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Ben Weider, 1923 - 2008

He boosted bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger's career

October 19, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Ben Weider, a Canadian who helped turn bodybuilding into a worldwide sport and who was instrumental in launching Arnold Schwarzenegger's athletic career in the United States, has died. He was 85.

Weider, who also was a self-taught but noted Napoleonic scholar, died Friday after being taken to a hospital in Montreal, family spokeswoman Charlotte Parker said. The cause of death was not immediately known. Parker said he had not been ill.

"He did work out every day until his death," she said.

Weider and his older brother, Joe, turned their love of bodybuilding into a billion-dollar business that includes nutritional supplements, gyms and magazines including Muscle & Fitness.

In 1946, Weider and his brother co-founded the International Brotherhood of Body Builders, which sanctions thousands of amateur and professional bodybuilding competitions around the world.

Joe, the entrepreneurial force behind the family business, soon moved to New Jersey and then California, while Ben stayed in Montreal. He was president of the organization until he resigned in 2006.

In 1968, the Weiders brought Schwarzenegger, a then-unknown Austrian bodybuilder, to California.

"Without them having done that, I mean, I wouldn't have known how to come over here. I sure didn't have the money. So that was a very important kind of steppingstone for me," said Schwarzenegger.

Weider was born in Montreal on Feb. 1, 1923, the third child of Polish immigrants, and grew up in the city's Jewish ghetto. He dropped out of school in the seventh grade to go to work to help support his family. He served in the Canadian army during World War II, then joined his brother's emerging efforts publishing a bodybuilding magazine and selling weights.

Weider co-wrote a 1982 book called "The Murder of Napoleon" that argued, on the basis of hair samples, that Napoleon had been poisoned with arsenic.

However, a recent Italian study found high arsenic levels in hair samples from throughout Napoleon's life, suggesting he had picked it up from the environment. Other researchers have concluded that the original autopsy results were correct and Napoleon died of stomach cancer.

Weider won the French Legion of Honor for his investigative work into Napoleon's death.

He died less than a week before a new permanent gallery of his Napoleonic artifacts was set to open at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Besides his brother, Weider is survived by his wife, three sons, two grandchildren and a sister.

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news.obits@latimes.com

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