Met Doug Brignole for lunch today at the Cheesecake Factory in Old Town Pasadena. A block away from the former home of Brignole Fitness, which he opened in 1984 and closed a decade later.
We hooked up because Doug, seven months shy of his 50th birthday, impressed John Balik and Michael Neveux enough with recent photos to earn another shoot with New Wave. Had his first seventeen years ago, as a matter of fact. After seeing how the pictures came out, Balik gave me the assignment of interviewing the 1986 AAU Mr. Universe on how he keeps his body in such great shape after all these years.
Doug and I used to be close, but when he left town I rarely saw him, although we communicated via email now and then. I did go out to Santa Monica for a 40th birthday celebration nearly 10 years ago.
Originally, I knew of Doug via his bodybuilding accomplishments but met him for the first time on New Year’s Eve, 1984. He was a waiter at Emily’s Restaurant on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena, and I remember this 24-year-old kid eagerly handing me a booklet regarding a gym he was going to open in Old Town. He was looking for investors; I was focused, as always, on the menu. Especially the dessert section.
Shortly after, he gave me a tour of the place. That part of town was depressed in those days, and I asked him, “Why would you want to open up a gym in this part of Pasadena?” He replied that a major renovation was taking place, and that Old Town was going to be one of the hottest spots in not only Pasadena, but Southern California as well. And, of course, he was on the mark. Ironically, it was that rapid expansion that that eventually put the gym out of business.
Although I never became the limited partner he was hoping for, he did raise the cash necessary to complete the facility several months down the road. And, I became a member-albeit five years later. To this day, I feel it was the best overall gym I’ve ever trained at. About 10,000 square feet, with red brick walls, ceiling fans, classic photos, etc. The first of its kind; a gym boutique, if you will. Shawn Ray filmed part of his very first video, “Lifestyles of the Fit and Famous”, at Doug’s annual party in January 1990.
As we walked down Colorado Boulevard from the parking structure towards the eatery, Brignole shook his head at all the changes in the town where he was born and spent the first 35 years of his life. When we got to our table, and reminisced about our first meeting at Emily’s, he shook his head and said “That was 25 years ago…where did all of those years go?” Amen.
The interview went well. Doug, who was the toast of the town at one time, admitted to being suicidal after the sudden closing of the gym. For the first time, he gave his side of the story of why the facility was here today, gone tomorrow. He talked about his two years in Nicaragua from 2005-2007 as he explored the lumber industry. Brignole, who says he’s still suffers from depression resulting from the demise of his business 14 years ago, says things are looking up for him.
A new book is on the horizon, and he had to rush from lunch back to Hollywood, where he was turning in a video resume with hopes of landing a host job as a cable television fitness expert.
It’s quite a story, actually. Talk about the ups and downs of life. And, you’ll get the inside scoop….IF you keep tabs on IRON MAN as the article will appear in a future issue.
Great seeing you again, Doug. Hopefully, it won’t take nearly as long for us to get together this time around.