He created a body that was to become the gold standard for muscular development. He would use it achieve one goal after another, rising to the very pinnacle of, not one, but three careers. Yet, from the very start Arnold Schwarzenegger had the odds stacked against him… He was dismissed, ridiculed and parodied mercilessly. What people failed to realize was that Arnold’s strongest muscle was, not his bicep, but his brain. With it he orchestrated career moves that took him to the very top.
“For me life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.”
Arnold’s Early Life
Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger was born in the tiny Austrian village of Thal, near Graz on July 30th 1947. His father, Gustav was the local police chief. Arnold and his older brother, Meinhard, grew up under the tough discipline of a man who was used to being obeyed.
Arnold’s early years were very regimented. He’d be up at six, and then off to get milk from the farm next door. Then he would have to do a set of physical exercises that his father had written out for him – earning his breakfast by doing a certain number of sit ups. In the afternoon, after he’d finished his homework and chores, his father made Arnold and Meinhard practice soccer no matter how bad the weather was. If they messed up on a play, they got yelled at…
Gustav himself had been a champion ice curler in his younger years and he pushed his sons to excel physically. With his father’s pushing, Arnold first got into organized competitive sports at the age of ten. He played soccer passionately for almost five years.
When he was fifteen, Arnold’s soccer coach decided that lifting weights for an hour once a week would be a good way for his players to stay in shape, so he took them for a visit to the local gym.
That day would change Arnold’s life.
He was mesmerized by the size of the bodybuilders who stalked the gym, waging war with the steel weights. Arnold would later record his feelings in his 1977 autobiography Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder . . .
There it was before me – my life, the answer I’d been seeking. It clicked. It was something I suddenly just seemed to reach out and find, as if I’d been crossing a suspended bridge and finally stepped off onto solid ground.
Arnold embraced weight lifting. He soon discovered that he had an amazing ability to build muscle. Within two years he had already overtaken most of the other trainers at the gym in Graz where he worked out religiously. He also trained harder than anyone else. One Sunday, discovering that the gym was closed, he smashed the window to get in so that he could get in his workout.
Arnold’s father was less than impressed with his son’s new found obsession. Bodybuilding was very much a fringe sport in Austria at that time, with those who partook of it being look down upon and considered in some way defective. When it was discovered that Arnold had pictures of half naked men with bulging muscles on his bedroom wall, a psychiatrist was called in to ‘save’ Arnold from himself. The psychiatrist assured his parents that this was a phase that Arnold would grow out of.
Oh, how wrong he was.
By the age of seventeen Arnold had already realized that bodybuilding was going to be his vehicle to worldwide fame. He had spent many Saturday afternoons down at the local movie theater watching bodybuilders turned actors such as Steve Reeves and, his personal favorite, Reg Park – he watched them on screen playing Hercules and other mythic heroes. They had used bodybuilding to create careers as movie stars. And that was exactly what he would do – only he would be bigger and better than any of them…
Arnold entered the Austrian army in 1965 to fulfill his obligatory one year of service. By now he’d built his body to 200 pounds of Herculean muscle. He was assigned as a driver in a tank unit. Shortly after he was inducted, Arnold received an invitation to compete in the junior division of the Mr. Europe contest in Stuttgart, Germany. But he was in the middle of basic training… No soldier was allowed to leave the base for any reason. But Arnold knew that his destiny was tied with winning this contest, so he decided to go AWOL in order to compete.
He crawled over the wall, taking only the clothes he was wearing and barely enough money to buy a third class ticket to Germany. When he finally arrived at the competition, he had to borrow someone else’s posing trunks and tanning oil. Still his muscles were undeniable and that night he was announced Junior Mr. Europe.
At first the army was not impressed. He was put in jail for seven days with only a blanket on a cold stone bench and almost no food. But within a few days the news of his victory had spread and the top brass decided that the title added prestige to the army. When he returned to the ranks, he was held up as a sort of ideal, with his drill instructor telling the troops . . .
“You have to fight for your fatherland. You have to take courage. Look at what Schwarzenegger did just to win this title.”
Following his stint in the army, Arnold took a job as a gym instructor at a Health Club in Munich, Germany. This presented him with the ideal opportunity to train for the 1966 Mr. Europe competition. This was the next step in his master plan to become the best built man on the planet. He trained twice a day, working like a man possessed in order to forge the winning physique.
By the time he arrived in Stuttgart for the Mr. Europe contest, people were anxious to get a look at this “monster from Munich” who they’d heard rumors about. All of the attention infused Arnold with a great deal of confidence, and he already felt like the winner.
Arnold’s win that day was so emphatic that the judges offered to pay his way to the upcoming Mr. Universe contest. He arrived in London, knowing almost no English, but as soon as he stepped out of his cab, people began mobbing him. They had all been waiting for him – the first bodybuilder in Europe with 20-inch arms.
“The best activities for your health are pumping and humping.”
Still, he didn’t win that day. The American had a more complete, defined physique and he forced Arnold to accept second place.
