An Interview With Joe Weider

People say you were never a lifter yourself, your vitamins are crap, Muscle & Fitness is crap, you make too much money, you lie to kids about the gains they can make.The myths are debunked.

As the legend goes, an ancient Cypriot King named Pygmalion sculpted a beautiful girl from a block of granite, only to fall madly in love with it. He successfully begged Aphrodite to bring the statue to life. They lived happily ever after.

As the legend goes, Joe Weider sculpted a business selling chunks of iron back when it wasn't popular to lift the stuff. Nonetheless, he was personally in love with iron. So, he successfully solicited his brother Ben to give life to the biz by presenting iron-pumping models to the world so all could see just how important buying Joe's iron could be to them. After a few bumps in the road, they too lived happily ever after.

The first paragraph, a cute story. The second, the American dream come true. Didn't matter that the dream started in Canada, because, in large part, the dream came true upon Joe's move to America.

I'd like to explore some of the consequences of the early dream for you. It is only of late that I have come to feel compelled to do so for a simple reason. There is new blood entering the world of Irondom all the time, and the newbies have not been exposed to their roots, they have not been properly indoctrinated on the legends which molded our sport, and they are being granted entry for many, many of the wrong reasons. They have, in some instances, been maliciously lied to by those who envy anyone whose dreams are fulfilled to the extent that Joe's has been.

In short, I'd like to set the record straight for the younger lifters who are a generation or two removed from our collective beginning. Beware however. Let it be known right now that I pulled no punches in my interview with Joe. As you'll see, I asked him all the tough questions that I hear debated around the world, including on the Internet. These are the myths and truths. These are our roots. You will see that many of our own respective dreams were realized as a result of Joe's dreams-come-true. And so too were many of our frustrations.

What are my qualifications for telling this story? Folks, I've been working for Joe since the early 80s. I have been regaled with his stories and philosophy about lifting, business and sport daily ever since. As part of my job, I was obliged to read scores of old books, muscle mags and manuscripts. I poured over early photos of the strongmen of yore, the bodybuilders of mid-yore and modern day stars almost every day of my life. All in order to deny or support Joe's endless stories.

Breakfast At Joe's

One early morning, I joined Joe for breakfast at his place, up on the balcony, Betty's skirt drying on the line and the gentle spring breeze blowing it across Joe's head unmercifully. Joe's hand is full of nearly a dozen vitamin pills and such, which he's trying to swallow down with a glass of chamomile tea. Didn't work. The skirt was too persistent, so we went down to the veranda near the pool. Cute story? Why didn't he just move the skirt! But it was nicer down in the veranda.

The Interview ///

I started our interview by explaining the reason for it to Joe. "Joe, there are so many lifters out there who—putting it as nicely as possible—appear to have it in for you. You were never a lifter yourself, your vitamins are crap, Muscle & Fitness is crap, you make too much money, you lie to kids about the gains they can make, and your statue really isn't you. Stuff like that."

Before Joe could respond the phone rang. It was Franco. Franco didn't stand a chance.

Not too shabby, folks!

Back To The Verandah ... And The Interview ///

By this time, Joe had cooled off, and had completely forgotten all of the allegations I had repeated to him. The only thing on his mind was the one claiming he wasn't a lifter. That is the Joe I know!

Joe: I didn't have a belt, suit or nothing. What did Franco say?

Fred: [I repeated the above story to Joe.] He also told a story when he came out here the first time to work out with you in California you were working out with him and said, "Lets warm up," and you said, "Let's do some clean and presses." Nobody did stuff like that back then except the weightlifters.

Joe: I told you I was a weightlifter. What did he say? [Joe's always fishing for compliments on how strong he was ... all of us old retired iron slingers do. So I obligingly told him again what Franco said.] Fred, you know me. What do I talk about mostly?

