Remembering Joe Weider (1920-2013)
Chiropractic loses one of its greatest supporters.
By LeRoy Perry Jr., DC
With the death of Joe Weider, the world's most famous body-building visionary, crusader, fitness magazine publisher and icon, on March 23, 2013, chiropractic has lost one of its greatest friends and supporters. Just like our chiropractic profession, Joe traveled a controversial road as a health advocate. He was the architect of body-building, which was frowned upon and picked on in the '40s, '50s and '60s by the AMA and FDA. (Sound familiar?) Joe knew only too well what it's like to have something of great value that the "establishment" doesn't appreciate and actually opposes. Organized medicine did everything it could in the early years to discredit Joe and his principles, but he stood his ground.
Throughout his life, Joe stayed true to his beliefs. He became body-building's greatest teacher and the head of what would become a publishing empire. Joe spoke of his vision many times to me during the 30 years he was my patient, friend and mentor. His support of chiropractic was truly based on knowledge and insight. He understood that our body has an innate ability to heal itself; to become strong with applied effort.
Changing the World by Challenging Us to Do Better
Since his death, there have been many articles about Joe on the Internet and in the newspapers, but none I have read does him justice. To me and to many others, he was like a father: a mentor, teacher, coach and friend. I want people to understand what a great man he was and how he changed the health and perception of the world – by his personal example, through his magazines, with their self-help articles, and through his health and fitness products. Joe was a great businessman, promoter and a genius in life. He was full of wisdom and he was always well-intended. He knew how to talk to people and get them on a positive, constructive path.
Joe passed away Saturday morning, March 23 at 4:30 a.m. at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. His loving wife, Betty, had been by his side every day for the past 40 days, and I had visited him in the hospital almost every night for the past four weeks. The night he died, I was with him until 1:30 a.m. As a son loves a father and a father loves a son, Joe was my inspiration. He genuinely wanted only the best for me, as he did for all the others in his extended family: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; Lou Ferrigno ("The Hulk"); Franco Columbu, DC; Sal Aria, DC, president of the International Sports Science Association (ISSA); Bill Pearl, five-time Mr. Universe (over a 20-year time span); Lenda Murray, eight-time Miss Olympia; Cory Everson, six-time Miss Olympia; Lynn Conkwright, world body-building champion; and many, many others.
Joe learned from his daily school-of-hard-knocks experiences. These were the years that built his mental and physical foundation of strength and integrity. He would often say, "If something is worth doing, you must do it to the best of your ability." Joe did not like slackers. He liked people who were doers. If you asked him for advice, he would give it, but your journey was your own.
He knew how to mentor without being judgmental. He gave each of us (his "adopted children") guidance, reinforcement and inspiration on his formula for success. He was a very patient man for those he mentored, but he expected each of us to make an extraordinary effort to achieve our goals. He set the bar high and challenged us all to surpass it.
"The Father of Fitness"
Joe was often referred to as the "Master Blaster" for his stature as the world's pre-eminent body-building trainer, and it was a title well-deserved. I should know: we were workout partners. He would always find a posture or movement of mine to correct, or an additional exercise to enhance the effectiveness of my training and increase my strength. His understanding of the biomechanics of the body was unparalleled. He knew just how hard to push me, and then when I thought I had hit my limit, he would inspire me to push even harder. He applied this wisdom to everyone he trained.
In 1991 the Boy Scouts of America presented Joe with the Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award, calling him "The Father of Fitness." Weight training and aerobic exercise were just tools of his trade. I regard him as the greatest teacher of health since Hippocrates. He lived it, breathed it and dreamed it. Joe was obsessed with creating healthy, beautiful bodies. He was a master sculptor with the eye of Michelangelo. He knew how to sculpt the body through exercise and diet. He was a teacher / coach / mentor who understood the psychology of athletes, and knew how to motivate them.
Joe was a unique, charismatic person with multiple interests. Basically self-taught, he loved to read and studied history, philosophy and science. As time evolved and Joe learned more about the science of exercise, nutrition, psychology, physiology and biomechanics, he implemented his findings in his publications, often using doctors of chiropractic, medical doctors and scientists from every field to advance his message.
Joe was also a publishing and marketing genius. He won almost every award possible in publishing, including the Publisher of the Year Award in 1983, beating out every other national magazine including Time, Newsweek and Life. During his career, he was invited to the White House and received awards from Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush for his contribution to health and physical fitness in America.
