It is with a heavy heart that I write this today, as we have lost the man who essentially created the bodybuilding, fitness, and sport supplement industry, Mr. Joe Weider.
The first time I became aware of who Joe Weider was and what he had contributed to the sport and industry of bodybuilding was when I was 12 years old. In my friend's basement, we found a box of old Muscle Builder magazines from the 1970's with stars like Arnold, Lou, Franco, and Robby Robinson in them. Joe had the best bodybuilders in the world in his magazines, and that was how I became aware that there even was a sport called bodybuilding. I was bit by the bug. From the minute I saw those old Weider magazines, I knew I wanted to be a bodybuilder. My dream, though it seemed crazy at the time, was to one day be a champion and on the cover of those magazines too!
Less than a decade later, I was living in California, managing the Gold's Gym in Reseda, and training every day with Lee Haney. Reseda was in the San Fernando Valley near Woodland Hills, where Joe Weider had his huge offices that controlled his publishing, supplement, and equipment empire. Lee had already met with Joe several times, and I was hoping my chance to meet the Master Blaster was coming soon. And it was. In 1984, I won the NPC Nationals, then went on to win the IFBB Mr. Universe (now called the World Amateur Championships), and earned my IFBB Pro card. I was chosen to be on the cover of Muscle and Fitness with three-time Ms. Olympia Rachel McClish, and Joe Weider himself would be there to supervise the shoot! That's the kind of passion and personal attention Joe had for everything he did. Other company owners might have been content to sit in their offices and let others handle something like a cover shoot, but Joe was always hands-on. He wanted every cover to be perfect, and he needed to be there to make sure it was.
Shortly after that shoot, I finally got my chance to visit Joe in his beautiful Woodland Hills office, decorated with some of the most impressive paintings and sculptures I'd ever seen. Joe could tell I was incredibly nervous and asked me why. "You're a legend, Mr. Weider," I answered. He laughed and soon put me at ease. Joe told me how proud he was of me for winning the Universe, and extended his personal invitation for me to enter that year's Mr. Olympia contest (the event he himself had created in 1965). I was honored, but had to politely decline the offer as I simply didn't feel I was ready yet. It ended up being Lee Haney's first Olympia win. Joe understood. He told me to train hard, and that he believed I would be one of the very best pro's soon.
A few months later, I made my pro debut at the Night of Champions and took second, then went on to win grand prix shows in Germany and France as well as being runner-up to Lee Haney at the 1986 Mr. Olympia, all in my rookie year. I began appearing in Flex and Muscle and Fitness regularly, and best of all I got to know Joe Weider much better. As busy as he was, we went to lunch and dinner many times and he would call me every week or every other week to see how my training was going and how he was doing. Joe genuinely cared about all his athletes, almost like they were his children. In fact, Joe was like a second father figure to me in many ways. He was even born the same year as my dad! As one of his athletes, I had the option of getting a monthly check or receiving ad space in his magazines. I chose the ad space, and through my mail-order business I sold training courses, training tapes, photographs, and clothing. "You're an entrepreneur, Richie," he told me. "A lot of these guys want handouts, but you want to work for it and create your own success." Joe was proud of me for that, and I was proud that he was proud of me.
Joe used to use that phrase, "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for one day. Teach him to fish, and he'll eat for the rest of his life." What he meant that by giving me the tools and guidance to forge my own path in business, I would be far more successful than the athletes who only wanted a check in the mail every month for using their photos. I took what he said to heart. By putting my images on his covers and inside his magazines, Joe gave me the opportunity to really make a name and eventually a brand for myself. I found myself in demand, and I ran with it.
Those lessons and that mentorship eventually helped lead to me starting my company, Gaspari Nutrition. I stayed in touch with Joe after I retired from competition, and he followed my ventures too. A couple years ago, I went back out to Woodland Hills to interview Joe for Gaspari TV, a trip I am so glad now that I took. One thing Joe told me profoundly humbled me. He said, "out of all the bodybuilders I have worked with going back to the 1950's, I can count on one hand the ones I am truly proud of for what they went on to do after bodybuilding - and you're one of them." That blew me away, and still does. To hear that from the man who started with nothing more than a dream and created an empire and an industry was just surreal.
When I talk about who inspired me to be who I am and do what I do, I can rattle off names of champions like Arnold that made me want to win the big titles and be in the magazines. But it was Joe Weider who inspired me to go beyond the stage and the muscles and do so much more. Joe was a true pioneer and an innovator. Toward the end of that visit with Joe in his office, he told me that he was done with his particular mission, but that mine was just beginning. "You have so much more to contribute," he said. "You will go on to do great things, I know it." To have a living legend like Joe Weider believe in me that much made me determined to prove him right and help carry on his legacy in my own way.
Joe Weider was a great man who all of us in this industry owe an enormous debt of gratitude to. Without the tireless efforts of Joe and his brother Ben over many decades, the sport of bodybuilding and the fitness industry as we know it would not exist. Joe's vision and his passion were the foundation for everything we do today. Joe is gone now and I will miss him, but he will never be forgotten and his legacy lives on in all of us who share his passion for bodybuilding and fitness.