The news of Franco Columbu’s death (Francesco Columbu his full name) struck me like a bolt of lightning.  The most revered, lovable, and adorable personality from the international bodybuilding arena is no more.  According to sources, he died due to myocardial infarction while swimming in his hometown. He was one of the closest confidants of the ever fabulous, living legend Arnold Schwarzenegger.  When I first watched his interview, I got blown away by his humility and a down to earth trait. Despite winning so many trophies and titles, he kept himself reclusive and grounded.  

Franco Columbu was born in OllolaiSardinia, a place in Italy.  He came from very humble family background.  He started his career as a boxer.  He further got interested, and went on to become Olympic Weightlifter, tried his hand in the world of powerlifting as well, and later even he went on to become a bodybuilder.  He won the most coveted title of Mr. Olympia in year 1976 and 1981.

In the year 1969 and then for a couple of years, Franco was amongst the strongest men in the world.  He participated in a strongman competition where he smashed a hot water bottle by orally inflating it which was a sign of healthy lungs.  Franco also set some powerlifting world records. He performed 320 kg deadlift with the right form and technique.  Franco did an unusual act where he lifted vehicles on stage, and at the same time, some other performer replaced the vehicle tire.  

In the year 1977, Franco Columbu took part in the World’s Strongest Man competition.  He got placed in the fifth position, but the outstanding part was Franco weighed less than the other competitors and still managed to position himself.  After the retirement of Arnold Schwarzenegger from bodybuilding world in 1975, Franco competed in the Mr. Olympia, and he won the title in 1976.  Franco again took part in the Mr. Olympia competition in the year 1981, and he won again.Franco and Arnold became best pals when they first met in 1965 in Stuttgart, Germany.  They even competed against each other in several international bodybuilding contests and considered it a healthy competition.  Franco and Arnold shared a great camaraderie and were also training partners between the years 1960 and 1970.

Joe Weider was the person who helped Franco and Arnold and asked them to pursue their bodybuilding career in the US.  Joe Weider even sponsored them and paid a weekly stipend of $65. But when they started living in the US, life was not that easy they had to work as bricklayers for some time since the bodybuilding career was not that lucrative.  Later they even started a business with the name European Brick Works in the year 1969. 

Franco was good at studies; he later graduated from chiropractic school inthe year 1977.  Franco successfully earned the degree of a Chiropractor from Cleveland Chiropractic College in Los Angeles.

He used his knowledge in chiropractic procedures and treated many of his clients and improved their quality of life.  He further wrote a book with the name Coming On Strong.

The Man Behind Stallone’s Body Transformation

During his chiropractic days, the celebrity Sylvester Stallone came to him as a chiropractic patient and later Stallone asked Franco if he can become his mentor for the Rambo series.  Franco happily agreed and took him under his wings and started Stallone’s training regime. In this link below Franco talks about his experience on how it was to work with Stallone. He was the man behind Sylvester Stallone’s chiseled physique for the Rambo series.

Stallone training routine for Rambo series

He stood 5 ft. 5 inches tall with a bodyweight of 185 lb (84 kg).  His professional career took over in the year 1968 when he won the title of Mr. Universe.  His all-time accomplishment was IFBB Mr. Olympia in the years 1976, 1981. Later, Frank Zane and Chris Dickerson broke his record in the year 1977 and 1982.  He actively retired from the bodybuilding world in the year 1981.

The fantastic thing about this man was that he was a bodybuilder and powerlifter too.  This combination of two different sports is rare since both are two different sports and the skills required are not the same.  But Franco achieved many accolades in both genres. The icing on the cake is that he was also known as the world’s strongest man.

He lived a low-profile life not as extravagant, gregarious compared to his friends and colleagues, like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferrigno.  But no doubt the entire bodybuilding fraternity had high regards for this legend. He never shied away from doing menial jobs in his struggling days.  He worked once upon a time as a mason and was the best in masonry works.

As mentioned above in those days’ bodybuilding did not help to meet their financial needs, so the athletes were being involved in other tasks as well, but the general population had a perception that the only thing bodybuilders do is exercise, eat and rest which is not the case.  Even now, in the current generation, people have a similar concept regarding bodybuilders.

In fact, in those days it was tougher to pursue a career in bodybuilding because no one understood the sport and the athletes had no support whatsoever, but they possessed an intense drive to focus on their training and nutrition and gave their 100 percent.  

Yes, there was some involvement of over-the-counter performance enhancers which they did use, but that is not enough to build an enormous physique.  One needs to have proper planning, diet structure to get to that level.

franco car lifting
Francho Car Lifting
courtesy – allgoodfound.com

Franco was famous for feats like lifting cars, bursting a rubber balloon.  He also got featured on famous magazines with his dear friend Arnold.

Arnold - Franco
Arnold – Franco – on magazine cover page
courtesy – scoopnest.com

Concluding Thoughts

Franco’s demise is undoubtedly a massive loss for the fitness industry on losing a legend.  Franco’s contribution towards the bodybuilding fraternity was immense. This incident shows that life is so uncertain, hence we should enjoy every moment with our family and friends.  How many will voice out their opinion that this incident happened due to his usage of PED’s (performance-enhancing drugs). It is hard to rule out. It could have occurred due to his old age, and our bodies have a specific limitation post at the age of 70.

But it is not because of the PED’s these legends build the kind of physique they display on stage. There are many things accompanied with it like their rigorous training schedule, meal planning, rest time, etc.  PED’s are just a small part of this sport, and the bodybuilding federation is aware of it. It is like a norm which is quite prevalent in the fitness world. That is the reason why they have a separate category known as Natural Mr. Olympia.  

RIP Mr. Franco Columbu; people will remember you for years to come.  You have surely left a legacy behind you for the younger generation to follow your footsteps.  Share your thoughts about this legend in our comment section.


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