays and so on. I’m enjoying life as never before.

IM: How do your students react, knowing they’re being taught by a title-holding bodybuilder?

RB: They can’t help but notice my size, so I’d say it’s a positive. The constant requests for training routines and diets did get to be a bit overwhelming. I had to adopt the policy of being available for discussion of philosophy, religion or history but not the gym business. I don’t have time to write routines for everyone. Now I just refer them to

IM: Ever toy with the idea of moving into film and/or modeling? You’ve got the goods.

RB: After my appearance in Arnold’s ‘Stay Hungry,’ I had an offer to do an adventure film, but I turned it down. Filmmaking is very laborious and dull, and I like my privacy and am not very materialistic. I was also offered a couple of modeling contracts but didn’t show for the meeting in the Beverly Hills Hotel. Nor did I agree to travel to France for the job as an underwear model. I just wanted to live a simple life of working out and reading books, which I’ve done.

IM: If you could live your bodybuilding career over again, would you do anything differently?

RB: Not much. I thoroughly enjoyed it. With a second chance I might take advantage of the financial opportunities offered me. I wasn’t materialistic. All I wanted to do was have fun training. But my bodybuilding career was a wonderful time of meeting people from all walks of life. I’m very grateful for it.

IM: You had a very marketable look’a handsome young cat with muscles on his muscles, projecting a healthy attitude. It spoke of sun and fun, youth and innocence.

RB: I remember after the prejudging at one contest in a class of about 15 other bodybuilders, I asked a friend how I did. He said, ‘Gee, either you won or came in last.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I anxiously inquired. ‘Well,’ my friend explained, ‘you look so different from those other guys. It all depends on the judges.’ I was really attempting to be a sculpted work of art, whereas the other guys seemed to be in a war of bulges and veins. IM: You were there when it all exploded. What kind of impact did ‘Pumping Iron’book and film’have on our sport?

RB: Bodybuilding in the ’70s was an exciting time before drugs got out of hand, and for the most part people were starting to think of it in a good light. ‘Pumping Iron’ and Arnold were a big part of the reason, maybe the major reason, for the attitude change. Muscular builds are in, but the general public isn’t impressed with bodybuilding’s human growth hormone behemoths. They prefer a realistic physique, like Sly Stallone’s or the Rock’s. Today, male movie stars train like bodybuilders. Flab is out, and it started in the ’70s, thanks to ‘Pumping Iron’ and Arnold.

IM: Outside muscle circles very few people know the names Ronnie Coleman, Dorian Yates or Shawn Ray. Will the sport ever gain acceptance and/or universal recognition, in your opinion?

RB: Sorry, but it won’t, because bodybuilders today are sideshow freaks full of illegal drugs. Think about it. Bodybuilders could easily be the leaders in healthy living. They should be billboards for good health.

IM: Does the prospect of growing older worry you?

RB: Are you kidding? Getting older has terrified me since the third grade. I changed little physically from my late 20s until I turned 48. Now, at 56, I’m beginning to feel my age and no longer have the endurance, vitality and ageless appearance I once took for granted. I thought my last girlfriend, who was decades younger, was keeping me young at heart. But my current girlfriend is only 10 years younger than me, and we have an intellectual and emotional connection as well as a great sexual life. My focus has been on learning to accept change as I continue my spiritual journey of becoming a wiser, kinder person, rather than worrying so much about the physical.

IM: Which isn’t easy, considering your bodybuilding past.

RB: Much of my focus has been on the physical, so far. I must say that I still intend to train with weights until they shove me in a coffin. I guess I’m still competing, but now it’s against old age.

IM: How can fans establish a connection with you?

RB: The easiest way is through the Web site. I hope people will be patient if they expect a personal reply.

Editor’s note: Richard Baldwin can be contacted at [email protected]. IM

Richard Baldwin’s Workout

Baldwin varies his routine often and performs three to four sets of six to 10 reps per exercise. He does ab work as a preliminary warmup at almost every workout.

Monday and Thursday: Legs
Lying leg curls
Standing leg curls
Leg press calf raises
Standing one-legged calf raises
Leg extensions
Barbell lunges
Squats or leg presses

Tuesday and Friday: Shoulders, chest and back
Bent-over lateral raises
Military presses
Dumbbell front raises
Flat-bench presses
Incline-bench presses
Bent-over rows

Wednesday and Saturday: Arms
Close-grip bench presses
Lying French presses
One-arm dumbbell French presses
Hammer curls
Scott-bench dumbbell curls
Standing one-arm cable curls or concentration curls
Barbell wrist curls
Barbell reverse wrist curls
Barbell reverse curls

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Legends of Bodybuilding

Reg Lewis: A Charmed Life

An old toy, childhood summer vacations, maybe some odd snippets of long-ago conversation’they lodge themselves in memory and never let go. Songs, smells, faded photographs when you wore a younger, happier face can trigger them. No matter how many years pass, those images still have the power to mesmerize. Intangible, true, yet they’re stronger than any opiate and just as enticing.

I should know. As a bodybuilding journalist I’ve often found myself awash in nostalgia’s comfortable glow. To meet your idols and share with them opinions, confidences, hopes and dreams’well, it’s really a fantasy come true. IRONMAN’s Legends of Bodybuilding series has opened that glorious door for me. Each assignment adds another piece to my childhood memory, helping rebuild something I’d thought was forever lost.

So you’ll forgive me if I get a tad misty-eyed over this month’s legend: Reg Lewis’Mr. America, Mr. Universe and one of Mae West’s favorite musclemen. When I first opened a bodybuilding magazine, there were only two stars who truly dazzled me. One was Larry Scott. The other was Reg. They were like flip sides of the same coin: Larry, blond and boyish, with an ‘aw shucks’ appeal. Reg was dark, masculine, oozing movie star style and sophistication. What both men had (and still have) in common were larger-than-life personalities and classically proportioned physiques.

I tracked Reg down personally, a convoluted affair involving voluminous e-mails, telephone calls, dead ends and, finally, success. My goal was simple: to make this the best interview Reg had ever done, not an easy undertaking, considering his many, many years in the muscle spotlight. What began as a stroll down Memory Lane resulted in the culmination of a childish wish: I met my hero. And he was everything I’d ever hoped for: kind, generous, still jacked and very much larger than life.