Fred: Lifting

Joe: The bodybuilders know I'm a lifter too. That's why they worry about what's going to happen to bodybuilding when I die. They worry that they won't be able to find anybody that has their heart and soul in bodybuilding. Take TwinLabs. Anybody there from the bodybuilding world? No. The guys don't trust them. Take Jim [Ripped Fuel ad]. I hear horror stories about what he's going through with TwinLabs. They don't trust these guys anymore.

Fred: Interesting, OK, you do equipment for home use, 8 magazines now, supplements, and you're getting into foods in a much heavier way soon. Overall, the biggest fitness based operation in the world. Some say that all of this has alienated you from the bodybuilders, and that money is your motivation. True or false?

Joe: Bodybuilders aren't stupid. They can sense the soul of a person. The fact that bodybuilders have stayed with me all these years is because they believe in me. The fact that they think bodybuilding will die without me goes to show that they do have the deep affinity toward me. And because they have this affinity toward me there is a love-hate relationship. Do you have a deep affinity toward your wife? Of course. And you could love her deeply but you'd have more fights with her than a girl you'd pick up in a bar.

I think that the fact bodybuilders have stood by me goes to show that they do have a strong affinity for me. I bet if you went to TwinLabs and spoke to one of the editors there, and you talked to them in five minutes, you'd lose them and they'd lose you too. They don't understand bodybuilders or lifters, they don't know them, and they haven't been in it themselves. Why do you think a leader can win over people? Because people believe in them. They have a rapport with him.

Fred: You tend to expect more from you mentor than a kid on the street. The bodybuilders believe that their interests are yours.

Joe: Our guys have instincts. They know who is working in their best interests.

Fred: Some folks questions the directions of your flagship magazine, Muscle & Fitness. Mostly the people who question it are the serious lifters, the guys like you or me, Joe, who are really into the sport heart and soul, and see the magazine going in a direction other than the one they remember.

Joe: I have a copy of Muscle & Fitness right here. Let's see, the hot line?

Fred: Explosive delts. I hear it over and over again—people want hard scientific information that they can make use of to become better bodybuilders and muscles.

Joe: They have that. [Flipping through the pages] Bodybuilders telling them how train. We have a lot of bodybuilding training information. We have the best photographs to inspire them and coach them in training. We don't have everything about the steroids scene which people are really tired of. It's still in FLEX though, for the hard-core people. [Still flipping] Bodybuilders don't want to take drinks? Eat? Take supplements?

People can't seem to get it into their head is that I want to expand our bodybuilding lifestyle so that we can reach the masses of people. If we are going to keep bodybuilding an esoteric group by ourselves, bodybuilding won't have much of a following later on. If we don't have much of a following, bodybuilders will not be able to compete and make money. There will be few seminars, fewer exhibitions, the magazine sales will be very, very low, and I would not be able to put them in the magazine. There are no decent writers who would work for $20,000. So my whole purpose is to expand the appeal of Muscle & Fitness from the hard core to the public and show them that they can use our lifestyle to improve their longevity, their health and fitness, and that they should immediately take up weight training to improve their appearance.

With Muscle & Fitness we are trying to reach out more to the public, to the guys and gals who train in gyms, spas, clubs, who are more educated. They want to know what will weight training do for my heart. What does weight training do for my longevity? What would weight training do for my cardiovascular system? What food should I eat that would make me work with bodybuilding to make me happier and healthier? How can I enjoy my fitness and strength sexually? So they have a broader view than hard-core lifters.

But they already have a hard-core magazine in Flex. So why should Muscle & Fitness be totally hard-core and locked in? Still, Muscle & Fitness still has hard-core; it does have a lot of training. But it takes a broader view of sports, foods, nutrition, cooking, how to take care of your skin, hair and so forth so they can be a total package -- a perfect person.

Fred: Do you really believe Flex can take up the banner that Muscle & Fitness once carried for the hard-core people?

Joe: It already has. It's by far the best selling hard-core magazine on the racks. Bigger than Muscle media 2000, bigger than IronMan, bigger than Muscular Development. By far. Look at the circulation of the hardcore magazines. They go up to 160, 170 or possibly to 180,000. Flex is more than 200,000, and Muscle & Fitness has a 500,000 circulation. Now why don't you put your ISSA ad in Flex instead of Muscle & Fitness?

