When news broke that the bodybuilding community lost one of its most treasured heroes, Franco Columbu, there was a palpable sadness felt around the world.
At 78 years of age, Columbu had been a pillar of the sport for more than 50 years, competing in the biggest competitions possible. Moreover, he had impacts outside of competition, inspiring several generations of athletes to follow their dreams. So it comes as no shock that this tragic news affected so many people.
Today, we take a look back at the life of the great Franco Columbu. Here are five facts to know about this bodybuilding legend, the life he lived, and the people he touched along the way.
1. Columbu’s Relationship With Arnold Schwarzenegger
One of the most well known facts about Franco Columbu, is his deep relationship with bodybuilding great Arnold Schwarzenegger. The two were close friends and training partners for five and a half decades. Leading up to his run as California Governor, Arnold even referred to him as the “Sancho Panza” to his “Don Quixote.”
The two were extremely supportive of each other’s ventures throughout the years. They each helped the other out wherever they could. They were oftentimes seen with a smile on their faces, whenever they were together. In fact, Columbu was even the best man at Arnold’s wedding. Subsequently, when the heartbreaking news of Franco’s passing reached Arnold, the Austrian left a saddened message of mourning for his good friend.
2. Columbu Won Multiple Bodybuilding Titles
In his time competing in the world of professional bodybuilding, Franco Columbu reached heights that are unbelievable. He captured the Mr. Universe title in 1970, and Mr. World championship in 1971. Additionally, he also won the title of Mr. Olympia in both 1976 and 1981 (check the full Mr. Olympia history). He had a run of top-level performances for the better part of 15 straight years.
However, Columbu was a bit smaller than the average bodybuilder, standing at just 5’5. This would allow him the ability to compete in the under 200lb category, and also helped him pave the way for the smaller athletes of the future. As it was, his short stature did not get in the way of his big accomplishments, proving that height does not represent strength or skill.
Columbu was inducted into the International Federation of Bodybuilding Hall of Fame in 2001. He also was awarded the Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
3. A Life Outside Of Bodybuilding
As successful as Franco was at bodybuilding, he knew he could not do that forever. Subsequently, Columbu would work hard to establish himself as more than just a bodybuilder. While he was competing in bodybuilding, he also earned himself a name in the world of strongman competitions.
In fact, at one point he was considered one of the world’s strongest men. This was a result of him earning multiple national titles around Europe, along with setting world records in deadlifts, squats, and the bench press. Although, many remember his strongman career for him having suffered an injury while doing a refrigerator carry in the 1977 World’s Strongest Man Competition. Despite this, he would go on to finish fifth in the event.
However that was not his only accomplishments outside of bodybuilding. Columbu also enjoyed powerlifting, as he managed to captured multiple world records there.
Moreover, he even earned an amateur boxing title, before his bodybuilding career took off. Following his retirement from the sporting world, he would end up having a successful career as a chiropractor, and nutritionist. Columbu loved helping people with their bodies, and even wrote several books on the matter.
4. Columbu Had A Career In Hollywood
Most people think of Arnold Schwarzenegger when they think of “The Terminator,” but Franco Columbu was also in the movie. While his role was small, this was just one part in his acting career, that actually started in 1976, with an un-credited role in “Stay Hungry.”
He also had roles in “The Running Man” and “Conan The Barbarian.” His IMDB page shows 18 credits to his name, with a film in pre-production titled “Constantine The Great”.
In the 1993 movie titled “Last Man Standing,” starring Schwarzenegger, Columbu was actually part of a hidden easter egg. He was credited as the director of a fictional movie, within the real movie, titled “Jack Slater.” Additionally, Franco had his own production company, Franco Columbo Productions. With this, he directed and produced a documentary called “Sardinia, the Greatest Isle of the Sea.”
5. His Legacy Will Forever Live On
Franco Columbu had an impactful life, both in and out of bodybuilding. The way he was able to change the public’s perception of “short bodybuilders” still has effects today. Subsequently, there were people around the world mourning his passing.
He was once referred to as the “embodiment of the American Dream,” which is hard to deny. When Columbu moved to Los Angeles from Italy, in 1970s, nobody expected him to be as inspirational as he was.
This truly is one of the most devastating losses the bodybuilding world has ever experienced. Nevertheless, his memory will live on, as one of the most important figures of the sport, and much more.