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Tuesday
Sep102019

Remembering Franco Columbu, the Golden Era Strongman!

Here today and gone tomorrow. Or in Franco Columbu’s case: gone never! Columbu may have left this earth but the legend of this highly-accomplished muscleman, actor and humanitarian lives on. Franco, 78, tragically died while swimming in his hometown of Sardinia, Italy last week.  Columbu was put to rest and was surrounded by friends and family for his funeral service. As you know, this 5’ 5” superstar was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best friend and training partner throughout the greatest golden era of bodybuilding.

Arnold released a statement on losing his long-time friend. 
"I love you Franco. I will always remember the joy you brought to my life, the advices you gave me, and the twinkle in your eye that never disappeared. You were my best friend,"
Read Arnold’s FULL statement on his Facebook page or HERE on Medium.



The Sardinian Strongman and Bodybuilding
Franco started out his athletic career with boxing, and became a champion as a teenager. He really didn't want to be a farmer so he left Sardinia and moved to Munich in 1962, where he found work as a bricklayer.
In 1965, the then 24-year-old Franco was participating in a powerlifting competition. It would happen to be at the same venue as the Jr. Mr. Europe, where an 18-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger was competing. They both won their events and since Franco knew most of the bodybuilders and powerlifters competing, he was curious about this new kid winning. Both coming from small villages, they found common ground - a brotherhood of iron and a friendship at first sight. 

A year later Arnold moved to Munich. He and Franco became training partners. They were perfect match, both psychological and physical, always able to push each other. Training and competing in bodybuilding became their common ground and Franco won the overall Mr. World and Mr. Universe in 1970, while Arnold entered and won his first Mr. Olympia. 

We all witnessed his greatness in “Pumping Iron” competing in the 1975 Mr. Olympia in South Africa. Columbu won the under 200 class in '74 and '75, only to loose the overall to his best friend. Then in 1976 he finally won his first Mr. Olympia title.

After his Mr. Olympia win in 1976, Franco was invited to the inaugural "Worlds Strongest Man" competition that took place at Universal Studios in 1977. There were 8 men, all invitees and with no precedent for a worldwide strongman competition the participants came from a wide range of disciplines.As the competition was brand new, none of the competitors had actually trained for the events taking place. Several of the events were poorly thought out or even dangerous, as evidenced when Franco dislocated his leg severely during the penultimate event. On the tv-screen it looked like a career ending injury. However being a chiropractic, he knew that the leg wasn’t broken and even did an interview with CBS right after the incident. 

Franco's injury forced him to skip defending his Mr. Olympia title in 1977, and actually took him 3 years to recover. After seeing his friend returning to bodybuilding competition in 1980, Franco decided to put on the posing trunks one last time, and became a 2-time Mr Olympia by winning the coveted title again in 1981.
His quiet dignity, athletic prowess, and friendship with Schwarzenegger made him one of the most famous and popular of the Golden Era greats. Columbu’s true legacy was his amazing power. “I’m the strongest bodybuilder who ever lived, I think,” he said in "Pumping Iron". Few would argue the point.

Franco always had time for fans, and understood his place in the legacy of the sport of bodybuilding. He was inducted into the IFBB Bodybuilding Hall of Fame in 2001, and was awarded the Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

The Bodybuilding community will never stop appreciating Franco’s colossal impact on the sport. He will always be remembered as a legendary role model.

Franco the Film Star!
Many Arnold fans knew about Franco Columbu's cameos in "Conan the Barbarian“, "The Terminator“ and "The Running Man“ while some even spotted his lesser known appearances in “Stay Hungry” and “The Switch”(the “Tales from the Crypt” episode directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger”) or his credit as a director of “Jack Slater IV” in “Last Action Hero” but not a lot of people knew about Franco Columbu the action star. 

After a smaller role in a 1987 martial arts movie called “Last Man Standing” (starring Vernon Wells), the two times Mr. Olympia starred in three and a half action movies from 1993 to 2003: “Berreta's Island” (1993), “Taken Alive” (1995), “Double Cross on Costa's Island (1996) and “Ancient Warriors” (2003). 

After Columbu's funeral service, his casket was lifted and carried away while hundreds of fans standing outside erupted in cheers to honor the legend. 

Thank you to Chris Conrad for the Franco artwork tribute and to Thorsten Schimpl for helping us gather some fantastic Franco career achievements.  We miss you, Franco. Thank you for the interviews and greeting you have given to TheArnoldFans over the yeara. What you did for the sport of bodybuilding, entertainment and chiropractic leadership was greatly impactful.


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