IM: Reg, it’s such an honor to finally meet you in the flesh!

RL: [Laughs] Flattery will get you everywhere. And we’re meeting under such pleasant circumstances, too.

IM: That’s right: a Legends of Bodybuilding interview. Have you been following the series?

RL: I sure have. We need good people to chronicle bodybuilding’s history, its events and sundry milestones. You and IRONMAN are doing our sport a wonderful service. Peary Rader would be proud.

IM: Let’s take a time trip’to your childhood. What was it like?

RL: I was born third from the eldest in a big Portuguese family. There were eight of us, not counting Mom and Dad. Jacie’s the oldest, then Bob, me, Jeannette, Billy, Jeanine, Franklin and my little brother Brian, who’s now a black belt, stands 6’2′ and weighs 280 pounds! We grew up in a small town called Niles, California. During the ’20s, Chaplin and Keaton filmed in Niles, and it might’ve become Hollywood if some greedy citizens hadn’t wanted to sell their land at an inflated price. I loved Niles. It’s a beautiful town.

IM: You were the only one to become a champion bodybuilder.

RL: It might surprise you to learn that baseball was my first love, not bodybuilding. At 14 I was pitching against men in the senior softball leagues. I went on to play hard ball with Pacific States Steel, and the Oakland Oaks asked me to try out for their team. By then, though, it was too late. Something else held my fascination.

IM: Um, let me guess. Bodybuilding?

RL: You hit the nail! When my hands first touched a barbell, I was 15 and weighed 120 pounds at 5’8′. I’d seen George Eiferman during one of his tours, and it inspired me to get a little muscle on my skinny bones. Lifting weights took me in a whole other direction, athletically. And I never looked back. I was training at Walt Texeira’s gym when I entered and won my first contest, the Teenage Mr. Oakland.

IM: Must’ve turned your head around, winning a title on the first try.

RL: I didn’t expect to win, so it was a nice surprise. The babes at the show loved me. They were all yelling my name. ALL IM: So you started out to be a competitive bodybuilder?

RL: Competition had always been my goal. Right from the beginning I was fascinated by Steve Reeves and [Jack] Delinger and [Clancy] Ross. Their physiques were ideal, the ultimate in masculinity. That’s what I wanted.

IM: The Mr. Pacific Coast was your first major win against some very big boys, guys like Doug Strohl.

RL: Mr. Pacific Coast launched my bodybuilding career. Sam Loprinzi and his brothers produced the AAU show at the Mulinomah Club, and more than 2,000 people attended. Millard Williamson and I took a train to Seattle, a beautiful trip all the way. We drove back with Art Jones, National weightlifting champ. I lugged those three-foot trophies over some pretty rough terrain. Heck, I didn’t want them ruined!

IM: You were still quite young, then’17 or 18, right?

RL: It does seem very young to me now, of course. But I was on my way. At 18 I became involved with the Mae West Review, the youngest in her crew.

IM: Mae West. A larger-than-life lady.

RL: And she lived up to every one of my expectations. I’d won a few junior competitions, and Ed Yarick, who discovered and trained Reeves, told me the West show in Vegas needed a new bodybuilder. Somebody my type. Was I interested? You bet!

IM: Did Mae interview you personally?

RL: No, George Eiferman handled the interviews. Calling George changed my life. I hitched a ride to Vegas with weightlifting champ Jimmy Augustine, and in the process we wrecked his dad’s new Olds! So I went back home again and convinced Mom and Dad that I just had to get to Vegas because I wanted the $250 a week the Sahara was paying. They floated me, I caught a TWA and went onboard carrying two T-shirts, two pairs of shorts and two changes of socks.

Everybody in the show used to rib me because I was so young. The other boys, like Jerry Ross and Ed Fury, were older and more experienced. They’d say things like, ‘Reg has the best hair.’ Now that I’m almost bald, I cherish those comments.

IM: You knew Mae West better than most. What was she really like, away from the glamour and glitz?

RL: Mae was my lifetime friend, a beautiful lady and top-notch performer. She was all about glamour and glitz. We toured Vegas, Miami, Chicago, St. Louis, Philly, Pittsburgh, Reno, Tahoe, San Francisco and [played] Ciro’s in Hollywood. I appeared in her last movie, ‘Sextette,’ and escorted her everywhere. We were an item! I appreciated and enjoyed Mae’s love of life. When she passed, we lost someone very, very important to the world of entertainment.

IM: ‘Sextette’ is something of a cult classic.

RL: We did it in 1977 and worked for several months because there were unexpected delays due to her health. I was the oldest bodybuilder on set, with Jim Davis and Kal Szkalak coming up behind. Rick Drasin, the wrestler, and I became pretty good friends. Have you seen it?

IM: Several times. You looked great.

RL: I weighed about 200 pounds. Not my best shape, but I felt pretty good.

IM: During your tenure in Mae’s beefy troupe, you were actively competing and all over the muscle mags.

RL: Titles like Mr. Northern California, Mr. Pacific Coast and Mr. Physical Fitness made me, at age 19, a West Coast sensation. The publicity guys went nuts. Russ Warner photographed me for covers and articles, and it didn’t hurt that I worked out at Ray Van Cleef’s gym. He was the West Coast rep for Strength & Health magazine. When Mae judged the Mr. Hercules contest I won, it got me into the movies.

IM: With ‘Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules,’ 1962?

RL: Correct. What an experience. IM: The first time I saw ‘Fire Monsters,’ I was 14 and quite impressed. Instead of just walking through it, like some of your contemporaries, you brought a lot of youthful energy to the role.

RL: It turned out better than I expected. We started filming in October 1961 and didn’t finish until March ’62. I worked at EUR Studios in Italy, sent there by Mitchell Gertz, Reeves’ agent. I had a difficult time getting my money and walked off the set several times. Also, I didn’t know the producers were making several films out of that one. We became ‘Ursus and Maciste’ for some markets. The company ran out of cash before they could finish ‘Taur, King of Force’ and ‘Gladiatrici,’ starring Leroy Colbert.

IM: Any truth to the rumors that a racier version of ‘Fire Monsters’ exists out there somewhere?

RL: Maybe not so racy by today’s standards, but we did do a lot of special shooting intended for an adult market.

