Reports of Nasser El Sonbaty’s death have been greatly exagerrated over the past few years. Unfortunately, the latest news hitting the internet on Thursday appears to be valid: El Sonbaty, 47, passed away, allegedly from malaria, leading to kidney failure, this week. I’m not sure where his death took place, but based on a couple of UTube videos I just perused, Nasser was living in Cairo, Egypt. In the video I saw, dated February 28, Nasser was training a client and looked healthy and in good spirits. He (and Kevin Levrone) was missing in action at the recent Arnold Classic, where I called out on stage all the previous winners of the event in honor of the 25th Anniversary; I was told he was in Egypt. El Sonbaty, who lived in San Diego for many years, also passed on the 20th Anniversary celebration in 2008.
“The Beast from the Middle East”, as I tagged him (although he may not have actually been from the area–it had a nice ring to it), was one of the premier professional bodybuilders in the world in the 1990s, when the quality of competitors was the best, depth wise, in the history of the sport. At 5’11” and about 270 pounds, Nasser finished second in the 1997 Mr. Olympia in a very controversial loss to Dorian Yates, who was making his final appearance on stage. Nasser won the Arnold Classic in 1999; in total El Sonbaty competed over 50 times in the pro ranks and was featured on numerous covers of bodybuilding publications worldwide.
I knew him well; he had a great sense of humor and, not to be outdone by yours truly, would come up with his own “Zilla” nicknames for many of his opponents. He was also an extremely intelligent man, well versed in several languages.
You left us way too early, big fella. R.I.P.