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Ben Weider Has Died

(Postscript below: a Letter from Ben)

Ben Weider was a giant in the world of bodybuilding. He and his brother Joe started Weider Health & Fitness in their parents’ front room, and built it into a global publishing, equipment, and food supplements empire. They co-founded the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) and popularized the sport of bodybuilding around the world. Joe was the visionary entrepreneur. Ben was the consummate international diplomat. The brothers brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to America and helped him on his way to becoming bigger than life, even bigger than they were.

Ben never entered a physique contest as far as I know, but he was devoted to weight training and worked out regularly until shortly before his death. He was 85.

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I was dazzled every time I met Ben Weider. His look, demeanor, and manner of speaking were sophisticating and elegant. To say that he was impressive misses the mark. For a guy who didn’t make it past seventh grade, it was almost breathtaking.

Three occasions in particular stand out in my mind.

My first meeting with Ben was February of 1976 in Chicago. I was one of three representatives of the AAU Weightlifting Committee (the other two were Chairman Bob Crist and Physique Chairman Ralph Countryman) who met with Ben and Tom Minichiello (IFBB chief in the U.S.) to initiate discussion of a possible affiliation of the IFBB with the AAU. I don’t remember much of what was said; little was accomplished. What I do remember is Ben. He was smooth as silk. Bob Crist didn’t buy it and Ralph was at best agnostic. I saw Ben as a man to be reckoned with. It was clear to me that big changes were coming.

When I next saw Ben affiliation had moved to center stage.

It was at a meeting of the AAU Physique Committee in Santa Monica, California, on the occasion of the 1977 Mr. America contest. Ben appeared to present the case for affiliation and answer questions. All the big wigs were there, including bitter Weider rivals Dan Lurie, and John Terpak and John Grimek from York Barbell. Joe Weider was there too, but he wisely let Ben do the talking.

And talk he did. He made a strong case for affiliation and answered any and all questions with grace and dignity. It was a superb performance in a very challenging  environment. Afterward I congratulated him on a fine presentation.

The Committee voted 16 to 13 in favor of affiliation, but fell short of the required two-thirds. I voted with the majority. I later wrote to Ralph Countryman (who also voted with the majority) about the historic vote: “Just think of it, casting a vote in favor of Weider right there in front of Terpak, Grimek, God and everybody.”

My third encounter with Ben was in Atlantic City, New Jersey, at a dinner he hosted after an IFBB professional contest. Boyer Coe, the winner, and various other dignitaries were there. I distinctly remember two things about the event. Boyer had two desserts and Ben split an entrée with his personal assistant.

Ben was a gracious host, his usual impressive self, but what I remember best is that shared entrée. That showed me another side of Ben, the health conscious, thoughtful man, concerned about his appearance. After all, he was the international face of bodybuilding. It wouldn’t do for him to be fat or unappealing. He was a man who walked his talk, and was willing to go the extra mile to look the part. And he did. He was always trim and stylishly dressed.

For more than 50 years, Ben was the ambassador of bodybuilding around the globe. No one was better suited to represent bodybuilding on all levels. His impressive presence and valuable influence will be missed by bodybuilding aficionados everywhere.   

You’ll find many more details about Ben’s life in obituaries which have appeared in major newspapers all over North America, including the LA Times http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-weider19-2008oct19,0,4877360.story  the New York Times  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/21/sports/othersports/21weider.html , and The Gazette in Canada http://groups.google.com/group/alt.obituaries/browse_thread/thread/ddfffcfbaee95f9e .

For the whole story from the Weiders themselves, read their joint autobiography: Brothers of Iron (Sports Publishing L.L.C., 2006). You'll find my commentary on this website: http://www.cbass.com/Weider.htm .

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Postscript: a Letter from Ben

Nils Wikstrom, my wonderful and unique Swedish friend ( http://cbass.com/Ownership.htm ), sent me a copy of a letter he received from Ben Weider dated nine days before his death. It speaks volumes about Ben. Especially meaningful is the statement about his lifestyle: "I am now 85 years of age and still training, eating intelligently and working a full day."

While Dr. Ken Cooper and Ben Weider came from opposite ends of the fitness spectrum, rarely have I seen a more powerful validation of Copper's prescription for a lifetime of great health: START STRONG, FINISH STRONG http://cbass.com/Aerobics40anniversary.htm

Well done, Ben.

The full letter appears below.

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