IM: Maybe someday we’ll see a Continental DVD release, with those missing scenes restored.

RL: I’d like that’my love scenes, especially. I also thought the battle sequences were too tame, and there should’ve been more body shots. Why cast a championship bodybuilder if you’re not going to showcase his physique?

IM: Makes sense. Still, ‘Fire Monsters’ has a certain wacky charm. The giant sea serpent battle pumped me up.

RL: An interesting illusion. My double did most of the fighting. All I had to do was place my face beneath the surface for reaction shots and then leap up from about six feet of water.

After that movie I found myself in demand. I did ‘The Brass Bottle’ next, with Burl Ives, Barbara Eden and Tony Randall. That was a little Universal comedy about an ancient genie. A few bodybuilders played slaves, and I was one of those. None were well-known bodybuilders, just big guys. I was the only titleholder among them. We appeared whenever Barbara rubbed the bottle, along with Burl Ives, who was a genie.

IM: She rubbed Burl Ives?

RL: [Laughs] God, no! Let me rephrase that! We appeared, along with Burl Ives, whenever Barbara rubbed the lamp! Also appearing was porn queen Edie Williams as a slave girl. I met Rock Hudson and Clint Eastwood on the set. Clint and I used to drive around Universal in his souped-up Chevy, and we’d stop and talk to babes at every opportunity.

IM: A carefree time, huh?

RL: Yes, a very carefree time in my young life.

IM: I’m dying to hear how you landed ‘Don’t Make Waves.’

RL: I was told about ‘Don’t Make Waves’ by Russ Warner. More than 300 bodybuilders from New York, the Midwest and other parts of the U.S. were expected to audition. Alexander Mackendrick, the great director [‘Sweet Smell of Success’], put us through our dramatic paces. I had to do a scene with a girl in his office; then I stripped down and posed. I was driving a Rolls-Royce at the time and had pulled up right to the bungalow in my big black beauty. After auditioning me, Mackendrick looked out his window and exclaimed, ‘These beef boys certainly do well.’ His next words were, ‘See you at makeup on Monday.’

IM: The part wasn’t your typical bodybuilding hunk. You had brains and brawn.

RL: That’s why I enjoyed it so much. I played Monster, the chiropractor. Mackendrick said I’d have to be nastied up a little, because I contrasted too strongly with Tony Curtis. They straightened my hair, parted it down the middle and added a piece on the back of my neck’not to mention a flock of tattoos on my chest and arms.

IM: Sizewise, you had it all goin’!

RL: No matter how many make-up people worked on me, they couldn’t hide the fact that I was in shape at 197 pounds. On my first day I shared a ride to the set with Sharon Tate and a dressing room with Zsa Zsa Gabor. But Dave Draper was the lead, and he deserved it. He was blond and terrific. IM: Weren’t you up for ‘Muscle Beach Party’? Every bodybuilder in Southern California took a stab at that one.

RL: I was going to do ‘Muscle Beach Party,’ but my wife got a little uppity about money. She wanted 200 more per week than what they were willing to pay.

IM: What about working with Debbie Reynolds?

RL: Oh, Debbie! A great girl! George Eiferman turned me on to her little fun-time show. She was performing at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, and I was up there with my girlfriend, Lana Paola. That was in 1978. Debbie would imitate Mae West and pull me onstage via a chain, which I’d then proceed to break. ‘Mmm,’ she’d say, ‘let’s see what other talents you have.’ She threw a lot of Mae West lines at me, and it was fun.

IM: Didn’t I see you doing a Camels ad at one point? Maybe in the ’70s?

RL: I made quite a few commercials, including one for Camels. There were 16 in all, for companies like Chevy, Plymouth, Southwest Air, Tanya Suntan Oils and so on. Are you familiar with my television work, the series I’ve done?

IM: Some. Give us a rundown.

RL: Oh, there’s ‘You Bet Your Life,’ with Groucho; ‘The Sports Set’; Steve Allen’s show’as Mr. America; ‘The Regis Philbin Show’; ‘Good Morning, America’; Johnny Grant’s Hollywood Stars Show; ‘3rd Degree’; ‘Art Linkletter’; A&E ‘Biography’ of Mae West; the E! channel’s special about Mae; and ‘The Red Skelton Show,’ where I appeared with Miss West and Don Knotts.

IM: I do believe you’ve lived a charmed life.

RL: I like to think of it that way. My bodybuilding career has provided me with wonderful memories, and I appreciate the young people who write me, many of whom weren’t even born when I had my last contest!

IM: I’m glad you brought up contests because the ’57 Mr. Universe was a milestone in your career. Any anecdotes?

RL: I’ll never forget it. I had to find my own way to New York and hitched a ride out to L.A. International on an Air Force C-47, wearing Millard Williamson’s uniform.

IM: A military uniform?

RL: That’s right. I still had Air Force National Guard card tenure, but I couldn’t find my own uniform and had to borrow Millard’s. During the flight we stopped at Wright Field, and the captain noticed I wasn’t wearing any U.S. buttons. Without them I could do brig time! I ran into an airman doing K.P., bought his and hopped a C-54 bound for Baltimore.

Leroy Colbert picked me up at LaGuardia, and I finally got to work out at Abe Goldberg’s with Marvin Eder, Colbert and Strohl. Doug was also going to the Amateur Universe, and he let me stay at his home in Huntington, Long Island, where we listened as his mother played Chopin on the piano. She was an accomplished concert pianist. His father was an art director for the city arts.

IM: Did you leave for London the next day?

RL: No, we stayed about three days. Joe Weider paid my way to London, and we all departed on a BOAC DC-7 prop job. He was with us on the flight.

IM: Were you going into the contest blind, or did you have some idea of your competition?

RL: I had a general idea, confirmed upon arrival. There were contestants from France, India, Belgium, Germany, Thailand, Iraq and, of course, the United Kingdom. More than 30 were in each class, pro and amateur. At the prejudging we weighed in, and they took measurements of arms and chest and height. Weider informed Doug that John Lees was a prot’g’ of Reg Park’s and would have great influence in the amateur class. My best competitor would be Arthur Robin of France, but since I’d gotten by Robert Shealy, the great American bodybuilder, I didn’t foresee too many problems.

IM: The prejudging rocked a few boats. Wasn’t there an upset?

