Franco Columbu

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Francesco (alias "Franco") Columbu
Personal info
NicknameThe Sardinian Strongman
Born (1941-08-07) August 7, 1941 (age 78)
Ollolai, Sardinia, Italy
Height5 ft 5 in (165 cm)[1]
WeightContest: 185 lb (84 kg)[1]
Professional career
Pro-debut1968 Mr. Universe, 1968
Best winIFBB Mr. Olympia 1976, 1981,
PredecessorArnold Schwarzenegger (1975, 1980)
SuccessorFrank Zane (1977)
Chris Dickerson (1982)
ActiveRetired 1981

Francesco Columbu (born August 7, 1941) is an Italian actor, author, former champion bodybuilder, powerlifter and World's Strongest Man competitor.[2]



Columbu was born in Ollolai, Sardinia (Italy). Starting his athletic career as a boxer, Columbu progressed into Olympic Weightlifting, powerlifting, and later bodybuilding, winning the title of Mr. Olympia in 1976 and 1981.[3]

Since 1969, Franco Columbu was considered to be one of the strongest men in the world. He held a number of powerlifting world records. He performed a strongman act of breaking a hot water bottle by inflating it orally, lifting vehicles onstage while another performer changed a tire, and deadlifted over 320 kg (700 lbs). In 1977, Columbu competed in the first World's Strongest Man competition, placing fifth in overall points; a remarkable outing, considering Franco weighed much less than the other competitors. He was forced to drop from competition due to an injury. While leading the "refrigerator race", a downhill race while wearing a heavy, unwieldy refrigerator strapped to the racer's back, Franco stumbled and collapsed with a grotesquely dislocated leg, which was aired on national television. After a court settlement, he received a reported $1 million in compensation for his injury.[4]

After Arnold Schwarzenegger retired from bodybuilding competition in 1975, Franco Columbu became the next Mr. Olympia in 1976. After Schwarzenegger's comeback victory in the 1980 Mr. Olympia, Franco followed suit and won the 1981 Mr. Olympia. (They are among the only three athletes who won the title on non-consecutive years, with Jay Cutler.[5])

Columbu is a longtime friend of Schwarzenegger,[6] whom he met in Stuttgart in 1965 and against whom he competed in several international-level bodybuilding competitions. For the Mr. Olympia competitions however, he competed in the under 200 lb (90.7 kg) category, whereas Schwarzenegger was in the over 200 lb category. The IFBB has abandoned weight classes since 1980. Arnold and Franco were inseparable friends and training partners during the late 60s to mid-1970s. Columbu served as Schwarzenegger's best man at his wedding to Maria Shriver in 1986.[7] Columbu and Schwarzenegger had been encouraged to come to America by bodybuilding guru Joe Weider in 1969; Weider sponsored them with an $65/week stipend. They arrived in America and began a bricklaying and patio business called European Brick Works in 1969.[8]

In 1988, he designed a comprehensive men's workout to flatten the stomach, narrow the waist, and eliminate love handles.[9] As a chiropractor and a weightlifter, his career parallels Karyn Marshall using chiropractic therapy to train for competitions.[10][11][12] Franco was naturally strong. In his book Coming On Strong, he recalls a time where he and Arnold Schwarzenegger were hanging out and Arnold saw a donkey. Being the character Arnold was, he told Franco to pick up the donkey. Franco picked it up with ease and they walked around while Arnold would yell "Look at my friend's ass."[13]

Acting career[edit]

His TV appearances include the "Dead Lift" episode from the series The Streets of San Francisco (originally broadcast on 5 May 1977), in which Arnold Schwarzenegger has a prominent role (Colombu plays himself – announced as "from Trieste, Italy: Franco Columbu – in a fictitious "SFBBA Mr. San Francisco" bodybuilding contest near the end – alongside Robby Robinson, Ed Corney and other top athletes of the era – where an inexperienced and anger prone "Joseph Schmidt" – Schwarzenegger – places 2nd, then wins an arm wrestling fight in a bar), and TV commercials, most notably Vitalis ("the pump"). In the 1993 film Last Action Hero starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the words "A Franco Columbu film" appear on the opening credits of Jack Slater IV (a film within the film) as a tribute to Columbu, although he does not actually appear on screen. The "Columbu Terminator" features as a boss character in the Terminator 3 video game.


