Nothing could ever defeat The Great Joe Rollino, neither the frigid waters of the Atlantic in winter nor even the passing of the years. The resilience of this short, sinewy man was the stuff of legend on the streets of Brooklyn as were the stories of his feats as a of Coney Island strongman. And then along came a Ford minivan.
Still only a mortal, Rollino could do nothing in the face of hurtling metal. Never mind that his achievements over the decades included lifting 635 pounds with just one finger and moving 3,200 with a thrust of his back. The vehicle came, it struck him and broke his body in several places. A few hours later, in hospital, he passed away.
Maybe at 104 years old – Rollino was born on 19 March 1905 – he should not have been out walking the streets of the Brooklyn he adored and which loved him back. But taking a five minute stroll every morning at dawn was part of his treasured routine. As were all the other habits that he said contributed to his unusual longevity: regular swims in the ocean whatever the season, breakfasts of oatmeal and never, ever meat, cigarettes or alcohol.
For his size, Rollino was, in his prime, one of the strongest men in the world. His career spanned appearances at during the 1920s and 1930s Coney Island in Brooklyn where he astonished punters with the power of his hands and even his teeth – until recently he could show off bending coins between his ivories – as well as a spell as boxer when he fought under the name Kid Dundee. He won purple hearts fighting in the Pacific in World War II and even played a bit part in On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando, although his scene never made the final cut.
"Pound for pound... he was one of the greatest performing strongmen we've ever had, if the lifts he's credited with are accurate," Terry Todd, a director of physical instruction at the University of Texas, who knew Rollino for more than four decades. "He certainly wasn't one of the strongest all-time strongmen, because of his size." But despite his diminutive stature, he was "apparently one of the strongest men who ever lived."
That Rollino had endured – and remained fit – for so long only added to the sense of loss among those who knew him. "He was a relic in the neighbourhood," Eileen Billi, told the New York Daily News. "I'm sick to my stomach." Victor Oh, the owner of a local grocery, added: "This morning he was bright and friendly like every morning. I see him every morning. I feel like one of my family died."
The minivan, driven by a local woman, was neither speeding nor was there any reason to suspect that alcohol played a part. Police said she received a summons only because of a faulty horn.
Devoted to the so-called Iron Game, also known as body building, Rollino never used steroids to keep up his strength. He boasted to a web site called sweetscience.com just two years ago how, as a boxer, no one could get the better of him. "Fighters would hit me in the jaw, and I'd just look at them. You couldn't knock me out. I was always very strong." He was living with a niece at the time of his death.Reuse content