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 Bodybuilding.com. You can access our latest column at www.bodybuilding.com/fun/richard.htm. 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 LegendaryFitness.com. 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 LegendaryFitness.com.
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 LegendaryFitness.com 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
Squats or leg presses
Tuesday and Friday: Shoulders, chest and back
Bent-over lateral raises
Dumbbell front raises
Wednesday and Saturday: Arms
Close-grip bench presses
Lying French presses
One-arm dumbbell French presses
Scott-bench dumbbell curls
Standing one-arm cable curls or concentration curls
Barbell wrist curls
Barbell reverse wrist curls
Barbell reverse curls