RL: Right, in the amateurs. To me Strohl and Lacy were neck and neck. No one could even touch them. John Lees looked at least 20 pounds overweight, yet he beat Strohl! The photos speak for themselves, I think. No way was that a fair assessment of Doug’s abilities. IM: I’ve seen those photos and would have to agree. Something else that struck me’the aesthetic quality of each and every physique. Real, hardcore muscle.

RL: Thinking about the Mr. Universe and the way bodybuilding used to be sets me aflame. That year, 1957, was probably the last year for pure natural bodybuilding as we knew it. I won Class One Pro Universe at the evening finale, but Robin beat me in the Overall. It felt good to hear so much cheering and applause. The crowd was definitely on my side. Reub Martin, the only Brit to judge, later told me a fix was in’the owner of Health & Strength magazine cast the final vote. Anyway, I was still Class One Mr. Universe, a proud accomplishment.

IM: Then you finished off the year with the AAU Mr. USA’

RL: Where I came in second overall. Bert Goodrich told me Clancy Ross had dropped out of the running after coming in third at prejudging. I wondered why Ross wasn’t at the evening show. When I went to Goodrich’s office to pick up my $500 check, he told me. Ross would’ve been third, and Gironda fourth.

IM: The competitive spirit was strong among you guys, but none of that mattered when it came to socializing.

RL: Everyone had a stake in competing for the good of our game, and it was all very friendly. No one badmouthed his fellow competitors, none of this psyching-out stuff. No one was unhappy with bodybuilding. We had fun; we weren’t looking for the latest in drug doctors. We just wanted to be the best we could be for each type. I was a cross between Reeves and Jack Delinger, with a small waist, sweeping thighs and good shoulder width. My pec line and width were more like Reeves.

IM: Who do you think had the most perfect bodybuilding body?

RL: The true Mr. Perfect was Steve Reeves; all others were seconds. For the narrow type, Clancy Ross was great, with Larry Scott a close second. Paul Wynter and Leroy Colbert were excellent. Delinger had incredible balance, with Leo Robert most classical.

IM: What about today’s physiques?

RL: I think the physiques of today are artificial and look it. I’ll quote Reeves: ‘If that’s the ideal physique, they can keep their physiques, and I’ll keep mine.’ All contests should be limited in weight and height to eliminate druggers.

IM: The ’63 IFBB Pro America was something to behold!

RL: I began preparing for that show in January. Larry Scott and I were at Vince’s Gym when Dave Draper said he’d heard that Harold Poole and Freddy Ortiz might be competing too. In Dave’s opinion, Freddy would be tougher to beat than Poole. We really didn’t know which contest they would enter, the Universe’which Scott wanted’or the America. I asked Larry if he was nervous, and he said, ‘No, just about how I’m gonna carry the six-foot trophy home!’

IM: What kind of preparation work did you do?

RL: My strategy was very carefully planned. First, I lost 30 pounds of fat over that summer and packed on another muscular 10, with cuts. I actually got to 209 pounds and made it down to 204’then 202 the night of the show. My training routine was 30 sets per bodypart every day for the first three days, with a change of exercise for each bodypart. The other four days I worked biceps one day, triceps the next. Then lats and delts and upper pec after that. Vince supervised my posing and gave me a few good tips on the art of effective physique display.

IM: Besides the formidable Freddy Ortiz, you had Hugo Labra on your tail. He was huge!

RL: Here’s how I found out about Hugo: Larry and I were at Muscle Beach every weekend, tanning, dipping and chinning. Approximately one week before the event I learned Freddy was officially going to be my chief competitor. But I kept seeing Hugo Labra on the beach, and rumor had it that he’d also be competing. My work was cut out for me. Hugo weighed in at 200 at 5’7′ and looked like another Delinger.

We got air tickets for New York at Weider’s Santa Monica office. My competition would be Freddy, Harris and Hugo, definitely the toughest guns’and some little-known teen winner named Tinerino. IM: Dennis Tinerino?

RL: The same Dennis who later became a world beater himself. My stage routine was down to 16 poses, and Gironda felt it was just right. We left on a Friday evening. I’d spent that day at Muscle Beach for a last-minute tan with Larry and Hugo. Leroy Colbert picked us up at the airport in New York’s Idlewild. We piled into the Astoria Hotel, and the lobby was wall-to-wall deltoids!

Then backstage was crackling. That’s where I saw Freddy Ortiz make his impressive entrance, with those wide shoulders and broad arms. Drug rumors were confirmed by some of my New York buddies, like Leroy, who said the stuff was coming in hot and heavy.

IM: As early as 1963?

RL: A lot of people didn’t take the issue all that seriously, but, as you know, steroids and growth drugs soon infiltrated our sport to an alarming degree.

IM: How big were you for the America?

RL: Between 197 and 204 pounds. I was massive enough to hold my own, but I had never seen a small man like Freddy with 19-plus-inch arms. Certainly, as Dave Draper had said, he was far freakier than anything we’d encountered on the West Coast. Draper even claimed Ortiz could beat Larry Scott. No way. In my opinion, Larry possessed superior proportion and continuity. For me, I knew Ortiz would be the one to beat, even though I felt Hugo Labra had better balance.

IM: But it turned out to be a Reg Lewis night!

RL: As we posed that evening, Ortiz won the Small class, and I took the Tall. That meant we’d be neck and neck in the final posedown. It was close. According to Russ Warner, I beat him just standing there, with shape and proportion. Perhaps by virtue of height, I received the final nod, seven to three. Harold Poole told me I almost won Most Muscular over Art Harris.

IM: Your wife, Sheri, won the Miss Americana title that same evening.

RL: We both took home the gold. Sherri often worked the endurance exercises with me, like 600 situps, and she could do 60 pushups and bench-press 160 pounds at 112 pounds!

You know, thinking back, the night marked a turning point for bodybuilding. All-natural physiques were on their way out. We’d soon see veins and tuberosities never viewed before, artificial in appearance and not at all remindful of the natural Steve Reeves ideal.

IM: You competed in the ’70 Olympia, when Arnold stole Sergio’s crown. For the first time a reigning Mr. Olympia was deposed.