Arnold returned to Munich and threw himself back into his training. He shut everything out of his mind and concentrated on only one thing – winning the 1967 Mr. Universe. Sure enough, on September 23rd, 1967 Arnold Schwarzenegger became, at 20 years of age, the youngest Mr. Universe in history.
A year later an even more massive Arnold returned to London to claim the Professional Mr. Universe title. Following that victory, Arnold received the phone call that would prove to be the next great signpost to his future. On the other end of the line was Joe Weider, bodybuilding guru and publisher of Muscle Builder Magazine. Weider invited Arnold to compete in the IFBB Mr. Universe in Miami, and then come to train in California and work for him.
Coming to America
Arnold arrived in America in September, 1968, with a gym bag, twenty US dollars and virtually no English. He settled into a small apartment in Venice Beach and was given a small stipend by Weider in exchange for the rights to use his image in magazines. Arnold’s plan was to stay in the USA for one year, absorb their training strategies and then use them to beat the Americans at their own game.
Arnold began training at a small gym at Venice Beach, Los Angeles called Gold’s Gym. He rubbed shoulders with all the top American bodybuilders but quickly established himself as the leader of the pack…
In 1970, Arnold won the coveted triple crown of bodybuilding: claiming the Mr. Universe, Mr. World, and the Mr. Olympia titles. He was now the undisputed king of bodybuilding.
Arnold went on to win 6 consecutive Mr. Olympia titles as he completely dominated the sport… Now he was ready to implement phase two of his master plan.
In 1970, Joe Weider got a call from a film production company looking for a bodybuilder to play Hercules in a low budget film. Weider immediately thought of Arnold, telling the producer that Arnie had been a Shakespearean actor back in Europe. They signed him up immediately.
The result was Hercules Goes to New York. It was to be Arnold’s first, and most forgettable film. His credit reads ‘Arnold Strong’ and his thick Austrian accent was dubbed over. Still, he got paid $10,000 which he invested into California real estate.
His next paycheck took some time coming… Arnold found Hollywood less receptive than he had hoped. Several agents told him that he had everything going against him – he had a long name which was difficult to pronounce, a strange accent and, to top it off, an ‘unusual build which will never make it into films.’
For Arnold, this was the very motivation that he needed. Back in Austria he had been told that he could never become a champion bodybuilder and yet that is exactly what he had become. Now he would reinvent himself through the same sheer hard work and dedication that he had learnt in the gym in order to become the highest paid movie star on the planet. He would make the agents eat their words…
Arnold began acting lessons in 1974. He won a supporting role in the Bob Raffelson movie Stay Hungry. He played a bodybuilder named Joe Santo, so it hardly stretched his acting talents. Still he was determined to make an impression.
Make an impression he did. He won the Golden Globe for best newcomer. Then, in 1977 the documentary Pumping Iron opened in theaters. The film chronicled Arnold’s victory in the 1975 Mr. Olympia over Lou Ferrigno – the future Incredible Hulk. As his charming, confident self, Arnold’s on-screen charisma was impossible to resist.
By now, Arnold was already a successful businessman, combining real estate investments, a best selling biography, and bodybuilding training courses. This meant that he could afford to wait for just the right film project. He filled his time with public appearances and social functions.
One such function was the Robert F. Kennedy Tennis Tournament in Hyannisport. There he caught the eye of a beautiful dark haired girl by the name of Maria Shriver. She was the daughter of Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the niece of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Arnold and Maria fell in love at first sight.
The Shrivers were great philanthropists and through them Arnold was introduced to the Special Olympics, which he has been passionately involved with ever since.
In 1979, Arnold began a career as a CBS sports commentator. He also graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a business degree. A year later, he stunned the bodybuilding world with his comeback at the Mr. Olympia competition in Australia. There he captured his 7th title, cementing his legendary status as the greatest bodybuilder of all time.
“The worst thing I can be is the same as everybody else. I hate that.” Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold’s comeback, however, wasn’t without controversy. He went to Australia in the role of a TV reporter, only signing his name on the competitor register at the last minute. He was also good friends with head judge, bodybuilding legend Bill Pearl. The general consensus was that the Arnold on stage was a mere shadow of his former self. His victory was, for the first time, greeted by boo’s. Still, his 7th Mr. Olympia title was on the books.
The great shape that Arnold had got into for the 1980 Mr. Olympia propelled him into his breakthrough role as Conan the Barbarian. After spending a year in training working on his speech and learning how to use iron broadswords, he headed of to Yugoslavia and Spain for a grueling 6-month shoot.
Conan the Barbarian raked in more than $100 million at the box office. Together with its sequel, Conan the Destroyer, it firmly embedded the name Arnold Schwarzenegger into movie goes consciousnesses.
Following his success with the Conan movies, Arnold was offered a low budget movie by first time director and screenwriter James Cameron. This would prove to be his most iconic role.
In The Terminator, Arnold plays a cyborg sent back in time to kill the mother of the man who will save humankind from destruction. The role, it was made for Arnold. His accent and his body – the very things that the agents had said would work against him – were perfect to play the part of the T-800.
