RIP Franco Columbu (1941-2019)
I was very sad to hear about the passing of Franco Columbu. He was a legendary bodybuilder, trainer, fitness guru and even an actor/filmmaker. Born in Sardinia, Italy in 1941, he had a remarkable life and career. Invited to relocate to “Muscle Beach” in California at the request of his long-time best friend Arnold Schwarzenegger and bodybuilding guru and publisher Joe Weider, after he and Arnold became friends at European bodybuilding shows, their American adventures began. As well as famously starring with Arnold in 1977’s iconic sports documentary, Pumping Iron, and performing insane feats like lifting a car out of a parking space and blowing up a hot water balloon (requiring 1500 lbs of pressure, which entered him into the Guinness Book of Records), he is remembered as one of the titans of the "golden era" of bodybuilding. He won the IFBB Mr. Olympia competition in 1981, becoming the first winner weighing under 200 lbs.
Following Pumping Iron, he also made in-roads into movies, with small roles in the likes of Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator and The Running Man. He even headlined his own low-budget independent action projects and wrote, produced and directed, making films like Beretta's Island (in which Arnold played a cameo role) and Doublecross on Costa's Island. Unfortunately, his action career didn't take off in quite the same way as Arnold's, but he clearly had a ton of fun doing it. Many of these films are out of print and hard to find, but would make for a fun revisit.
As a real expert in his field of health and fitness, many people forget he trained Sylvester Stallone to get in crazy shape for First Blood: Part II, essentially developing the shredded Rambo physique we all know today. In his later years he worked as a chiropractor, worked in films and television and was featured in many documentaries, such as the excellent retrospective documentary Raw Iron: The Making of Pumping Iron. He was inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. His lifelong friendship with Arnold and the bond they shared until Columbu passed away is genuinely moving and a symbol of both of their characters.