RL: There were only three competitors: Sergio, Arnold and me. Sergio was defending his title. Weider wanted me to enter because of an article I’d written entitled, ‘The Night King Kong Won the Olympia.’ In it, I described the concept of shape and size and how they should be balanced with proportion’which contradicted the sudden move toward mass and vascularity. Rick Wayne, editor of Muscle Builder, distorted my intent and made it seem as if it was sour grapes. Far from truthful.

IM: In retrospect, you were pretty much on the money.

RL: Drugs never made better bodies, just bigger ones’and at the expense of one’s health and well-being. Reeves still stands as the epitome of perfection, in my opinion. We’ll never see the likes of him again, sorry to say. May he rest in peace.

IM: After the ’70 Olympia your public profile changed. The mags were full of guys like Arnold and Franco and Zane. Very rarely did I read anything about you or Larry or Chuck Sipes, et al.

RL: We never chased publicity; it just found us. When tastes changed, the magazines followed suit. My time was an era of good health, long life and great attitudes and outlooks. Nothing will ever replace the perfection of a true natural physique. Defined glutes, gorged vascularity, massive bulk’they’re all part of chemical bodybuilding, appealing to the ignoramus fringe. Grace and balance were ideals we all took for granted way back when. They’re in the dustbin of history now. IM: Strong words, but they need to be said.

RL: The point of physical culture is health, with emotional, physical and mental well-being as the highest goal. Little by little we’ll see a return to sensible bodybuilding because the path we’re following today is murky and treacherous. Eventually, contests based on shape and weight and height ideals will return.

IM: You’re a living example of bodybuilding’s health-based principles’tanned, fit and rugged as hell.

RL: At age 66 I train twice a day. In the morning I do seven sets per section, and in the evening another seven to eight sets.

IM: Reg, before we close, I want to say what an utter thrill it’s been for me to interview you.

RL: Once again, I’m flattered! As a young man I was quite enamored with the likes of Steve Reeves, Ross, Grimek, Delinger, [John] Farbotnik, Eiferman. The first time I saw John Grimek, I was struck by his masterful display of muscle. Others I admired included Roy Hilligan, Jimmy Paine and Jack LaLanne.

IM: And you’re right in there with all of those legends.

Editor’s note: To contact Reg Lewis, send e-mail to [email protected]. Also, check out

Reg Lewis’ Competitive Record

’53-Junior Mr. Olympics, 1st (at age 17)
’56 Mr. Olympics, 1st
’56 Mr. Pacific Coast, 1st
’56 Mr. Physical Fitness, 1st
’57 Mr. Universe, Professional Class, 1st
’57 AAU Mr. USA, 2nd Overall
’60 Mr. Hercules (chosen by Mae West)
’63 Mr. America
’70 IFBB Mr. Olympia, 3rd
’82 Natural America Masters Overall
’83 Mr. America Over-40

Special thanks to Joe Roark at for verifying some of the contest dates in this feature. IM

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Legends of Bodybuilding

Chris Dickerson: A Different Drummer

Chris Dickerson earned his status as a legend on the bodybuilding battlefield, under relentless stage lights. It was forged from experience, disappointment and, ultimately, triumph. His decades-long journey took him from dusty, sweat-filled gymnasiums to bodybuilding’s greatest arena’the Olympia stage. And when the smoke cleared, Chris Dickerson stood alone, trophy in hand. He’d joined bodybuilding’s elite: Mr. Olympia 1982.

Today, Chris looks very much as he did on that fateful evening. The championship physique still rocks, and you’d never believe he’s just celebrated his 60th year on this planet. Bodybuilding has been very, very good to him.

‘Really, I’ve never been able to walk away from it,’ he says, laughing infectiously. ‘Bodybuilding’s an excellent discipline, a wonderful lifestyle. It’s given me an opportunity to travel, meet interesting people and climb to the top of my sport. I couldn’t have asked for more.’ Since he last competed, at the first Masters Olympia, in 1994, Chris has been living a quiet existence’out of the spotlight’s glare. New York based, he trains clients, maintains a strict personal fitness schedule and pursues his artistic interests. Publicity is not one of his priorities. Legends, however, cannot stay hidden for very long, and it’s only logical that Chris Dickerson would find himself tapped for IRONMAN’s Legends of Bodybuilding series. What this Mr. Olympia has to say about fame, fortune and life’s hard-learned lessons will raise more than a few eyebrows.

IM: Chris, you’ve gotta be the Olympia’s most elusive champion. I could understand if you weren’t in such primo condition, but that just ain’t the case! What’s up?

CD: Well, it’s like this’I’m out of the loop. And, frankly, I don’t do interviews very often because I’m just not asked. New York City is home for me now, not the West Coast. Life’s still hectic. I train clients and take 1 1/2 hours each day for my own bodybuilding needs, so, with that kind of crazy schedule, it’s nearly impossible to concentrate on generating publicity. IM: What sparked Chris Dickerson to lift his first barbell?

CD: Oh, God. What inspired me? When I was a kid, I happened to pick up a copy of Iron Man, and the cover blew me away! I’d never seen such a beautiful physique on a human being. Really, it just stopped me dead in my tracks. The bodybuilder’s name was Leroy Sala, he came from Northern California, and I immediately empathized with him because he was short! I must’ve read that magazine a hundred times over, but at 15, I had other things on my mind’like getting a good education. I put my bodybuilding interests on hold, finished high school, and went on to Columbia University, where I earned a degree in psychology. Bodybuilding was still in my blood, though’I hadn’t forgotten that Iron Man cover! At age 23, late by some people’s standards, I decided to throw my hat into the ring.

IM: Competitive bodybuilding seems an odd choice for someone with a psych degree.

CD: True, but you know, even in high school, kids would run to me with their problems. I was like this father confessor figure, always giving counsel to someone’you can see where a psychology major might come in handy. I’m a good listener, I guess, but mostly, my education has helped me personally. Physician, heal thyself, right? It gave me the fortitude to go into bodybuilding, even though bodybuilders weren’t looked upon too favorably back then.

IM: They weren’t in the public favor? Details!

