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Jakub Paulík
September 26, 2022, 5:00pm
Reading time: 7:46

Lou Ferrigno: Life Of The Legend That Even Arnold Schwarzenegger Envied

The popular bodybuilder experienced a time when he had to sleep on the beach.

Jakub Paulík
September 26, 2022, 5:00pm
Reading time: 7:46
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Lou Ferrigno: Life Of The Legend That Even Arnold Schwarzenegger Envied
Zdroj: Jim Spellman/WireImage
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He never won Mr. Olympia, but is still considered one of the most important bodybuilders of all time. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger envied the great Lou Ferrigno's genetics, who claimed that if Ferrigno had not stopped competing in the 1970s, he would have been Mr. Olympia, an undefeated champion for many years.

In his youth, he worked in a factory as a "tinsmith", but he also tried a short career as a football player, which he ended shortly after accidentally breaking both legs of an opponent. As a professional trainer, he worked with Michael Jackson's, and he never had mercy on conceited trainees. When they came to him with a big ego, he made them throw up after a while of training.


Source: Cinema 5


Bullying at school and a domineering father

Even though Lou Ferrigno is a big guy at nearly six feet tall, he was an outsider in his youth. He was ridiculed by his peers for his hearing problems caused by an ear infection. Doctors diagnosed it in Ferrigno when he was three years old. The parents only noticed that something was wrong when they had to raise their voices significantly at their son because he couldn't hear them well. Ferrigno also took a long time to learn to talk.


For children who saw young Ferrigno moving around with a large headset, he became a convenient target for bullying. He was often referred to by nicknames such as "deaf" or "deaf Lou". In addition, he was getting bad grades in school and was in danger of failing, so his self-esteem dropped to zero.

However, while reading comics and watching movies about Spider-Man, Hulk or Superman, his imagination kicked into high gear. Ferrigno imagined that one day he too would be so powerful and muscular.


In an interview for Generation Iron, he said that he started exercising when he was 12 years old. A few years later, however, he replaced superhero comics with bodybuilding magazines, where he watched his great idol, bodybuilder Steve Rees. Later, his main idol became Arnold Schwarzenegger, against whom he faced on stage in 1974 and 1975.


Zobraziť tento príspevok na Instagrame

Príspevok, ktorý zdieľa Lou Ferrigno (@theofficiallouferrigno)



However, there wasn't much missing, and Lou Ferrigno could have nipped his hobby in the bud. His father, police officer Matty Ferrigno, was very rude and strict with him from a young age. Ferrigno told Men's Health that he had to improve his grades or he would have thrown away all his weights. Since training meant everything for Lou at the time, he tried to keep the grades up, even though, as he himself admits, he had to cheat at school a few times.



He describes his relationship with his father as somewhere between love and hate. He was said to be interested in him only when he was winning, but he could not count on his support during defeats. Matty Ferrigno always put a lot of pressure on his son and according to the famous bodybuilder, they never formed a bond.


He does not regret the fight against Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though he lost

Lou Ferrigno won his first major title at Mr. He won America after high school in 1969. He told bodybuilding.com that in his early twenties he was eating seven to eight meals a day and weighed about 130 kilograms.


In 1973 and 1974, he dominated Mr. Universe, but the biggest moment of glory was yet to come. In 1974 and 1975, Mr. He placed Olympia among the best bodybuilders of those times. In this period, he became famous not so much by the competition itself, but rather by the now cult documentary Pumping Iron, which is a well-known classic among bodybuilding enthusiasts.

The documentary mentions that Ferringo's father quit his job because of his son's training. Ferrigno claims that this was only fiction and that he did not actually supervise his preparation. However, the strained relations between the pair depicted on the scene were true.

Lou Ferrigno knew that before Mr. Olympia was not in the best shape. However, his father talked him into the competition because he heard about the filming of Pumping Iron. Both agreed that the documentary would be a great opportunity for him to make a name for himself. Another factor that Ferrigno wanted to fight for was the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ferrigno knew that the next chance to face his idol might not happen again.



He therefore considers his decision a fantastic experience, regardless of the fact that he came 2nd and 3rd in 1974 and 1975, both years being won by Schwarzenegger. However, the strict father, who only accepted victory, was not too satisfied with such a result. Since Ferrigno did not feel like enduring his criticism, he preferred to disappear from sight for two days. He revealed to a journalist from Generation Iron that he enjoyed himself with an unnamed woman, but like a proper gentleman he preferred not to elaborate on the camera.


Lou Ferrigno's biggest life mistake?

After failing at Mr. Olympia Ferrigno did not show up among the elite for the next year. According to Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, he made a mistake. "He should not have finished in 1975. He was to continue training for the next year. If he stayed in the weight category from Mr. Olympia and he trained and trained and trained four hours a day, in 1976 and 1977 he would have beaten anybody," Schwarzenegger stated in the documentary Stand Tall.


The native of Austria thinks that Lou Ferrigno could have pulled this winning line probably until 1980 and maybe even further. In that period, no one could match his powerful figure in combination with great genetics. 