Fred: It wouldn't work.

Joe: You see? It would be so locked into a niche market that it wouldn't pay for itself.

Fred: Why did the Weider Gym Operation fail?

Joe: It didn't fail, Fred. We were flooded with a thousand requests. The fella we got to run the operation was not experienced in the gym business. He had been telling people to give up Gold's, World's, and Powerhouse Gyms so they could put in a Weider Gym and make more money with us than the other guys. Also, he made all kinds of promises that couldn't be kept, and we were getting lawsuits. So I figured that's not for me.

I just don't want to get involved in lawsuits. I don't want to have my name misrepresented and I canceled it. And that's it. I had the wrong guy at the wrong time. I wasn't aware that when we opened a gym we would have to attack other gyms and tell them that we were better than the other guys. They were my friends and I didn't want anybody to put them down. It made me sick. Imagine! Me saying "Quit a World Gym and make a Weider gym!" Joe Gold is my friend! Pete Grymkowski and Ed Conners are my friends! I didn't care for that. It was the wrong sales people, wrong setup. I ended it voluntarily. It didn't fail.

Fred: People always ask me, "Is that really the statue of Joe?" Most of the guys who've been around any length of time know that the body is Robbie Robinson's.

Joe: First the sculptor did me. He did my head and body. I weighed 215 then. But he wasn't a good sculptor, and didn't know anatomy. Even though he had a picture he just couldn't get the definition right. How many sculptors know definition? They don't know an anterior deltoid from a pec. He made my body smooth. Now, granted, I wasn't in hard training, not on drugs, not doing any of that stuff. I was just an in-shape, busy man. You gonna pose for definition under those circumstances, especially with an inept sculptor?

The easiest thing for me to do was get Robbie to pose and show him how to add some definition that I didn't have because I wasn't in rock-hard shape. With Robbie, he was able to see the definition and contours, and was able to add to the sculpture.

Fred: Why a statue in the first place?

Joe: I thought I should make a statue because pictures get lost. But with a statue, people would always have the memories. It's not that I'm an egomaniac. If I were an egomaniac, wouldn't I put my statue in the Olympia like Arnold did in his show? Not that Arnold is an egomaniac either, but he has his statue at his Classic. I'm not an egomaniac. I'm not going to use a statue for one of those purposes.

Fred: Joe, I confess that I would love a statue of myself, and I think everyone else out there would too because it's like ensuring a little piece of immortality. Ben has worked for years to get bodybuilding into the Olympics. In fact, I met with him once in Switzerland to speak with Samaranch. Joe, bottom line. What's your prognosis for getting bodybuilding into the Olympics?

Joe: I'm not a fortune teller. But consider this, how did we get recognition of IOC members who run the Pan-American Games? How did we get in the Pan-Pacific Games? The Goodwill Games? We have bodybuilding in Russia, and we have it all over Europe and the rest of the world. All Samarach has to do is put it up for a vote. Samaranch was elected president of the IOC. When the vote came into the open, it was known that he got all the Latin countries to support him because he's Spanish. Now these same guys wrote to him to accept bodybuilding. He gave my brother an appointment to see him. Why would he do this if he didn't want bodybuilding under the IOC umbrella? Couldn't he have just told him, "Sorry Ben, don't come. It's not gonna work?" Bodybuilding stands an excellence chance of getting in. But, it's got to be brought to a vote.

Fred: He doesn't want to rock the boat, because he's near the end of his tenure. He wants to leave it up to the next guy?

Joe: Nah, the problem is different. Let me explain. Francisco, ambassador to Russia, was part of the Fascist movement in Spain. Samaranch supported him in the early days, and got a bad rap internationally for it. That's why he wanted another four years as IOC president, so he would not have to go out humiliated. Now, a similar thing is happening, but it involves bodybuilding. If he spearheaded bodybuilding's entry into the Olympics, what with all the deaths and bad publicity against drugs in the sport, what does that do to his name? He worked all these years to build a great reputation. He doesn't want to take a chance. That's what I believe. He was going to do it, but another bodybuilder died from drugs. The last time he was ready to recognize bodybuilding, Munzer died.

