Remembering A Muscleman's Muscleman: A Tribute To The Late Dan Lurie

Dan Lurie left behind an accomplished legacy as a fitness promoter capable of legendary physical feats. Join bodybuilding stars past and present as they remember 'Dan the Muscleman.'
"Dan Lurie was one of the sport's founding fathers."

Like any billion-dollar global industry, bodybuilding would not have gotten where it is today without a solid foundation built by passionate, pioneering individuals. Dan Lurie was one of the sport's founding fathers, and his lofty dreams and peerless work ethic gave him a wide-ranging influence that his level of fame didn't always match. This man of strength and power, who in his prime pressed a 285-pound barbell with one hand at a body weight of 168 pounds, took his final breath on November 6, 2013.

Dan was the founder of the World Body Building Guild (WBBG), a string of fitness publications including "Muscle Training Illustrated," the Dan Lurie Barbell Company, and a number of prominent East Coast gyms, mostly in the New York area. He was also bodybuilding's preeminent celebrity for a time, appearing on countless television shows and as "Sealtest Dan, the Muscle Man" on the CBS Sealtest Big Top show.

You can see him beginning at around 6:20 in this video:

One of Dan's most prestigious accomplishments was to win the AAU America’s Most Muscular Man title three times in the early 1940s. But even when he didn't have any titles to defend, Dan was the embodiment of his favorite expression, "health is your greatest wealth." He lived, breathed, and tirelessly promoted the bodybuilding lifestyle with an incredible intensity for the majority of his 90 years.

An Iron Will

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 1, 1923, Dan’s inauspicious arrival gave no indication of the life would go on to lead. Moments after his birth, his parents were informed that the future fitness icon had a hole in his heart and would be lucky to reach age 5. Weak and underweight as a child, Dan nevertheless fought hard for athletic accomplishments, claiming in later life that his heart condition was what spurred his interest in physical culture. "The exercise cured my heart condition," he told me in 2005.

By age 21 he had become a boxing champion, making it as far as the Golden Gloves level before he was rejected because of his weak heart. At the recommendation of then Mr. New York State Terry Robinson, Dan threw himself into bodybuilding, a sport he hadn't even heard of at the time. Nevertheless, he trained hard throughout the Great Depression, setting strength records and building a Mr. America-worthy physique against the odds.

However, with title aspirations and a seemingly bright future in bodybuilding competition on his horizon, Dan would be forced to abandon yet another dream of sporting glory. Because he had been featured in a fitness equipment advertisement, which violated AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) rules, Dan had to relinquish his amateur bodybuilder status in 1945. With no pro division to contest, he began to explore other fitness avenues. He found no shortage of opportunities.

Initially working in collaboration with industry godfather Joe Weider, Dan sold barbells and even appeared on the cover of a 1942 edition of Weider’s "Your Physique" magazine. While beginning as the best of friends, Dan and Joe soon parted ways acrimoniously. Dan would go on to work with bodybuilding heavyweights including Lou Ferrigno, Sergio Oliva, and Reg Park, and influence countless others, securing his legacy as a trainer of champions in his own right.

"A lifelong New Yorker, Dan did more than any other prominent fitness figure to create an East Coast muscle mecca to rival the vaunted West Coast equivalent."

A proud lifelong New Yorker, Dan did more than any other prominent fitness figure to create an East Coast muscle mecca to rival the much vaunted West Coast equivalent. From 1968-2007, Dan ran a succession of successful WBBG Hall of Fame dinners, where sporting luminaries ranging from boxer Joe Lewis, to wrestling "Superstar" Billy Graham, to bodybuilding giants Dave Draper, Chris Dickerson, and Serge Nubret were inducted and recognized for their contributions to the health and fitness industry.

Fighter, Strongman, Father, Friend

Aside from his well-deserved status as one of bodybuilding’s great pioneers and promoters, Dan lived an often controversial and always colorful life. He was a diehard competitor, even challenging other legends like 1940 Mr. America John Grimek and Dan's former business partner Joe Weider to bodybuilding showdowns long after their respective primes. In one of his most famous stunts, Dan challenged then-President Ronald Reagan to an arm wrestling match in the Oval Office in 1984, Reagan won, but Dan conceded in later years that he may have thrown the match.