CD: Pure and simple, amateurs suffered. We were either musclebound, narcissistic, barely housetrained or trying to make up for having a small'[trails off, laughing]. You get the picture. In those dark days, if a man shaved his body and oiled up and flexed, it was seen as very strange behavior! I got around my size by telling people I was a weightlifter, because weightlifting’s an Olympic sport and easier for the general public to grasp. That’s the kind of attitude we faced. Remember Muscle Beach Party? Frankie Avalon wins Annette because he’s a so-called normal guy. And the bodybuilders, the dumb muscleheads, who do they end up with? Don Rickles!

IM: Okay. So there you were’Chris Dickerson, eager young man with a dream, facing seemingly insurmountable odds’?

CD: And I needed to bring reality to the dream. I did that by moving to L.A. and meeting Bill Pearl. He graciously offered to coach me in my new endeavor. Bill recognized my innate potential, even if I didn’t’all I wanted was to get bigger and bigger! Competition hadn’t even entered into my thinking. I’d follow Bill’s routines religiously, studying my physique in the mirror, checking every flaw. I was extremely critical and conscientious. Eventually, I felt comfortable enough to enter a contest, but I had no delusions about winning or even placing. I’ve always admired classically proportioned bodybuilders, like Labrada and Ray, but I just cannot be objective about myself. There’s always something I can improve. IM: All artists experience doubts about their work.

CD: I admired the bodybuilder look and desperately wanted it for myself. I had fantasies about being Mr. America, like every bodybuilder. In fact, if you ask Bill, he’ll tell you the first thing I said to him was that I wanted to be Mr. America! Part of it was because he’d won the title, and I admired him so’still do. My basic physique was there, even in the beginning, before I even touched a weight. I was muscular’a helluva lot smaller but still nicely proportioned. That came from my athletic background playing soccer and other sports.
IM: How difficult was it for you to pack on size?

CD: I was amazed. I grew so quickly! Vince Gironda had his superstars, like Larry Scott, and Pearl needed someone to help put his gym on the map, and I guess I became that guy. I entered my first contest in 1965’the Mr. Long Island Beach’and placed third. You can imagine, I was ecstatic! At 26, I may have been older than most of the competitors, but I certainly knew what I wanted.

IM: Your career is one of the longest in bodybuilding, spanning several eras. Would you say things have changed for the better? Or are they worse?

CD: Tough question. When I started out in the ’60s, bodybuilding was both a purer sport and a poorer one. There were no cash prizes. We competed for the title, and that was it. Of course, we also wanted to look and feel good. Bodybuilding meant health and well-being overall. Larger muscles represented strength. In competitions they’d judge us on symmetry and muscle density. In retrospect, I’d say our sport was also less political back then. The audience participated more in the judging. Sure, there were drugs, but nothing major. It was really just beginning.

IM: Pundits have referred to the Dickerson physique as the ‘perfect package.’ And from where I’m sitting, I’d have to agree!

CD: What a great compliment. Who said that, anyway? I want to shake his hand! Seriously, I’ve got what you might call a rule book physique. It’s a little bit of everything. My best bodyparts are shoulders, tri’s, back and calves. Calves are pretty natural. Biceps are the hardest for me, the last to kick in the way I’d like them to. When they do, my body speaks for itself. Everything’s balanced and proportioned. I’ve also learned how to display my physique properly, a quality that’s all but gone out the window these days. Posing is so important. Judges may have been impressed by the guys with bigger chests or bigger arms, but they’d always give me a second look.

IM: In these wild times of instant superstardom, it doesn’t take long for someone to earn his bodybuilding stripes. You’ve been a part of this firestorm for more than 35 years. How much metal do you have on your shelf?

CD: I won the Mr. Eastern America and Mr. New York State in 1966, Mr. California in 1967, Mr. USA in 1968, Mr. America in 1970, NABBA Mr. Universe in 1973; Professional NABBA Mr. Universe in 1974 and the WBBG Professional Mr. America and Mr. World. I also took the Canada Cup in 1979, the Grand Prix Championship in ’80 and ’81, the International Couples’with Stacey Bentley in ’80 and again with Lynn Conkwright in ’81’and the Mr. Olympia in 1982. I was first runner-up at the ’80 and ’81 Olympias. I’m also the only bodybuilder who’s competed in every major association: the AAU, WBBG, NABBA and the IFBB.

IM: Whoa! Hold on a minute. You scored first runner-up at the ’80 Olympia? Didn’t Mike Mentzer? I mean, I thought’

CD: Yes, I know. You thought Arnold stole the title from Mike. Well, he wasn’t robbed. Check the records. That contest wasn’t even between Mentzer and Arnold because I came in second and Mike ended up in sixth place! Arnold’s participation didn’t have any significant impact on Mentzer’s chances. Now, if you’re asking about my chances, then, yeah, they were spoiled!

IM: For a while, it must have seemed like you were always the bridesmaid and never the bride.

CD: Tell me about it. In 1979 I was sixth, in ’80 I came in second to Arnold, in ’81 I took second to Franco. In ’82, just as I was about to hang up my jock, they allowed me to finally win.

IM: Allowed you to win?

CD: A title like Mr. Olympia is, in a sense, bestowed upon you’at least it was then. They clearly said no to me in ’81. Well, not so much no to me, really, as yes to the other guy. And if Arnold hadn’t won in ’80, I would’ve been Mr. Olympia. The ’82 contest had a wide open field, but that didn’t mean the going was any smoother for me. I had to prove myself. The road to winning was a long and winding one. Once I had that trophy, I thought, Let me get out of here!

IM: After so many tight finishes, snaring the big one must’ve been a mind trip!

CD: Words cannot describe the feeling. Winning the Mr. Olympia was the high point of my bodybuilding career, a moment I’ll never forget. I’d come so close the previous two years and figured this might be my last chance. The contest was held in London, and when they announced my name, I felt the room spin away from me. After all that time and effort, I’d finally won Mr. Olympia! Unbelievable!

IM: Your victory sent a strong message that older, more mature bodybuilders can still play hardball. How’s it feel to be the oldest Olympia champ?

CD: Oh, I’m very proud of it. People who claim life’s over when you hit 40 don’t know the capabilities of the human physique and spirit. I was 43, the oldest Mr. Olympia, and my record still stands.

IM: Did you think 1982 represented the best Chris Dickerson had to offer, physiquewise?

