Joe Weider, who died on 23 March at the age of 93, was a legendary figure in bodybuilding who helped popularise the sport worldwide and played a key role in introducing a charismatic young weightlifter named Arnold Schwarzenegger to the world.
“I knew about Joe Weider long before I met him,” Schwarzenegger said in a lengthy statement posted on his website. “He was the godfather of fitness who told all of us to be somebody with a body. He taught us that through hard work and training we could all be champions.”
Weider became better known in later years as a behind-the-scenes guru to the sport. He popularised bodybuilding and spread the message of health and fitness worldwide with such publications as Muscle & Fitness, Flex, and Shape. Schwarzenegger is the executive editor of Muscle & Fitness and Flex.
He created one of bodybuilding's pre-eminent events, the Mr Olympia competition, in 1965, adding to it the Ms Olympia contest in 1980, the Fitness Olympia in 1995 and the Figure Olympia in 2003. He also relentlessly promoted Schwarzenegger, who won the Mr Olympia title a record seven times. “Every sport needs a hero and I knew that Arnold was the right man,” he once said.
Weider brought Schwarzenegger to the US early in his career, where he helped train the future governor of California. Schwarzenegger also said Weider helped land him his first film role, in Hercules In New York, by passing him off to the producers as a German Shakespearean actor. He also mentored many other bodybuilders.
He was born in Canada in 1919, and recalled growing up in a tough section of Montreal, where he was picked on by bullies, when he came across the magazine Strength. Inspired, he built his own weights from scrap parts found in a railroad yard and pumped them relentlessly.
He won his first bodybuilding contest at 17 and soon after began to publish his first magazine, Your Physique. Later he started a mail-order barbell business, and in 1946 he and his younger brother staged the first Mr Canada contest in Montreal, at the same time forming the International Federation of Bodybuilders.