"In one of his most famous stunts, Dan challenged then-President Ronald Reagan to an arm wrestling match in the Oval Office."

As these testimonials will show, Lurie will forever be remembered by people closest to him as the consummate competitor, whose work ethic was forged in the pursuit of bodybuilding excellence. But despite his endless professional obligations and aspirations, he will also be rememberd as a devoted family man, husband of over 60 years to his wife Thelma, and the sire of five children, 14 grandchildren, and 10 great grandchildren. And yet he still found time to hit the iron well into his eighth decade.

TESTIMONIALS


Steve Speyrer
Natural bodybuilding champion, owner of Classic Anatomy Gym

The best and most memorable advice that my friend Dan Lurie ever gave to me was, “Get a job and have a family. When it’s time to eat, eat right. When it’s time to work out, work out. If you are good enough to compete on the weekends, compete. If you win, you win, if you don’t, you don’t. But keep training. Bodybuilding is meant to enhance one’s life, not diminish it.”

Clarence Bass
Bodybuilder, writer, owner, Ripped Enterprises

In my early years of lifting the big three were [Robert] Hoffman, Weider, and Lurie. They all made "The New York Times" in the end, but Dan outlived them all. He never stopped promoting himself and bodybuilding. Good job, Dan. Rest in peace.

Boyer Coe
Pro bodybuilding legend, 1969 AAU Mr. America, 1971 IFBB Mr. America

I can’t recall the first time I met Dan Lurie. It was probably about the time I started competing in the Professional Mr. World Contest he held annually in New York. I found Dan to be a very likable guy who always kept his word and was completely devoted to his family. Naturally, dying is just a part of living, but I know he was loved much by his family and many friends and will certainly be missed. May he rest in peace.

Joe Carrero
Bodybuilding champion, 1992 NPC Jr. USA winner

The name Dan Lurie is synonymous for me with early bodybuilding, but also with my start in bodybuilding. The first competition I ever attended as a spectator was his WBBG Mr. New York City, held at Washington Irving High School in downtown Manhattan, when I was a 14-year-old beginner. This event featured competitions for all five boroughs of New York City, after which they all competed for the prestigious title of Mr. New York City. The show was fantastic thanks to Dan Lurie, and as I watched with excitement I knew in my heart that I would compete in this same show one year later.

I trained every day like a maniac and competed in the 1979 event, earning runner-up in the Mr. Staten Island competition at age of 15 and beating out men more than 10 years older than me. Dan Lurie enjoyed seeing this, and he had Staten Island’s legendary Mario Strong write an article for "Muscle Training Illustrated" about me. I owe Dan my beginning in bodybuilding and the first article written about me, and I still feel gratitude for this. Fortunately for me, I was able to thank him years later.

Dan Lurie will be missed by me and anyone and everyone who has ever come in contact with him. I am certain that the great sport of bodybuilding would not be the same had it not been jump-started by the greatest pioneer of bodybuilding, Mr. Dan Lurie. God bless you Dan! We will all miss you tremendously.

Dave Draper
Bodybuilding legend, 1965 IFBB Mr. America, 1966 IFBB Mr. Universe

Dan Lurie was a muscleman's muscleman. When the world was experiencing the Great Depression, Dan was forging a muscular body of iron and hoisting immovable objects from the earth beneath his feet. He was one of those tough guys from New York who you heard chewed on nuts and bolts to supplement his diet. But just as impressively, he promoted strength and health and physical culture before they were in the eyes and minds of the people at large. You have to love his bold individuality and broad shoulders amid the throng. Thanks, Dan, for the hard work in clearing a path and paving the road to Muscletown.