It's like the devil is following my brother. Now wherever my brother goes, he has everyone recounting how Munzer died from drugs. In Europe, when a top bodybuilder dies from drugs they have major headlines. But still, when you put all of that together, you would think we still have a good chance.

Fred: What could stop bodybuilding from getting into the Olympics?

Joe: Some of the top bodybuilders are shooting themselves in the foot. Look at it this way, if a coach in any other sport tells you to do or not to do something, what'll you do? You'll comply. If you don't, what will happen to you? You're outa there! So, the coach controls such situations. Or the manager does. Recently, a girl -- swimmer I think -- who was trying out for the Olympics was banned because she was on drugs. She kicks up a hullabaloo, and sues the federation, reports it to the paper and so forth. In bodybuilding it's 10 times worse. Samaranch says to Ben, "Can't you control these people?" Bodybuilders are wild people! Individualists.

Fred: Explain.

Joe: If a bodybuilder was a basketball player and had the ball, and a guy right next to him could get it in, he wouldn't pass it to him. He has to run and put it in himself. They're individualists. They've got to do it all on their own. They're not team players. Without team players you don't stick together, Fred. That's why there is chaos.

Fred: What would IOC acceptance mean in the sport of Bodybuilding?

Joe: They are their own worst enemy. Let me put it this way, Fred. We have the Arnold Classic, The Olympia and so forth, and the guys make money, but since bodybuilding is not recognized by the IOC, the sports writers think it's an esoteric sport, so they don't pay to much attention to it. It's not a family sport. Now, the point is, none of the big companies want to be involved with bodybuilding for one reason. They don't like the environment. It is all about drugs and is not recognized as a sport. Take Muscle & Fitness for example. It has better pricing, better everything than my other magazine, Men's Fitness.

Yet, I've got 45 pages of paid national ads, national ads, but I can't get any in M&F. They all tell us, "I love it! It's perfect," but they don't want to be in that environment. Why should NIKE or anybody else take on a bodybuilder as a national spokesperson? Most companies want to because they'd be able to show big arms, powerful, strong as the Rock of Gibraltar ... you know what I mean. Every company wants to use powerful looking bodybuilders in their ads, but the environment is bad.

So if we get recognition from the Olympic Committee that will break us out of that cycle. Sports writers will recognize it, advertisers will know it's part of the Olympics, and it creates a better environment around it to where the general advertising community will have bodybuilders representing them. It will be better for the bodybuilders because instead of making some money endorsing a product for a few thousand dollars, they can get hundreds of thousands of dollars. Look at Egg Beaters with Dorian.

They pay him because that product is perfect for bodybuilders. Same thing, Fred. Look at all the companies who sell aspirin and drugs for pain. They are in most magazines but they won't go in Muscle & Fitness. And where would more guys have more pain than in our magazines? They just don't want to be involved. Look at NIKE. Every bodybuilder trains with shoes, every bodybuilder walks around with shoes. There are 45 million people who train in gyms and lift weights, and that's more than there are runners. Its because of the environment.

So, by being recognized by the Olympic Committee, the environment of bodybuilding would change for the better. And here's a few stupid but highly vocal bodybuilders saying, "What do we need the Olympics for?" Dumb, they're just so dumb! It's pathetic. You try to help them, but they're arrogant. One thing about some of these bodybuilders, they think they are bigger, better, stronger than anything, and that Baroque thinking sews them up completely to the point where they can't be in contact with other people. They don't think they belong.

They can't see that they must become a part of a group. Now that's why both Ben and I think Olympic recognition will help bodybuilding. It's not good for me because now all the bodybuilders will endorse a product in a national ad and get a fortune. I won't be able to afford them anymore! It goes to show how much I care for bodybuilding.

Fred: Most people who have ever worked for you Joe, know that you have at least two difference licenses. How old are you really?