CD: No, I actually think the ’80 Olympia was my best contest shape. Wait, let me rephrase that’from ’79 to ’82, those were my peak years.
IM: As Mr. Olympia, are you expected to maintain a certain standard of excellence throughout your reign?

CD: Well, you see, it’s changed now. In ’82 you wore the title like a crown. You were, hmm’I don’t know how to put this’it meant a great deal. You had to be the complete bodybuilder, with no obvious faults. You spoke before audiences, appeared on television and did interviews for the radio. Obviously, you had to be impressive physically, but if you could speak and be articulate, that combination was pretty hard to beat. Charisma came into it too. Mr. Olympia represents the best of the best, and I took my role very seriously. I tried to be gracious and conduct myself with dignity, no matter the situation.

IM: After you’d reached that career landmark, we saw very little of Chris Dickerson. Why the low profile?

CD: I didn’t disappear’I competed after the Olympia. I made appearances now and again. Then, something happened that really changed my attitude. I went into the ’84 show and didn’t place. That shocked me. To not put a former Olympia winner in the top 10 is an insult, a real slap in the face, as far as I’m concerned. It seriously disillusioned me. I’ve never had any political clout, sorry to say, and my independence has hurt me. When I’m in shape and under those lights, I let my body do the talking, and I was very much in shape that evening. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that there’s more to bodybuilding than merely competing.

IM: There’s that word again: politics. No sporting event should be influenced by backstage machinations.

CD: Politics has infiltrated bodybuilding. Bodybuilders should be judged by how they appear onstage, and nothing else should play into it. I’ve always approached competing from that point of view. I’ve never been given the benefit of having won the Olympia or Mr. Universe or whatever. Every single time, I’ve had to start over, from scratch. I was back to square one with every contest, and I earned every single title I won. I rarely, if ever, fraternized with officials, unlike so many others. I kept a respectful distance, because that’s how it should be done. Man, if ever there was an outsider in bodybuilding, I’m it!

IM: You were the first black American to win an Olympia, correct?

CD: Yes, I was. Sergio was still a Cuban citizen when he won. I’m also the first black to be crowned Mr. America.

I got a lot of great press out of the America. They ran stuff on me in Ebony and Jet, all the major black publications. I even appeared on the ‘Tonight Show.’ I did a posing routine and lifted Johnny [Carson] above my head! The ‘Tonight Show’ used to be filmed in New York, so I had to drive across country from L.A. to make it. For years I’d get stopped on the street by fans who’d seen me do the show. Amazing.

IM: Is there a flip side to being a black bodybuilder? What about the race card’has it ever been played against you?

CD: In spades, and that’s no pun. Whether people want to admit it or not, racism exists in our sport. I’ve always had trouble with the bodybuilding press. When I was at the peak of my career, I didn’t receive peak publicity. And once I stopped competing, the publicity just vanished. If the reigning Mr. Olympia’s black, you won’t see him on too many covers. Look at Lee Haney or Ronnie Coleman. Blacks aren’t marketable, so they say. In my opinion, that line of thinking is more a brainwashing tool than anything else.

IM: You’ve acted as a free agent throughout your career, maintaining an independence that’s quite unusual in this sport.

CD: That’s right, I march to the beat of a different drummer, both in bodybuilding and in life. Being older, my experiences have been different from most bodybuilders’. Happily, I’ve made a lot of fine friendships along the way, but I make it a point never to affiliate myself with a single magazine, group or gym. I am, most definitely, independent.

IM: It was a nice surprise to see you in the first Masters Olympia. Your posing routine rocked!

CD: The ’94 Masters took a lot out of me. I gave it a good six months of hard, hard training. I’ve never stopped training, so I was not out of shape. I left my home in Palm Springs, California, went to Venice, California, stayed in a hotel and trained at Gold’s. My gains were good, and I felt that old urge to win’I wanted to win. But again, in the end, I walked away disappointed. IM: Why was that?

CD: It didn’t take me long to realize that the ’94 Masters existed as a showcase for Lou Ferrigno. I was the only previous Mr. Olympia competing, but Lou got all the publicity’they were even filming a documentary about his involvement! Well, Robbie [Robinson] won, but he didn’t receive anywhere near the same amount of publicity. That put an end to my competitive career. I was going to end it, anyway, even if I won.

IM: How old were you?

CD: 55.

IM: Let’s hear your view on the Masters Olympia concept.

CD: In concept it’s a wonderful idea. In execution it’s ridiculous! Forty shouldn’t be the age requirement’that’s young enough for the Olympia. Hell, I won at 43! They should raise the age requirement to at least 50. Then, it would be a true masters show. Everyone’s crossing over. You’ve got people entering both contests. You’ve got people like Vince Taylor, and it gets to be really mushy. A man doesn’t come into his own until he’s at least 40.

IM: Right now the Masters Olympia apparently is an on-again/off-again thing. Would you ever consider taking another shot at competing?

CD: I love bodybuilding, but no, I won’t compete again. Training people, seeing their progress and motivating them, that’s what thrills me now. In order to make any significant impact, I’d have to put on another 25 pounds of beef, and that’s just not possible. The wonderful days of appreciating the classical physique are over and have been for some time. I just don’t see a reversal in the trend favoring mass. Please don’t misunderstand me’I enjoy hitting the iron, and each rep helps me become stronger and healthier, but I’ve already grabbed the brass ring. And, really, can you get any higher than Mr. Olympia? I don’t think so. I’m content to leave things the way they are.

IM: Chris, brother, you are freakin’ stacked beyond anyone’s expectations of a 60-year-old man! How about doing a photo spread? A training article? Something? Anything?

CD: Thanks, buddy, I certainly appreciate your enthusiasm and the kind remarks. You know, being older has actually worked to my advantage. I carry more quality muscle now and am able to keep a thicker build year-round. There’s only one disadvantage’it takes me a little longer to warm up than when I was younger. Ah, the infirmities of age! As for recent photo spreads, I’ve had a few in Muscle & Fitness and Flex and was pleased with the results. Photo sessions are fun when the photographer has talent. When I was younger, I did many, many photo shoots with some of the best photographers. Have you ever heard of Jim French? He’s a photographic genius who’s produced really magnificent material on me. The pictures are truly breathtaking.

IM: At 60, would you say you’ve reached a point of contentment? A certain kind of mellowness?

