Before there was CrossFit and P90X, there was Joe Weider’s mustache. That iconic mustache and the entrepreneur who wore it—Joe Weider—who built one of the most famous brand names in fitness, passed away on March 23, with his final age of 93 probably his last endorsement for a lifestyle he’d been selling since 1936.
It’s a sad truth that Joe Weider’s passing probably would have gone largely unnoticed by the general public if not for a public announcement by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former California governor and (still) current Hollywood action star posted his condolences to both his Twitter account and official website.
For boys who spent time in the gym in a hopeless attempt to recreate Arnold’s physique, the Weider brand was a common sight. Across squat towers, bench press seats and plates was the Weider name in a font that looked as strong and heavy as the equipment itself. And thanks to Arnold’s attachment to the brand, the Weider name on something meant quality.[more]
Before the late 1970s and 1980s boom for Arnold’s muscle upon muscle look, the Weider brand sold more accessible fitness, like “The Weider Tone-Up,” a set of simple barbells, spring-based hand strengtheners and the kind of fitness equipment commonly found today in the basement of grandparents’ houses across the nation.
Throughout its history, Weider has also sold potions, supplements and concoctions that promised various fitness results. On behalf of the Weider brand, Arnold even endorsed Weider’s Crash Weight Gain formula. But as selling fitness became a bigger business of selling easy fitness, Weider frequently found itself in trouble.
In the early 1970s, the mid-1980s and through to 2000, Weider faced legal action due to questionable claims about its products’ efficacy, including supplements like its “Anabolic Mega-Pak” and “Dynamic Life Essence.” In 1976 Weider was forced to refund money to tens of thousands after its “Weider ‘5’ Minute Body Shaper Plan” turned out to have used false advertising in its before and after model photos.
Early on, Weider also demonstrated a profound media savvy. While his publication empire would later claim titles like Shape, Flex, Men’s Fitness and Muscle & Fitness, Weider’s first magazine was Your Physique, which he started publishing at the age of 14. From these bibles of fitness, Weider could mold the market that the other side of the Weider brand serviced. It was genius and, today, a media marketing meshing sought in every market.
Schwarzenegger was easily Weider’s most famous customer and greatest brand evangelist. Even though his own brand soon outgrew Weider’s, Arnold always had kind things to say about his friend. Schwarzenegger even wrote a foreword to Weiders’ biography “Brothers in Iron.” In fact, Schwarzenegger has said his first ever Hollywood role came by way of Weider.
It’s important to remember that Weider was not the only Weider behind Weider Fitness. Joe’s brother Ben was a co-founder of the company and also a prominent fitness guru and brand evangelist. Ben served as the President of Weider Sports Equipment Co. Ltd. for years. He was made a member of The Order of Canada and was given the Queen’s Jubilee Medal. Ben died in 2008.
Arnold’s rise was the result of a symbiotic promotional relationship in which Weider used its significant platforms and PR to push Arnold and in turn Arnold lifted Weider’s profile with every subsequent tick up in fame. Indeed, the Mr. Olympia Bodybuilding competition that gave Arnold the championship titles that brought global attention was started by none other than Joe Weider.
In the end, more than an advocate for fitness, Weider should be remembered as one of America’s greatest media masterminds and a pure salesman, a salesman whose product just happened to be any kind of fitness that would sell.