Helping Advance Chiropractic
I would like to thank the many DCs who have called and e-mailed their condolences following Joe's passing. He was one of the greatest advocates chiropractic has ever had. Through his many publications, including Muscle & Fitness, SHAPE, Flex, Fit Pregnancy and seven other magazines, many of which carried articles written by chiropractors, he helped give chiropractic credibility and recognition.
Joe told me he realized from his early years as an athlete that chiropractors understood more about the needs and care of bodybuilders and athletes than any other health care professional, and he wanted to give them the recognition he felt they deserved. Chiropractors not only wrote for Joe's magazines (including Drs. Anita Sant'Angelo, Jack Barnathan, Dick Tyler, Gary Gagliardi, Lance Cummings and Ginger Southhall); they also played key roles in the day-to-day operation of Muscle & Fitness magazine.
Tom Deters, DC, was the associate publisher and editor in chief of Muscle & Fitness. Franco Columbu, DC, who won all the major body-building and powerlifting titles in the world, including Mr. Olympia twice, wrote many articles for Muscles & Fitness. (Dr. Columbu is now the chairman of the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners). To this day, the Muscle & Fitness advisory board includes two chiropractors: James Stoxen, DC, and me.
Joe's favorite quote, which helped me through many trying times fighting for the inclusion of chiropractic in the U.S. Olympic program, was "Only those who quit lose; never quit." I could always hear those words echoing in my ears in the heat of conflict during athletic competitions – back when I was forced out of medical areas and had to treat U.S. and other athletes in parking lots, under bandstands and on side alleys adjacent to the competition. Those words were his motto, and it rang true and always sustained me.
Throughout the years Joe financially and intellectually supported our chiropractic cause. During the 1976 Montreal Olympics, I was the first chiropractor to be appointed as an official Olympic team doctor. Since Joe was born and raised in Montreal, he knew that the Canadian medical staff was much more open-minded and appreciative of chiropractic than its U.S. counterpart. He also knew we needed medical supplies to be successful. Many chiropractors including John Hemauer, DC, Ted Shrader, DC, Kia Drengler, DC, and Leonard Savage, DC, contributed to our cause; so did a non-chiropractor – Joe Weider.
Joe understood controversy and knew the more we as a profession fought for the rights of our patients to have freedom of health care choice, the more it would rock the AMA's political boat and directly help us change public opinion about chiropractic. Politically, Joe liked to do things silently. He was a great strategist. When I was asked to participate in the Wilk v AMA lawsuit, I asked Joe what he thought. He suggested that rather than participate, I should concentrate on working with my athletes, creating positive media and a positive image for chiropractic. He told me controversy was good if controlled properly.
Joe advised me to never do an interview that spoke negatively about the AMA or the U.S. Olympic Medical Committee, but rather to talk about the importance of all doctors working together. It was Joe Weider's wisdom and experience fighting the AMA that reinforced my actions, and eventually, through public demand, the U.S. Olympic Medical Committee was forced to officially appoint a chiropractor to the U.S. Olympic medical team in 1984. We won!
Throughout our battle for chiropractic inclusion in athletics, Joe warned me that the person making the biggest waves politically was going to be the last to get on the boat; but he also told me to never stop trying. As a result of Joe's inspiration, I never stopped trying and in 1991 I became an official team doctor for the Soviet team during the Track and Field World Championships in Tokyo, Japan. At the closing ceremonies for that event, I was given the honor of carrying the Soviet flag – the last time it was ever carried in an athletic ceremony. A year later, I was appointed to the Russian Olympic Team as their spine care specialist, and Joe told me he was proud of me. That meant more to me than any public award or praise.
A Lasting Influence
Joe was personally responsible for the fitness movement around the world. His goal was to wake the world up, get people off their butts, and get them healthy, strong and in shape. There was something bigger than life about Joe Weider. Even his name became a living trademark of the fitness industry, of body-building. The world of health and fitness will not be the same without him. And the chiropractic profession would not be where it is today in the collective consciousness of the American public and the world if it weren't for his constant and enthusiastic support of chiropractic over these past 65 years.
I think every chiropractor should read, and every chiropractic student should be required to read, Brothers of Iron, How the Weider Brothers Created the Fitness Movement and Built a Business Empire. And always remember Joe's motto: "Only those who quit lose; never quit."
The chiropractic profession is invited to visit the Joe and Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture. It is part of the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports, an archive and academic research center at The University of Texas dedicated to the historical study of sports, fitness and resistance exercise. Visit www.starkcenter.org for more information.
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