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Sensational at 70-Plus (Part 3)

An Interview With Jim Morris, Mr. America and Bodybuilding Legend

DY: Let’s go back to something we mentioned a few minutes ago. We spoke about Danny Padilla getting into shape for the 1981 Mr. Olympia. Interestingly Danny was not on a traditional high-protein, low-carb diet for that contest but on a high-fiber, low-protein diet. I understand that you have some views on this as a vegan…

JM: And it was the most defined condition he had achieved to that point in his career. I’m glad you asked that because I consider my ability to learn and incorporate that learning into my lifestyle as probably my greatest achievement. Training people over the past 50 years and trying to get them to change lifelong eating habits has been almost impossible. Nothing is more ingrained and locked in than eating habits. Danny was ahead of his time with that nutritional diet of mostly vegetables. I know this is not going to go over well in a magazine that sells supplements but the whole protein, protein, protein thing is way overblown. Granted Danny had achieved all the size he needed by then and his protein requirements were less, but even for growth we do not need anything near the amounts currently taken.

Back in the ’60s the rule of thumb was two grams of protein for every pound of bodyweight. Total insanity. Whenever the subject of my vegan diet comes up, the first thing they say is, "I need meat to maintain my muscle." I hope the pictures of me in this interview will help to show otherwise. Vegetable protein is far better quality and requires fewer amounts to satisfy even the most extreme development and training. A vegan diet would do for the current crop the same it did for Danny—eliminate the bloat. I recently finished "The China Study" a book by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., and it is the most informative I have ever read on the subject of nutrition. I hope everybody reads this book. It would change the world.

  My diet is constantly changing as I change—as my activity level changes, as my requirements change, as my metabolism changes, as my circumstances change. For the most part, the change is in the form of appetite changes rather than a conscious calculation on my part. My appetite will start craving something or will lose its desire for something. Once you get in touch with your body and let it take over it’s self-regulating.

DY: How would your diet for the Mr. America compare with now?

JM: Consider that leading up to the Mr. A I was dealing with a completely different body than I have now. I was 36, half my current age, in heavy training, taking lots of steroids, living in the Hollywood Hills, training in Pasadena, both very warm to freaky hot. And the goal of my diet was to build as much muscle as quickly as possible along with losing as much fat as quickly as possible. Actually I talked about that diet earlier, so I will get into what I am doing now.

Obviously, I am not training for competition, so I don’t require the quantities I used to eat. My goal is maximum health, so the purity of my food is of the utmost importance now. I want to counter the natural tendency to gain fat where that was not a factor then. And I live at the beach, which is very cool, a completely different climate. It’s now known that the human body can derive all the essential amino acids from the natural variety of plant proteins that we encounter everyday. It doesn’t require eating higher quantities of plant protein or meticulously combining varieties of plants.

My primary goal now is more an experiment than anything else. I want to know just how pure I can get my diet permanently, and what will happen to my health, body, knowledge. I want to know what the experience of being absolutely as clean of unwanted, unneeded, unnecessary substances is like. Will it make a difference? A big difference? No difference? So I no longer eat any animal products or anything containing animal products. Someone said, "I don’t eat anything with eyes." That pretty well sums it up. I also don’t eat anything that has been processed in any way. That means no breads or cereals. I eat from four basic food groups: fruits, nuts, vegetables and beans. ALL I always have a large pot of bean soup in the fridge. No seasonings at all. Sometimes I will put vegetables in it—yams, potatoes, bell peppers, red, yellow and green, white potatoes, carrots, cherry tomatoes, whatever may be around. I have collard greens, spinach or mustard greens every day. I only eat once daily what could be considered a meal. But I will snack on nuts and fruits once or twice a day.

I do not measure, weigh or count anything. I only eat when I’m hungry, and I drink only when I’m thirsty. The whole eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day thing could not be more absurd. I will sit and eat peanuts and grapes. That’s my version of peanut butter and grape jelly. By doing that, I eliminate the processing, along with the added salt and sugar. I microwave everything except the beans because microwaving destroys less nutrients than any other way of cooking, including steaming and broiling.

DY: Okay, Jim, back up. You said back when you were competing you were taking "lots of steroids." I’ve found that the dosages back then were nothing compared to today. Can you tell us what was a typical weekly dosage back then?

JM: I had the great good fortune to have a close friend who was a doctor who was willing to administer my steroid program and monitor my bodily functions on a regular basis. I got 200 milligrams of testosterone and 150 milligrams of Deca Durabolin a week and took 10 milligrams of

There was a story about a prominent bodybuilder who wrote Zane and detailed more than 2000 milligrams of mixed steroids a day and wanted Frank to recommend what he could add to that. So, I guess it’s all relative.

DY: Do you think you could have competed successfully with your current diet strategy—or, put a different way, did you eat as a vegan for your Masters Olympia over-60 win in 1996?