Joe: [Laughing] I was born in '22. You figure it out. '22, '21, somewhere around there. My mother was not literate at all, she couldn't read Yiddish and she couldn't read English. So I was not born in a hospital. A rabbi was called to witness the birth, but the rabbi happened to be scoundrel and didn't report it, so they didn't have any record of me being born. So I had to ask my mother and she said, "Well, you were born so many days from this holiday ..." It was like that. Over the years she couldn't pinpoint it. In fact if I hadn't made any effort I wouldn't have any reservations about claiming that I was an immaculate conception [more mirth].

Fred: Was Ben ever an athlete?

Joe: Yeah, in school he was a boxer. My brother liked to work out, but I was an extremist. He would do calisthenics and lift lighter weights. I was a crazy guy who wanted to lift big weights—pull my ligaments and things like that—I was that kind of guy. And that's when I wrote an article on "Momism" way back then. A lot of guys are brought up not to lift heavy weights because their mothers tell them, "Don't lift that, you'll hurt yourself!"

Fred: So you feel that because of that your brother Ben was held back and you weren't?

Joe: No he wasn't held back. He trained, but he was not as fanatical about it as I. You don't have any more of the wicked things they say about me? People say that Joe only wants people to tell him nice things, that Joe only wants to be flattered. Here I am begging you to ask me questions that are not flattering.

Fred: [Now sweating] Well some of the other things, Joe, are spurious comments. Like, "Joe's a thief," and "He lies about his supplements," and "He lies to the kids that they can do it without drugs." I hear this sort of banter on the Internet all the time.

Joe: In fact, Muscle Media 2000 wrote that answer for me. They stuck up for me. These allegations just aren't true. Where did they get these ideas? I'm trying to make bodybuilding a lifestyle, trying to go out and reach the public and convince parents, and everybody else, that kids should take up bodybuilding and live a better lifestyle, live longer, stronger and be physically fit. And I want to get bodybuilding into the Olympics! How am I going to reach people if I tell them that they have to take drugs? They wouldn't want their kids to get involved in the sport! People would look down on our sport. I'm caught in a bind. The people who openly talk about drugs don't give a shit for the sport. They just want to make money selling stuff. Sure people take drugs! But don't make a big issue out of it, and tell them what the side effects are. In fact, we have articles in this issue of both Flex and Muscle & Fitness on drugs.

Fred: Yeah, but to dwell on it is like shooting yourself in the foot?

Joe: But, don't shoot me in the foot! I could make more money if I openly talked about drugs in my magazines as if nothing was wrong with the practice. But I don't. The point is I would be destroying the sport of bodybuilding. We'd never get in the Olympics, never get recognition, and everyone would continue to refer to us as steroid freaks. My philosophy is against drugs. I know bodybuilders take steroids, but the steroid issue is not the complete answer. Why do you think we want to put in testing?

Fred: In order to get into the Olympics?

Joe: Yes, but the point is that we cannot continue to lie to the kids. In the amateur bodybuilding championships we do have drug testing because amateur sports are part of the Olympics. The Olympics are uninvolved with the professionals. Maybe I like the pros too much, and I don't want to cut them down, but I have to spread the sport. I don't want to make it appear that bodybuilders are obsessed with drugs, drugs, drugs! That is my philosophy. But, now I have no chance because the other magazines talk about drugs openly, and the average guy thinks they're being honest by doing so. They say, "They're telling me about drugs, so whatever they say is the truth." Which is shit. What else?

Fred: Umm, Joe likes money more than helping bodybuilders.

Joe: Let me put it this way, Fred, I came up with the bodyshaper and sold 25 million of them. I made more money selling the bodyshaper than I made in the previous 15-20 years. I've got an imagination, I've got brains. I could go into any other field and make 10 times more than I've made in bodybuilding. Why should I stick to a limited little field like bodybuilding? Why?

Fred: There is no reason, Joe

Joe: Except that I love it. Do you think I'm that dumb, that all I can do is bodybuilding?

