Franco Columbu, Italian bodybuilder, boxer and actor
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The fitness world bids farewell to Franco Columbu
WELL-BEING - Mylene Mendoza-Dayrit (The Philippine Star) - September 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Along with legends Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane he has inspired millions of people to get into fitness.

Franco Columbu, recognized as one of the greatest bodybuilders and strongmen in history, passed away last Aug. 30. The Italian bodybuilder, boxer and actor had a herculean physique that won him titles Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia in the ’60s and ’70s. He also contributed to the Golden Age of Bodybuilding, appearing in films Pumping Iron, Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator and The Running Man, alongside his best friend Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He moved to California in the late 1960s to train for bodybuilding. He lived in Los Angeles for decades and died during a holiday trip in Italy at age 78.

Italian news reported that Columbu became sick while swimming in San Teodoro, Sardinia and was taken to the hospital via helicopter. The cause of death was not specified by doctors.

Franco’s immense impact on the fitness industry will never be forgotten. Along with legends Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane he has inspired millions of people to get into fitness.

Before getting into bodybuilding, Frank was a boxer. Standing at 5’5”, he used to get beaten up every day. One day, he started fighting back, beating up his attackers. No one picked a fight with him then. He had a successful boxing career until he decided to switch to bodybuilding and weightlifting because he claimed that boxing was too hard on your body and face.

He trained with Joe Wieder in the ’60s. Columbu won the IFBB Mr. Europe and Mr. Universe titles in 1970, and the 1971 IFBB Mr. World. He won the lightweight class of the 1974 and 1975 IFBB Mr. Olympias, before winning the overall competition for the first time in 1976.

Columbu was equally known for his strength as he was for his physique. He participated in the inaugural edition of the World’s Strongest Man in 1977 where he placed fifth. The four men who beat him outweighed him by 100 pounds. 

During the event, he dislocated his left knee while carrying a refrigerator on his back. He was out of competition for four years and received a compensation of $1 million. He came back to win Mr. Olympia in 1981 after which he retired.  

Celebrities took to the internet to pay tribute to the fitness icon. Sylvester Stallone remembered Columbu in a tweet: “The greatest and strongest bodybuilder I have ever met has passed. He taught me many things that I have applied throughout my life. We will never have a man like this again.”?Bodybuilder, actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote a heartwarming letter to Columbu, who was the best man at his wedding. Part of his tribute read: “From the minute we met in Munich, you were my partner in crime. We pushed each other, we competed with each other and we laughed at every moment along the way.

“When I finally got to America, I was alone. I’d left my family, my country, my whole life behind. So when I asked Joe Weider to bring you to train with me, it was because I knew I wasn’t the same without my best friend. I could thrive without money, without my parents, but I couldn’t thrive without you.

“I am devastated today. But I am also so, so grateful for the 54 years of friendship and joy we shared. The pumps, the chess games, the construction work, the meals, the pranks and the life lessons — we did it all together. We grew and we learned and we loved. My life was more fun, more colorful and more complete because of you.”

Franco Columbu will surely be missed, not only by big Arnie, but by the entire fitness community all over the globe.

Dear Franco, thank you for leaving us your legacy in bodybuilding. You will never be replaced.

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Bodybuilding athletes and enthusiasts are in for a treat in the upcoming Musclecontest Philippines on Sept. 28 at the Tent in Acacia Estates. Witness history unfolds as IFBB Pro Cards are awarded. The highlight of the event will be the staging of the IFBB Bikini Pro.

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