The legacy of Reg Park is worldwide, and it’s a living legacy, manifest in the bodies and lives he changed by his example. In 1956 I was in the eighth grade, and I distinctly remember seeing a photo of Reg in Muscle Power. He was doing a front lat spread. I stared at it in amazement, and I began to dream of being stronger and more muscular. At the time I weighed 100 pounds and was about to borrow my uncle’s weights so that I could begin to realize my dream. In a very real sense, my lifelong connection with bodybuilding started with that photo.
Fast-forward 25 years, and I’m on the outside deck of World Gym in Venice, California, taking exercise photos of Reg and his son, Jon Jon. I’d met them through Arnold. Reg had an unmistakable presence, a voice and a demeanor that got your attention—regal yet not aloof. Here was a man who’d won everything there was to win in his day but never mentioned it. He was just a guy who loved to help people, and he loved to train. That wasn’t false modesty—it was simply the way he was.
The last time I saw Reg was at the Arnold Classic in 2007. He greeted me warmly, as if we’d talked the day before, when in fact it had been a year since I’d last seen him and his wife, Mareon. When the emcee acknowledged the Parks, the crowd rose as one with a sustained standing ovation—a “goose bumps” moment.
When I was a teenager, Reg unknowingly touched me through his photos, and last December I had the privilege of attending a tribute to him and celebration of his life hosted by Arnold. Speaking about his friend and mentor, Arnold said that as a teenager he’d had Reg’s picture taped to his bedroom ceiling. He also said that he wouldn’t be where he is today without Reg, citing the inspiring photos as well as being invited to South Africa after the NABBA Mr. Universe contest in 1965.
The three weeks Arnold spent with Reg in South Africa were a turning point in his life. As Arnold said, “Reg’s influence taught me about ‘I’ and ‘we’.” In observing the love between Reg and Mareon and Reg’s devotion to his children, Arnold saw what family life—something he didn’t have growing up—was all about, and he wanted his life to be that way. He saw, too, that Reg was not only a bodybuilding champion but also a successful entrepreneur and actor. Reg’s example revised Arnold’s vision of what he could do, and the rest is history.
The thousands of e-mail condolences Jon Jon Park received from people around the world bear witness to his father’s legacy. On a personal level, I always say that our only touch with immortality is through our children. In this case, Reg Park is immortal because of the way he led his life and the way he touched the people he encountered. IM