Fred: Nope. He has a funny voice. Joe, you know that everybody in the world of bodybuilding imitates your voice. Maybe part of the love/hate thing?

Joe: I do have an unusual way of speaking. They imitate the president too, so it's OK.

Fred: He lies about the use of drugs, that's obviously false.

Joe: I don't lie.

Fred: He lies about the contribution of supplements to getting big and ripped.

Joe: How am I lying about supplements? We have 7 of the top guys in the world designing our supplements! These guys are chemists and doctors! You should come up to our plant and see all these top people and talk to them! And have a look at the research we do.

The main reason we developed our own plant is that I used to have to give a formula to a manufacturer to have it made for me, as most of the other companies still do. We'd argue and I'd try to get the best price I could. Then, when I'm gone, the owner says, "What do we have that's left over we can get rid of?" So, what do they do? They short-change the protein, they don't give you the exact amount of this or that, and they short-change the vitamins. And the flavor isn't consistent. How are you going to know unless you test? Therefore, I decided to make my own plant to make sure that my supplements had exactly what we wanted. Anybody can take any of our products and have them tested. They'll see that they're perfect. I challenge them to!

Fred: Take my protein powder, and you'll get big arms just like me.

Joe: It's all B.S! Where's the muscle mag [Joe rummages through a monstrous heap of mags looking for a recent Muscle & Fitness]. Here! This ad says, "In order to develop muscles you must have proper nutrition. And this is proper nutrition for the muscle. I don't say the product makes them grow by themselves.

Fred: What people accuse you of is making kids believe they too can become an elite bodybuilder with your supplements.

Joe: Not true! Let me get one of them and go over it with you so you will be convinced. Ah, where is it you son of a bitch! Product everywhere. Here! It says, "We challenge $30,000 to anybody to make a better product and better results." Read there and tell me where it says take the product and you build muscles. They think their product is so good why am I challenging them? Because ours is better, Fred. You saw the test we made with Dr. Paul Ward! Do you honestly think I told the guys to fake the results? Read this Fred, read this!

Fred: "As with all supplements, this product will not promote faster or greater muscular gains. This product is, however, a nutritious low fat food supplement which like other foods provides nutritional support for a weight training athlete."

Joe: Where do we tell them they get bigger muscles with that? Where? So where am I lying to the people? What sets the champions apart is knowledge that comes from training and commitment to bodybuilding, the experience that gives them the edge of being able to distinguish the good from the bad in the huge array of protein supplements on the market. Victory asked these professionals to give their opinion. Many agreed to do this. Are they liars too? Where does it say builds bigger muscles? We create the most useable protein scientists can manage. Then we tell them when to take our professional protein. No place does it say that it builds muscle.

See here? Dorian says, "I enjoy professional protein during my recuperation because it tastes good and provides excellent quality protein with no fat." Laurel Cravel says, "I love this quality protein. No carbs, no lactose, it's an easy way to keep my protein high when I'm training hard." Anyone you want, Lou Ferrigno. "At last I found a super protein I can use to supplement my meals without fat. I take one before I work out and it helps keep me lean while I build muscle tissue and recuperate faster." I don't know where they get crazy ideas, just absolutely crazy ideas.

Fred: In the years ahead, as you grow older, is there something you feel like you haven't accomplished yet that you would really like to do?

Joe: Yeah, enjoy my life! Do things for me. If I didn't love the damned sport so much, I would just chuck it all. Just sell out and go. I'm tired of reading books on powerlifting. I want to read good literature. I want to travel. To see things, go to museums, do things that make me happy. I want to train six times per week. Now, I struggle to get in three days a week. I have to rush my workout.

But, I like what you do too damn much. That's the whole thing. I gave birth to it. It's like raising children. You don't get tired of them. You don't want to get away from them. It's the same thing with bodybuilding. If I didn't have such a great love for bodybuilding in its infancy, and I didn't grow up with bodybuilders, if I didn't get so bonded to the whole damn sport, it would be easy for me to break. But I'm just too bonded to it.