JM: I was not yet a vegan in ’96 because I would still occasionally eat fish. Not on any regular schedule, some weeks once, some twice, and then only a few ounces. I was supplementing my diet with reduced-fat peanut flour which I stopped when I eliminated processed foods. It replaced tuna in my shake. I also was still eating processed foods, such as oatmeal, one of my lifelong favorites. I think I would have done much better in that contest if I were eating as I am now because I would have been incredibly more defined.

DY: I know that bodybuilding requires a lot of discipline. It’s as much a mental game as a physical one. What keeps you motivated for your training and diet?

JM: I function best in a highly regimented and ordered lifestyle, so what for most people would be an almost impossibly disciplined lifestyle to live by is for me easy, requiring absolutely no discipline. It is almost monastic. What enables me to stay in reasonably good shape are my eating habits. Which is not really a diet but a way of eating which I do regardless of whether I’m in training or not.

 I only work out when I have a goal. This article and these pictures were part of my reason for training the last several months. Before that I had not trained with any regularity and since then I have not trained at all. But that has always been the way I train. I cannot for the life of me (that may be a bad phrase to use in this context) train for maintenance. Bodybuilding for me is a creative process, and I only enjoy training when I am creating. Each creation is the result of a different motivation.

DY: I read that you were Elton Johns bodyguard for 15 years. How did you balance the travel and lifestyle with training and staying in shape?

 JM: While I was on tour I rarely trained. Once in a while if I had a day off and a gym was available in the hotel, I would go do a little something. The lifestyle on the road was so exactly the opposite of my normal life that I just relaxed and enjoyed the rollercoaster. But you would never want to live on a rollercoaster. Even Elton after every tour would say, "Never again." But the thrill would draw him back. As I said, not working out for periods of time was part of my M.O. anyway, so it just fit right in. DY: How do you feel about reaching 71?

JM: I feel good because I like the way I look and feel, and I think I have done a good job of stewardship with the body I was given. Aging and living are one and the same. In order to live, we must age. Therefore how we live determines how we age. The major factors of living—nutrition, activity, stress and rest—are the exact same major factors of aging. All of which are totally under our control. The responsibility for how you age is yours and yours alone.

Nutrition for me breaks down into two categories, quality and quantity. Now that I have cleaned up the quality of my food by eliminating all animal and processed products, I find it impossible to overeat. I sometimes eat until I am uncomfortable but with absolutely no gain in fat percentage even during the often extended periods of nontraining.

Activity should be regulated so that you do not overdo at the one extreme by so stressing the body that you injure yourself or wear out your joints. I have full use of all my limbs and none of my joints bother me in the least. I do not take any medication whatever. From what I hear of a lot of bodybuilders and older athletes in general, that seems to be the exception. I think that is due in great part to my not training to failure—muscle failure or joint failure. I think it’s also due to the rest periods where I allow my body to recuperate from the training periods.

At the other end, the couch potato lifestyle should be avoided. Depending on your personality and character, from hyper to lethargic, from aggressive to easy going, there is a range of activity in the middle which will serve you best.

Stress is a given in our time and society. How we deal with that stress is totally our choosing. As for rest, I have not used an alarm clock in so long I cannot remember the last time. I am usually in bed by 7 p.m. and up by 5 a.m. I rarely drop off immediately or sleep continuously without waking. But I like laying there and just daydreaming, and I never arise tired. I am continuously baffled by those clients of mine who say, "If I could only have slept another hour." My reply is, "Go to bed earlier".

Once you accept responsibility for how you live your life and act on it, you are controlling how you age. And you will be amazed at how much control you have. I would say it’s over 90 percent.

DY: Wise words, Jim. Any observations about life you’d like to share?

JM: To borrow a phrase from Joseph Campbell, "Follow Your Bliss." I have found that whenever I did what I enjoyed, I was much more likely to achieve my goals. Sometimes that meant changing what I enjoyed, like switching from pastries and ice cream for my sugar fix to fruits.

DY: What strategies do you use for success in life or business that you’re able to carry into bodybuilding or visa versa?

JM: I do not consider myself a success in any sense of the word. Particularly not in business. My only foray into business was the gym in West Hollywood, and while the first location was a huge success, it was because it was a small (3000 square feet) operation that my partner, Jim Brown, and I ran by ourselves.

The second location was 30,000 square feet with a restaurant, hair salon, swimming pool and so on, and required us to take on a financial investor, 14 employees and compete with the big chains. After two years there we sold out to our partner. So I would never pretend to have any business acumen.

My bodybuilding career was more of a hobby than anything else and was never the object of a strategy. It just flowed in and out whenever it fit the circumstances of the moment. DY: With 50 years of experience in training people, is there any way you can sum up your training philosophy ?

