On Oct. 18, 1997, only days before a highly anticipated gathering of friends and fellow iron athletes in the bodybuilding movement to celebrate his birthday, Vince Gironda, an original in the fitness field, died.
He was almost 80, which you might say was good enough for the mortal human, but his passing is hard on those of us left behind. Tagged the Iron Guru long before gurus were popularised, Vince blazed his own trail and challenged the prevailing theories of exercise; he was defensive and vitriolic about his beliefs.
But breakthroughs need that, and he hammered them home. He did it with his outlandish effrontery, half-serious tactlessness, sardonic wit and humour – traits that sometimes rankled us but stirred our affection for him.
For he was a master of his trade.
More than 50 years ago, before the birth of Arnold, Vince had a brief fling as an actor and stuntman in movies. Both Vince and Armand Tanny of MUSCLE & FITNESS were cast as pirates in the movie “Frenchman’s Creek”; they were the first modern muscle-builders to appear on-screen.
After that he established Vince’s Gym in Studio City, California, on the very doorstep of the film industry.
Hollywood came to Vince’s Gym. Muscle was good show business, and the movie greats as well as many champion bodybuilders who trained at Vince’s are legion.
His gym was an extension of his mind, a laboratory for his scientific concepts of training. He designed and built his own equipment, eschewing the commercial brands that proliferated over the years.
His gym was a sanctuary, dedicated to the production of the winning physique. It was a kind of ashram to all the souls who trained there. Until the day he closed his gym in September 1995, his equipment remained distinctively Gironda.
Vince was sharply outspoken about the sport he was so dedicated to, and he hated the chemical encroachment on the art of building muscle.
To him beauty was everything, and his gym was always a pageant of good-looking people. He personally set the pace as its role model.
In the 1950s he unveiled a raw, ripped, symmetrical physique that caught the attention of all bodybuilding magazines and secured the loyalty of his numerous followers. He competed occasionally, even up to the age of 44, consistently displaying a classic, proportioned physique.
For his contribution to bodybuilding and fitness, Vince received a Los Angeles Athletic Club award in 1991, and in 1994 he received the inaugural Peary Rader Award (named for the founder of Ironman magazine) for Lifelong Contribution to the Sport of Bodybuilding.
Vince Gironda has an assigned, permanent spot in bodybuilding history. He’s gone now, but he’ll live in our workouts and hearts forever.