The Terminator was a worldwide smash, firmly establishing Arnold as the next great action star. By 1985, he had already been named International Star of the Year. On April 26th, 1986 Arnold, a staunch Republican, and Maria Shriver, a member of Democratic royalty, were married.
The honeymoon was barely over before Arnold flew to Mexico to film his latest action blockbuster, Predator. This movie again won him the title of action star of the year. After a string of action films – Commando, Raw Deal, Predator and The Running Man – the forward thinking Arnold was ready for a new challenge – and that, was comedy.
Few were willing to take a gamble on Arnold the comic actor. But one who was was director Ivan Reitman, who created a special vehicle for Arnold. That vehicle was called Twins…
The irresistible chemistry of Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito made Twins an immediate hit. Two years later, Arnold again teamed with Reitman for Kindergarten Cop, another comedy success. A large part of the success of these films is Arnold’s ability to laugh at himself. Arnold always got the joke, which was very endearing to fans. Over and above that, Arnold was a gifted comedian, which anybody whose seen Pumping Iron will know.
One person who noticed Arnold’s abilities on Kindergarten Cop – especially his rapport with children – was President George Bush. Bush appointed Arnold as the Chairman of the Presidents’ Council on Physical Fitness. This could have been a largely symbolic role, but Arnold threw himself into it with relish, visiting every state to promote the fitness lifestyle.
The movie winning streak continued for Arnold – with Total Recall, and Terminator 2. This sequel cost $102 million, making it the most expensive film to that date. It returned $519.8 million, with Arnie pocketing a cool $15 million.
Arnold’s next big movie outing was Last Action Hero, a hundred-million dollar extravaganza which seemed like a sure thing. But the film was a box office bomb, and a critical flop. Hollywood was quick to tear Arnie down, claiming that his time in the limelight was over. But Schwarzenegger had other ideas.
He bounced back from defeat with the same focused determination as in his bodybuilding days. He reteamed with James Cameron for the action-back James Bond spoof True Lies. The movie was a smash and Arnold was back on top.
In the mid-1990’s Arnold began focusing on giving back to the country that had given him so much. He became an organizer and sponsor of the Annual Inner City Games. He was also very involved in the After School Care program.
“My fellow Americans, this is an amazing moment for me. To think that a once scrawny boy from Austria could grow up to become Governor of California and stand in Madison Square Garden to speak on behalf of the President of the United States that is an immigrant’s dream. It is the American dream.”
In 2003, during an appearance on the Jay Leno show, Arnold announced his candidacy for Governor of California. This was following the recall of Governor Gray Davis, sparked by the California electricity crisis. Arnold ran an energetic campaign, despite a smear campaign organized by the LA Times. A number of women claimed that, over the years, Arnold had molested them, while others claimed to have had affairs with him.
Still, Arnold was able to rise above this with his unique mix of charm, intelligence and wit. On one occasion, someone in a crowd threw an egg which splattered on Arnie’s jacket. He immediately whipped the jacket off, threw it over his shoulder and called out to the thrower, ‘Hey, I ordered bacon with those eggs!’
He easily won the Governorship and immediately set about cleaning house at Sacramento. Bringing his own unique style to the position he would constantly refer to his Democratic opposition as ‘girlie men.’
Arnold’s first term was marked by such early victories as repealing a vehicle license increase and stopping illegals from getting driver’s licenses. But then powerful state unions began to oppose his initiatives and four ballot measures he sponsored in a special election in 2005 were defeated.
Despite this, Arnold was re-elected Governor in 2006 with 56% of the vote. On his second term he put a lot of effort in environmental issues. In 2006 he signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, making California the first state to put a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
Arnold’s second term as Governor came to an end in January, 2011. A few months later the LA Times ran a cover story reporting that Arnold had fathered a child fourteen years previously with the family’s long time maid. As a direct result of this revelation Arnold and Maria ended their 25-year marriage. She and their four children moved out of the family home in Brentwood.
Arnold’s post Governorship movie career has seen him feature in such action flicks as The Expendables 2 & 3, Escape Plan, Sabotage and the fifth installment of Terminator in which he battles his younger self.
Arnold has continued to maintain strong ties to the bodybuilding world. Following his retirement from the sport in 1975, he promoted the Mr. Olympia competition. Then, in 1989, he and long time partner Jim Lorimer started the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, which is now the second biggest Pro Bodybuilding Show, behind the Mr. Olympia.
Arnold credits all of his success to the self discipline, drive and focus that he learnt from his bodybuilding career.
In recent times, Arnold has been involved in a Social Media feud with President Donald Trump, in the wake of Arnie’s replacing Trump on Celebrity Apprentice. Trump blamed Arnold for the show’s dismal ratings, with Arnold offering the Commander-in-Chief some timely advice on how to run the country. Arnold, a staunch Republican, refused to vote for Trump in the 2016 presidential election, the first time he had not supported the Republican candidate since becoming a US citizen. Although it’s one battle that we’d all love to see, Arnold cannot challenge The Donald for the top job as he wasn’t born in the United States, even though he did become a citizen in 1983.