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So Long, Joe, It Was a Great Ride

Stubborn. Stupid stubborn. And, because I was cursed with such behavior, I nearly blew my chance to meet—and work– for Joe Weider.

It was nearly 30 years ago—April 1983—to be exact. I had been a professional sportswriter right out of college and, after the newspaper closed its doors, I moved on as Sports Information Director at Cal State L.A for the next five years. I also taught in both the Journalism and PE Departments. When the SID job was eliminated, I stayed on another 12 years as a member of the Department of Physical Education faculty.

A buddy I’d met at the gym several years earlier would always push me to contact Joe. “You’d be perfect for his magazines,” the friend quipped. “You have the combination of being a professional journalist, and a professional in the field of physical education.”

Finally, I relented, and made the call. And, to my surprise, a lunch meeting with Joe was quickly set up by his secretary, for the following Friday. More than a bit nervous, I hit the road for my 45-minute drive to the Weider Headquarters in Woodland Hills. I arrived 30 minutes early (it’s called Type A personality, fans) to make sure I wasn’t a minute late. No matter—Joe didn’t show.

The secretary apologized, but I was too ticked—and immature—to pay heed. I sped home, calling my buddy immediately, and told him what transpired. Soon after the phone rang; it was Joe’s secretary. She apologized, and asked if we could reschedule for the following Friday. Stubborn, stupid stubborn set it. I said no!

Minutes later the phone rings again. It was Joe’s secretary calling back. “Mr. Teper, Joe would like to speak with you.” This time around “honored” replaced stupid stubborn, and here I was, talking to the Master Blaster himself! The godfather of fitness. The guy who played such a major role in popularizing weight training, the use of supplements and vitamins, and workout equipment. The creator of the Mr. Olympia, for gosh sakes! He was apologetic for the mix-up, and asked to meet for lunch next Friday.

Those were among the longest seven days of my life. I have to admit, a part of me wondered if Joe forgets about me again. Like he wasn’t a dude with a lot on his plate. No worries…he was there, right on time. He was well dressed, complete with dress slacks, white shirt and tie, and was very courteous as he reached for my hand and said, “Very glad to meet you, Lonnie.”

Joe drove me to his favorite eatery, noted for its fish, not too far from the office (don’t remember the name of the place). Stubborn no longer, I didn’t let on what I thought of the choices, and ordered halibut. It was good; if I order fish these days, halibut it is.

We got down to business; I went over my writing background, and told Joe I thought I’d be a good fit for his publications. Had a great idea for a story for Muscle & Fitness: how so many athletes in the 1950s and 1960s had to lift weights in secret so their coaches wouldn’t find out. You know, the old, erroneous muscle-bound theory. He agreed it would be a promising piece—BUT wanted me to turn in a sample of my work to see if my writing could strike a chord with his target audience.

Stubborn makes a comeback. “I don’t ‘audition’ at this point of my career, Joe,” I said. “You don’t have to worry, I know who your audience is…I’ve been part of it for years.”

To be honest, I don’t recall what was said next, but we finished an enjoyable lunch, talked about what I liked—and didn’t find so appealing—about his magazines. Needless to say, I was very careful not to spend much time on the latter.

I went ahead with my article, titled it “Can’t Weight to Train” (featuring Otis Chandler, former Publisher of the Los Angeles Times and a premier collegiate shot putter and weight lifter), and it ran a few months later. That started a string of stories I wrote for Muscle & Fitness, Flex and eventually Sports Fitness over the next three of years.

However, I wasn’t getting consistent assignments, so I took the opportunity to join the staff at IRON MAN when John Balik and Michael Neveux bought the publication in 1986. But I would see Joe at various events, particularly the Mr. Olympia that he created back in 1965.

I emceed my first Olympia in 1993 in Atlanta. In Chicago in 1996, Joe saw me at the hotel and said, “Lonnie, no time for jokes this weekend, since you are emceeing all four shows (Mr. Olympia, Ms. Olympia, Fitness Olympia and the Masters Olympia.” During intermission, Joe approached me and said, “Lonnie, where are your jokes?…we need to make this more entertaining.”

Yes, we lost quite quite a man when Joe Weider passed away from heart failure on Saturday, March 23, at 93 years of age. Joe had been in very poor health for some time, so his passing was not a surprise to those who knew him. But, that doesn’t change the fact that people are having trouble dealing with the death of a true icon that influenced so many lives in the world of fitness and nutrition.

And, of course, perhaps Weider’s greatest achievement was having the insight to invite a young bodybuilder from Austria named Arnold Schwarzenegger to move to the United States, where he financed the move and helped Schwarzenegger boost his career in bodybuilding, business and acting.

“Joe became a father figure to me,” said Schwarzenegger in an article by Greg Botehlo of CNN.” He advised me on my training, on my business ventures, and once, bizarrely, claimed I was a German Shakespearean actor to get me my first acting role in “Hercules in New York, even though I barely spoke English.”

Despite being diagnosed with a heart condition, amyloidosis, 12 years ago, Weider never slowed down, according to his publicist, Charlotte Parker. “He was generous, loving, full of life,” Parker says in the CNN article. “He was a great man.”

Gone, but never forgotten. Thanks for all you did, Joe Weider. It was a great ride. R.I.P.

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