What I admired about Dan Lurie was his showmanship. Who else could get into the White House to arm wrestle with the President? He also gave Mae West a set of chrome dumbbells, had TV celebrities like Peter Lupus appear in his shows, and helped Steve Reeves and plenty of others when he was here. Dan also signed me to a "contract," which was a funny gimmick he used with all the bodybuilders, even though he was a manager in name only.

Dan paid for my trip to Ms. Universe Bikini Contest in London, where I got on front pages and center spreads in the "News of the World," and on the cover of "Tidbits." I got more press than the entire contest—I was good at that. Dan, Doug Going, and other associates declared me "the progenitor of female bodybuilding," and he put me into his WBBG Hall of Fame in 2007, so I was at peace.

I hope Dan rests in peace. He deserves serenity after a long, productive life and many victories in the world of bodybuilding.

Bob Gajda
1966 AAU Mr. America, Mr. USA, and Mr. Universe

I was surprised at the loss I felt upon hearing of the passing of Dan Lurie. It launched a whirlwind of memories and emotions. Although I never competed in Dan’s federation, since I was an AAU and FIHC competitor, I got to know Dan as a true friend in recent years. And I saw him as the last living demigod from the trinity of physical excellence made up of Joe Weider, Bob Hoffman, and Dan.

So many memories. There's Dan with the beautiful Mary Hartline on the Sealtest Big Top show, with me watching at home as a kid. Dan would do circus strongman feats as Mary led the Big Top band. Then there was Dan, running and jumping up onto the IFBB stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Arts, holding a document above his head shouting his grievance over Sergio Oliva’s contract with him. I was sitting next to an upset Betty Weider, trying to calm her down during the onstage feud that ensued. And then I remember being honored, along with Sergio and Harold Poole, 40-some years later by Dan at the WBBG Hall of Fame ceremony, even though I competed in AAU/FIHC events rather than his. That was an honor I can't forget.

I am deeply grateful, and I pray for Dan and his family. They all treated me wonderfully.

Kris Gethin
Writer, trainer, physical transformation specialist

Unfortunately, the rift between Joe Weider and Dan often overshadowed the talent, versatility, and passion Dan had for the world of health and fitness. He was a mentor and inspiration to millions, including me, because he showed all the possibilities that can come from bodybuilding. He successfully published a magazine, ran a weight-training equipment company and bodybuilding federation, appeared regularly on TV, owned a chain of gyms, and was one of the best bodybuilders in America in addition to being a highly regarded boxer. Even in his later years, Dan continued to train with the hardcore style that true bodybuilding is made of. We have been blessed to have such a true-grit bodybuilder represent us. Now the heavens are blessed with the same. You will be missed, Dan, but remembered more.

Robert M. Goldman MD, PhD, DO
World Chairman, International Medical Commission Co-Founder and Chairman, American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine Founder and Chairman, International Sports Hall of Fame President Emeritus, National Academy of Sports Medicine

I knew Dan since I was a teenager, when he gave me my first writing job for his magazine "Muscle Training Illustrated." Years later, I was honored to be inducted into his WBBG Hall of Fame. Dan was a unique individual who was admired, hated, and loved at the same time. He could be the nicest, most charming guy around, and a moment later, be almost impossible to interact with. But he will forever be one of the great three icons of health and fitness, and he was a man I proudly considered my friend.

Wong Hong
1999 IFBB Mr. Asia, 2011 WPBF Mr. Universe

Dan Lurie was a great bodybuilder and a businessman. His contribution to the sport of bodybuilding was unparalleled. He was the person who really started the IFBB, before it went on to become one of the most recognized bodybuilding federations in the world. His magnificent physique was years ahead back in the day, and he was one of the people who brought fitness and bodybuilding to the United States mainstream. He will be missed. Rest in peace, Dan.

Gordon LaVelle
Bodybuilder, author of "Bodybuilding: Tracing the Evolution of the Ultimate Physique"

With the death of Dan Lurie, bodybuilding has lost another of its important figures, and one of its few remaining bridges to the early days. Lurie will perhaps be most remembered as an outsider and a contrarian, but he should also be recalled as a man who persevered and succeeded. In the 1940s and 50s, he was part of the emerging war between Bob Hoffman's York Barbell Company and its hardheaded challenger, Joe Weider. Although Lurie was variously victimized by both men, he was able to keep his head above water and thrive. That alone is noteworthy.

