The movie, Pumping Iron brought the sport of bodybuilding into the public eye for the first time. But perhaps the one personality that we most associate with Pumping Iron is the man who went on to international success in acting and politics as well. That Pumping Iron star was Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career had spanned several decades and many fields, including the worlds of bodybuilding, films, and politics. Born in 1947 in Austria, young Arnold first sought to distinguish himself in physical challenges. He began training at age 15 and competed in numerous weight lifting and bodybuilding competitions, becoming known as “The Austrian Oak”.
After winning his first Mr. Universe (amateur) title in 1967, Arnold immigrated to America for more lucrative competitive opportunities. He soon dominated international bodybuilding competitions. He went on to win Mr. Universe five times and moving on to the professional competition, Mr. Olympia, which he won five times in a row, and a total seven times.
In 1970, Arnold had begun to pursue a long-held ambition to act in films. He played the lead in a low budget movie called Hercules in New York. But his body was the featured player. In fact, an actor was hired to dub his dialog for the finished film.
In 1975, the Mr. Olympia competition was held in South Africa, the first multiracial athletic contest ever held in the country still under the oppressive, racist rule of Apartheid. The significance of this competition would have been relatively localized to the bodybuilding world had it not been for the documentary film Pumping Iron, which showed the preparations leading up to the competition which launched Schwarzenegger into international superstar status.
The movie industry took notice of the surprise popularity of Pumping Iron, and the rapidly growing public fascination with bodybuilding. Arnold’s massive muscles and popular appeal translated to big dollars at the box office. As a result, Hollywood studios lined up to court Arnold.
Subsequent opportunities included Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984). Arnold seemed to be completely comfortable with his roles in the pulp-movie genre, and appeared to wink at audiences who was not phased by the lowbrow B-movie-style vehicles.
The fact that Arnold didn’t seem to take them seriously seemed to validate the near-parody of the macho-male character and further enthrall his growing legions of fans. Moviegoers became increasingly mesmerized by not only Arnold’s powerful physique, but by his captivating charm and wit. Blockbuster action-adventure film The Terminator (1984) is considered by many to be Arnold’s breakout role. Sequels followed in 1991 and 2003. Comedies such as Twins and Kindergarten Cop (1990) engaged Arnold’s natural comic talents, but didn’t hit the mark at the box office. The action-adventure genre seemed to be his native habitat, as he crashed onto the screen in such movies as Predator (1987), Total Recall (1990), True Lies (1994), and The 6th Day (2000).
Arnold’s relationship with Maria Shriver, a TV reporter and prominent member of the Kennedy clan came as a surprise to many because of Schwarzenegger’s conservative values. Though their political affiliations are at opposite ends of the spectrum, they found common ground and fell in love. They were married in 1986 and have had four children together, Katherine in 1989, Christina in 1991, Patrick in 1993, and Christopher in 1997.
Having become a U.S. citizen in 1984, Arnold became increasingly active in Republican politics in the 1990s, helped in no small part by his wife’s political connections as well as his own personal wit and savvy. Allegations of previous sexual misconduct did not seem to diminish his popularity or his image as a strong leader.
In 2003, he was elected Governor of California, defeating 134 other candidates with 49% of the vote, in an election to recall then-Governor Gray Davis. He assumed leadership over fiscal chaos and took immediate steps to conquer a staggering deficit. He won admiration with his strong, no-nonsense bipartisan approach when he introduced his California Recovery Plan. He was re-elected in 2006 to a full term, but still faces major political and fiscal challenges.
The career of Arnold Schwarzenegger has been diverse and successful. Rising from the sport of bodybuilding and getting his break through to fame in Pumping Iron, Schwarzenegger has never looked back moving to movies and into a successful career in politics. That is not bad for a bodybuilder from Austria.