JM: Learn to listen to your body. Get in touch with all the many built-in systems which tell you what is going on and what to do about them. Everything you need to know for optimal health and performance is hardwired into the system. We have an incredible feedback system constantly telling us what is going on and what to do about it. It has all been hijacked by the culture and the advertising of those who would make a buck by selling you something.

DY: What motivated you to come back for the ’96 Masters Olympia after all those years away from competition?

JM: In 1992 my companion of 20 years, Jim Brown, died of AIDS. For the next couple of years I sunk deeper and deeper into depression. In 1994 I ran into Jim Manion at Gold’s Gym in Venice. I was not following what was going on in the game. Jim had long been a friend and fan. He told me they had instituted age groups in the Masters Olympia and suggested I consider the over-60 category. He felt I would do well.

Immersing myself into training had helped me through similar situations in the past, so I decided to do it. Building the body is a positive activity and can only be best accomplished in a positive and nurturing atmosphere and frame of mind. So it became necessary for me to put myself in that place in order to train. Forty years of practice made this possible even from the depressed state I was in.

DY: I’m sorry about loosing your companion. You mentioned training for two years for the Mr. America contest. Today guys train for 12 to 16 weeks. Were you actually eating and training in contest mode for that entire two years?

JM: Yes. Actually it was two one-year stretches, as I would have stopped had I won in ’72. But I didn’t, so I just continued for the second year. I was having the best time of my life. I have to give Pearl credit for keeping me from overdoing it. After losing in ’72 I was manic. The programs he made up for me were designed specifically for that stretch of time and were beautifully paced. He had a great feel for how I liked to train and where my head was at any particular moment, and the workouts always plugged into that perfectly.

DY: How do you organize your training week now?

JM: If and when I go back into training it will depend on what my circumstances are, what condition my body is in, what my goal is and what amount of time I have to achieve it in. One of the factors about training for these pictures and this article is that it was open ended. Originally it was supposed to be for my 70th year, but life intervened and here I am 71. John Balik said, "Just let me know when you are ready." So that had a domino effect of taking the pressure off all the other factors. You might find it interesting that I trained for these pics at 2 a.m. six nights a week. Who knows what next time will be like?

DY: Okay, let’s switch gears a little. Tell me about something you’re proud of and what that’s meant to you?

JM: Being the only openly gay to win the Mr. America. I feel my career helped to change the way gays felt about themselves and their bodies. I was the toast of gay society in both New York and Los Angeles throughout my competitive career, and I think my impact within the gay consciousness and psyche was positive and how the public at large felt about gays. I received countless letters telling me how they felt it was as if they were given permission to be masculine, and this is how it is done.

When I started competing in 1966, gays were not known for having great bodies but were generally thought of as physically effeminate even within the gay community. In the years since they have steadily become synonymous with well-built guys to the place where now any guy with a good body is somewhat suspect.

DY: Well I know that almost every straight bodybuilder, myself included, have gotten the suspicious comments or stares at one time or another. What is the best thing about bodybuilding? JM: Taken in the broad sense of any activity that builds or improves some aspect of our body. Whether that is overall health, agility, endurance, balance, strength, weight loss, gain or countless other ways, it can be all things to all people. There is an exercise program that can benefit anyone, whatever their age, condition or situation, from the elite athlete to the disabled. It has physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual benefits all from less than one hour a day.

DY: By the way, I’d like to know more about your dogs. I’m an animal lover myself. Did your love for animals in any way influence your decision to go vegan?

JM: Like my eating habits my relationship with animals has come a long way, and both are still evolving. From the way I treated my first dog, Buff, during my teens to how I relate now is nothing short of a 180-degree turn. I now believe the whole concept of "pets" is a form of slavery. I believe every animal has the inalienable right to live in its own element, with its own kind in absolute freedom. Joe Gold’s dog, Hope, is the ninth dog I have had. Seven females and two males. Jimmy and I had two toy poodle sisters from the same litter, but one was much larger than the other, so we named them Lavern and Shirley. So, what did you expect? Blanche had a litter of 10 on my bed in Venice in 1991. I kept one, James, to keep his mother company. And yes, he was named after me. He died on my bed last year at 15. He was my soul. Caring for him and deciding to spend the last year focused on him is what kept me from getting in shape for my 70th. I made him a promise that I would do everything I could to change people’s attitude toward animals.

The scientific and biologic proof of the correctness of a vegan diet is sufficient for me. That it meshes with my philosophy of how I relate to the "other" is for me even more validating. Unfortunately whenever I mention my philosophy, it becomes a reason for people to dismiss my diet as "The Bambi Syndrome." I cannot praise you enough for the work you do. I cannot do what you do as it tears me apart emotionally. If my advocacy for the vegan lifestyle has any beneficial effect on the animal world it will be my most satisfying accomplishment.

DY: How can people correspond with you to get advice either in person or on-line?

JM: My Web site is or e-mail me at [email protected]. IM

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