Lurie's greatest impact may have been felt only in the following decades, when his magazines and competitive federations showed that muscle shows by no means begin or end with any particular association or leader. But whatever mark Dan Lurie may have left on the industry, I will remember him as one of bodybuilding's truly nice guys.

Dave Palumbo
Former NPC Competitor, author, owner and president of Species Nutrition

Dan Lurie was the last of the bodybuilding pioneers and one of the few unique men responsible for shaping the modern era of our great sport. Lurie not only competed as a bodybuilder, he also had the strength and endurance to keep up with men double his weight in the gym. He will be missed, and his impact will continue to be felt for years to come.

Greg Sushinsky
Writer and natural bodybuilder

Dan’s story is an inspirational one. As a skinny kid with a heart murmur, he threw himself into exercise of all kinds, including gymnastics, boxing, then of course, bodybuilding. At 5 foot 6 and a half tall and 165 pounds, Dan developed a muscular, aesthetically pleasing, athletic physique which many could relate to and aspire to, while also building a considerable business empire along the way.

But for many, his most impressive accomplishments were the feats of strength, beginning with his days as “Sealtest Dan, the Muscleman." Some of Dan’s notable strongman accomplishments, such as performing a mind-boggling 1,665 push-ups in 90 minutes, or 1,225 dips in the same amount of time, are still admired and still recounted in the bodybuilding press. His bodybuilding magazine and his federation, the World Bodybuilding Guild, were both big parts of the East Coast muscle scene for many years. But these accomplishments, as impressive as they are, don't come close to capturing the essence of the man.

Mike Mentzer once said, “Muscles aren’t the measure of a man.” Mentzer uttered this deceptively profound insight only after he learned it the hard way in a short and troubled life. But Dan Lurie knew this truth all the way along. "Do your bodybuilding but make a living, too," Dan would say. "Live your life, let bodybuilding be a part of it, but don’t let it consume you." This isn't easy to do, as the sport's history of wrecked lives attests. The thing that most characterized Dan was that he was a person, full and complete.

Those of us who were privileged to have a friendship with Dan knew him as was remarkably down-to-earth, friendly guy—a dynamo of a personality with a quick mind capable of covering a breathtaking array of topics. He was often serious and thoughtful, but was always capable of joking, laughing, and entertaining. Dan was proud of his Jewish heritage, but he was also incredibly tolerant and appreciated diversity long before those were buzzwords in our culture. Dan could get along with anybody and usually did. He didn’t care about ethnic, racial, or religious distinctions, and he often provided startling insights into people just when you thought he might not be paying attention. But he was—always.

What Dan loved and cared about most, however, was his family. We hear and read that a lot in memorials, but in Dan’s case it was utterly genuine. That’s what drove Dan, and that’s what made him. Beyond bodybuilding or anything he did in the business world, he viewed his family as his personal legacy. Long live Dan!

Randy Roach
Author of Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors

Sealtest Dan, America’s unsung muscle man! Three times he was denied the much sought-after Mr. America crown, even though he was awarded the title of America’s Most Muscular Man. I was fortunate to get to know Dan over the past 10 years and spent dozens of hours with him on the phone interviewing him, listening to stories, and engaging in idle chitchat. I was even lucky enough to have him sing opera to me, then flush the toilet and hang up. Dan truly loved bodybuilding, and one of the greatest moments for him was when he had Steve Reeves come as a guest to his 1973 physique extravaganza that went head to head with Joe Weider’s Mr. Olympia, held on that very same day. He and Joe had been best of friends and worst of enemies. I was able to converse with Dan shortly after Joe’s death and asked him how he felt about Joe’s passing. Dan told me that he harbored no hatred toward Joe, which I was happy to hear. Hopefully the two are laughing it all off, wherever they may be.