CD: That’s a nice way to put it. Yes, I have. Right now I don’t have anything to prove. I’m concentrating on maintaining good health and a youthful appearance. But, considering my age, I should be wiser. We all make mistakes, and I’m no exception. I’m searching, I’m learning. Every moment is a new experience, and when I wake in the morning, it’s with an anticipation of a brand-new day. What an adventure.

IM: I’ve always been taken with your ability to pose and the supreme proportions you exhibited. Today’s bodybuilding look fluctuates from the grotesque to the sublime. Your impressions?

CD: I admire today’s physiques. They’re propelling the sport beyond anything we could do physically, that’s for damned sure. It has drawbacks. The guys, in a sense, are less athletic, though their physiques are bigger. They give up a certain amount of their health for that, and it can’t be good. Research, sportsmedicine and nutrition are moving forward, and the human form is changing. But I’m also concerned’there’s such an emphasis on becoming a star nowadays; it can cloud anyone’s vision. Bodybuilders shouldn’t sacrifice all that’s important, like family, friends and education. The search for stardom is a double-edged sword. I’d like to think they’ll be around 20 years from now. It’s sad, but there are very few stars and very few bodybuilders who can make a decent living at bodybuilding. And with all the drugs bouncing around, it can get crazy. Only those with clear heads and strong focus will survive long enough to enjoy any amount of bodybuilding stardom.

IM: When I was doing research for this article, I came across an interesting tidbit’didn’t you originally come to New York to be an actor?

CD: Man, you’ve done your homework! Yes, I did come to New York for acting, originally. I attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. The program lasted for two years. Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelly and, I think, Jason Robards were all graduates of the academy. I studied under Paul Mann, in his actor’s workshop. One of the instructors was Lloyd Richards, a black director who became quite successful’he directed Raisin in the Sun and now heads the theater department at Yale. I liked acting, but I just wasn’t cut out for it. So I enrolled at Columbia. Acting has helped me as a bodybuilder, I learned how to project, how to use my body onstage, and it gave me confidence as a performer.

IM: We were talking about Bill Pearl earlier. Give us your impression of the man.

CD: Bill Pearl is the greatest, a genuine pioneer in the sport, art and science of bodybuilding. He’s been my mentor, and I learned just by being with him, from who he is. Bill’s very grounded, and because of that, it was very important for me to also keep myself grounded. When I was training with him, I stayed clean, for want of a better term. I went to bed early, didn’t party, drank all my protein shakes, trod the straight and narrow. I even cut my hair short, like Bill’s. One time I was mistaken for Bill by someone on the street. What a compliment. I guess you can tell that I can’t say enough good things about Bill Pearl. I’m honored that he considers me his friend.

IM: What keeps you young? Is it all in the attitude?

CD: Attitude’s a big part of it. I’m very active. Early every morning I’m out on the gym floor, coaching. Then the afternoon is spent on my own workouts, my lessons and sundry everyday things. I try to maintain a balance between the physical, mental and spiritual. Life and living are adventures for me. I won’t waste a single day on regret or negativity.

IM: Exactly how does one go about finding a balance between the physical, mental and spiritual selves? I’ve been trying to figure that one out for years.

CD: Like I said before, I’m searching. I love working out and staying fit, but I wear my body. I don’t define myself by it. When I go to the grocery store, I don’t spread my lats. It’s a personal choice for me to spend so much time in the gym, just as it’s an individual choice for anyone to pursue whatever in life. I never make fun of those who are overweight or skinny. That’s not my place, not my style. Never has been. Everything comes down to personal choice and preference. Most of all, I’m satisfied with myself. I’ve reached a point of contentment, of acceptance. But there’s always room for improvement…I’m certainly not perfect!

IM: Are you a spiritual person?

CD: Yes, I’m spiritual. I pray. I was raised Baptist and Quaker and have a solid Christian background. A lot of people think the Quakers are strict, but their philosophy’that all men are fundamentally good’is a great way to look at life.

IM: It wouldn’t be too presumptuous of me to add that you’re also the only Mr. Olympia who studies voice, would it?

CD: I love opera. I’m a heavy tenor and am seriously studying voice. I have yet to be in a production, but, of course, it’s a dream of mine. Who knows what will happen one day? One thing I’ve learned is never to rule anything out.

IM: Let’s say you had to describe yourself to a complete stranger over the phone. Not the physical aspect but your personality, your philosophy. How would you go about it?

CD: I really hate questions like that! They’re so open-ended. How would I describe myself? Well, I’m intense about certain things, and I get political about things I feel strongly about. As I get older, I realize you can’t take life too seriously, and you should laugh more often. It sounds like a cliche, but my motto is live and let live. I’m not saying I’m an angel, but recognizing individual worth has always been a priority of mine.

IM: You referred to yourself as a bodybuilding outsider. Care to elaborate?

CD: Let’s look at it objectively: There are certain bodybuilders whose accomplishments pale next to the very power of their names. And, conversely, there are certain people who have to prove themselves over and over again. I’m one of the latter. That’s where the mags come in’they have power and aren’t afraid to use it. Take Arnold, for example. He hasn’t competed for 20 years, but his name has transcended that fact. He’s in the magazines all the time. Hell, you don’t even have to say his last name, he’s so incredibly famous! You can find many instances where bodybuilders receive consistent coverage and publicity without ever winning a major contest or even a minor one. Sometimes the mags create an image. I had to work and work hard at getting my face and form out there. It hasn’t been easy, and I just eventually stopped trying. That’s why I’m the outside man.

IM: In March 1999 you received NABBA’s highest accolade: the Oscar Heidenstam Foundation Diploma of Honor. Reflections, Chris?

CD: Oh, man, such an honor and a total surprise. To be in the company of John Grimek, Steve Reeves, Bill Pearl and Arnold Schwarzenegger’well, it thrilled me completely. I won my first international competition, the Mr. Universe, a NABBA show, in London. The contest is a tradition that’s been going on for years and will undoubtedly go on for many more, and I’m so proud to be a part of it. When all of these men won Mr. Universe, they wanted it, they worked for it, and they earned it through the sweat of their brow. I flew to London, and there was a big presentation, a dinner, with shining testimonials. They gave us two crystal goblets and a beautiful plaque. I’ll always cherish this award because it comes from the heart. IM

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