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Bert Goodrich, 84; Gym Owner, First Mr. America

December 11, 1991|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bert Goodrich, the bodybuilder, athlete, gymnasium owner and movie stuntman who was the first Mr. America when that competition began in 1939, is dead.

A family spokesman said he was 84 when he died Friday in Sepulveda and had been in failing health since intestinal surgery several months ago.

Goodrich came to bodybuilding when weightlifting and physical conditioning were in their infancy. He lived to see a burgeoning of gymnasiums (he had owned seven of them) accompanied by a fitness craze that today finds Americans spending millions of hours pushing exercise equipment or flattening out on floor mats.

Born in Arizona, Goodrich starred in track and gymnastics in high school and became the bottom portion of a two-man hand-balancing act in vaudeville.

He came to Los Angeles and was a stand-in on movie adventure serials for the football star Red Grange and the swimmer Buster Crabbe, an early film Tarzan.

Goodrich also doubled for John Wayne and afterward whiled away several evenings with the cowboy star. "He would drink all night," Goodrich told the Daily News of Los Angeles in a 1986 interview, "and be on the set at dawn ready to work. Now that's acting."

After serving in the Navy as a physical training instructor during World War II, Goodrich opened what he called "the most sumptuous, beautiful gym in the country" on Hollywood Boulevard. Six more were to follow, but he sold them all in 1956.

He appeared on local television, participated in the Senior Olympics and until his surgery continued to do 75 pushups every morning while his coffee was heating.

He learned to play the ukulele and harmonica and entertained at senior citizen homes and meeting rooms.

In 1976, when Goodrich was 69 and competing in a Senior Olympics, Times columnist Jim Murray wrote that the former Mr. America still "can see a fly on a lamp post a block away. His pulse is in the 50s and his blood pressure 130/80."

But this past June, when doctors took out most of his large intestine after gangrene had set in, the family was told he probably would not live more than a few days.

"But the guy's heart is so fantastic and strong," his son Bert Jr. said at the time, "it refused to go."

He is survived by his wife, Norma, sister of bodybuilder Vic Tanny, his son, a daughter, Lucinda, and two grandchildren.

A service is scheduled for today at 1 p.m. at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Chapel in Westlake Village. Contributions in his name are being asked to the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Sepulveda where he died.

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