The situation with Ferrigno was perceived similarly by the founder Mr. Olympia and the well-known personality of the world of bodybuilding Joe Weider. He claimed that Ferrigno lacked Schwarzenegger's unwavering belief in himself, and if he had it, he could have beaten Mr. Olympia the following years clearly dominate without any significant competition.

Ferrigno himself is also aware of this fact. He told bodybuilding.com that the difference between his victory over Arnold was their age (Arnold is roughly 4.5 years older) and the time Schwarzenegger had to prepare. "I was like a diamond in the rough. He was a selection diamond and I was raw, so if I had more time to train, it would have been completely different," thinks Ferrigno.

He believes that if he had stopped with competitive bodybuilding,  he could have won Mr. Olympia six or seven times. Although Ferrigno's trained after Mr. Olympia, but he didn't give it his all, as before. Instead, for the next few years, he practically left the first place in the championship to Schwarzenegger's good friend Franco Columbo (1976), Frank Zan (1977-1979) and in 1980, for finally, to Arnold himself.


Zobraziť tento príspevok na Instagrame

Príspevok, ktorý zdieľa Lou Ferrigno (@theofficiallouferrigno)


He was sleeping on the beach and accidentally broke his opponent's legs


The middle of the 1970s was a turning point for Lou Ferrigno. After 1975, he did not have enough money to devote himself fully to professional bodybuilding. Even if he had placed first in previous years, he would not have saved too much from the winnings. For first place in 1974, the reward was only one thousand dollars, and in 1975, two thousand five hundred dollars.

Ferrigno needed money like salt. On his Facebook, he recalled how he had to sleep on the beach for a week during that period, until Joe Weider gave him a helping hand. During the 1970s, he worked in a factory as a "tinsmith", but left manual work behind after a few years, despite the fact that he quite enjoyed it.


Source: Facebook/LouFerrigno


He also tried football in the Canadian league, but after a month he found out that it just wasn't his cup of coffee. He was pushed into this sport by his father, who wanted his son to have a successful football career. In this direction as well, his strictness and dominance were shown again.

Lou Ferrigno wasn't much for football, although thanks to his massive build, he could knock down opponents a joy. "I enjoyed it, but I felt it wasn't for me because I didn't like bumping into people," the Canadian Football League website quoted him as saying. During one such intervention, when Lou, according to his own words, gave one hundred percent of himself, he inadvertently broke both legs of an opponent.


He could go back to Mr. Olympia, but became the Hulk

However, Lou Ferrigno did look for his calling in the work sphere for too long. He felt drawn to the film and TV series business, in which the bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron made him famous in 1977. Due to his massive figure, he was cast in the series The Incredible Hulk (1977), where he played the transformed form of Dr. David Branner - the dreaded Hulk.

At the time, he expected that he would only appear in the pilot and return to professional preparation for Mr. Olympia. He promised Joe Weider that he could definitely count on him in 1977, he told Generation Iron. However, the pilot eventually turned into several series, and Ferrigno received one offer after another.

The Incredible Hulk series later spawned three films, and Ferrigno also lent his voice to the Hulk in the film The Incredible Hulk and in other Marvel films up to Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). The creators of the films Hercules (1983) and The Adventures of Hercules II (1985), where he played the main character, also benefited from his muscular figure.


He also trained Michael Jackson

Together with his daughter, he currently runs the sports brand Ferrigno FIT. As a well-known athlete and a big supporter of President Donald Trump, he became a member of his Presidential Council for Sports, Fitness and Nutrition in 2018.

Like many other retired bodybuilders, he also became a personal trainer. One of the most famous personalities he trained was Michael Jackson. The popular singer was a big fan of his series with the Hulk. He worked with him during the 90s and subsequently in 2009 shortly before his death.

However, he has one rule with his clients. If they apply to train with him, they must train honestly. As he himself says, he does not want them to waste each other's precious time. Since Ferrigno is one of the biggest stars in the bodybuilding scene, people generally approach him with respect and humility.


There are also those who need to tame their ego right from the start. Ferrigno recalled to Men's Health that he once trained a former marine. He claimed that he could exercise as much as he wanted and never get tired. So Big Lou started working out his legs first with him, and before they moved on to the next muscle group, his client had to run out of the gym because he needed to throw up.

In the early 1990s, he decided to return to professional bodybuilding and tried to fight for Mr. Olympia. His wife Carla Green, whom he married in 1980 and they raised three children together, was very supportive of him on this journey. However, he did not get the coveted title. On Mr. Olympia finished 10th and 12th in 1992 and 1993. At that time, Dorian Yates, 10 years younger, stole the championship for himself twice in a row.

Who knows what it would have looked like if Lou Ferrigno hadn't put his career on hold in the 1970s. Perhaps he would currently have more titles Mr. Olympia than Ronnie Coleman or Lee Haney, who were at the top of the food list for bodybuilders eight times. According to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joe Weider, he definitely could have dome it in his time.




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Thumbnail: Getty Images, Cinema 5/Bill Dobbins/Allsport UK/Allsport
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