Year Film Role
1976 Stay Hungry Franco Orsini (Uncredited)
1977 Pumping Iron Himself
1980 The Hustler of Muscle Beach Himself
1980 The Comeback Himself
1982 Conan the Barbarian Pictish Scout
1984 The Terminator Future Terminator
1984 Getting Physical Himself
1986 Don Rickles: Rickles on the Loose Himself
1987 The Running Man 911 Security Officer #2
1987 Last Man Standing Batty
1988 Big Top Pee-wee Otto the Strongman
1993 Il ritmo del silenzio Nerescu
1994 Beretta's Island Franco Armando Beretta
1995 Taken Alive Enrico Costa
1997 Doublecross on Costa's Island Enrico Costa
1998 Hollywood Salutes Arnold Schwarzenegger: A Cinematheque Tribute Himself
2002 Raw Iron: The Making of Pumping Iron Himself
2003 Ancient Warriors Aldo Paccione
2008 Why we Train Himself
2010 Muscle Beach then and Now Himself
2011 Dreamland La Terra dei Sogni


Columbu is a licensed chiropractor, with a DC (Doctor of Chiropractic) from the Cleveland Chiropractic College in 1977.[16] In 2004, Columbu was ordered by the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners to stop claiming he had a Ph.D. in nutrition on his letterhead.[17]

In February 2006, Columbu was appointed to the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in what was later described as a "coup".[by whom?][18] Columbu's tenure on the Board ended in January 2014.[19]


Bodybuilding titles[edit]

Powerlifting titles[edit]

  • Champion of Italy
  • Champion of Germany
  • Champion of Europe

World's Strongest Man competition[edit]

Powerlifting best lifts[edit]

  • Bench press 525 lbs / 238 kg
  • Squat 655 lbs / 297 kg
  • Deadlift 750 lbs / 340.2 kg (in some training sessions he was reported to have lifted over 780 lbs / 353.8 kg, all at a bodyweight of 185 lbs / 83.9 kg)[citation needed]


  • Amateur Boxing Champion of Italy

presidential Il Presidente della Repubblica Italiana Ha convertito Francesco Maria Columbu Cavaliere Ufficiale Roma 25 Agosto 1988

  • 2009: Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award


  • Columbu, Franco (September 1985). The Bodybuilder's Nutrition Book. McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN 978-0809254576.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Franco Columbu".
  2. ^ "Deadlifting For Massive Strength?". Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  3. ^ "Franco Columbu Bodybuilding, Height, Stats, Measurements and Video".
  4. ^ Mark H. McCormack, The terrible truth about lawyers: how lawyers really work and how to deal with them successfully, p190 (Beech Tree Books), 1987 ISBN 0-688-06621-6, ISBN 978-0-688-06621-5
  5. ^ "50 years of the Mr Olympia | MUSCLE INSIDER". Retrieved 2019-01-30.
  6. ^ "Ahhnold!?". Time Magazine. August 18, 2003. Archived from the original on July 7, 2011. Retrieved 2010-06-11. One crowd that Arnold has stayed with for a while are old bodybuilding friends, a faithful circle that includes Franco Columbu, the Sancho Panza of Schwarzenegger's early days, who says Arnold is running for Governor to give something back to the country that has been so good to him. "He wants to do a big, beneficial thing, more than a movie—like straightening out this problem in California."
  7. ^ "Maria Owings Shriver Wed To Arnold Schwarzenegger". The New York Times. April 27, 1986. Retrieved 2010-06-11. Maria Owings Shriver, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. R. Sargent Shriver of Washington, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a son of Aurelia Schwarzenegger of Graz, Austria, and the late Gustav Schwarzenegger, were married yesterday in Hyannis, Mass. ... Dr. Franco Columbu served as best man.
  8. ^ "Ethnic Issues in Recall Play Out at Latino Parade". The New York Times. Charlie LeDuff. Archived from the original on March 9, 2014. Retrieved 2010-06-11. Mr. Schwarzenegger and a friend from Europe, Franco Columbu, were brought to California by Joe Weider, the bodybuilding guru, who sponsored them, giving them a place to live and an $80 a week stipend. The stipend was not enough to live on, said Mr. Columbu, who arrived in Santa Monica in June 1969. Mr. Columbu said last week in an interview that to make ends meet, he and Mr. Schwarzenegger began a bricklaying and patio business called European Brick Works in 1969. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  9. ^ a b c d e Mary Stevens (February 5, 1988). "Throw Away The Excuses, Turn On The Vcr And Shape Up". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-06-11. a comprehensive men's workout designed by two-time Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu. The workout can be used with or without weights and should help to flatten the stomach, narrow the waist and eliminate unflattering love handles.
  10. ^ Ann E. Sudekum, Associate Editor (June 1992). "The Olympics and sports chiropractic: World Champion Weightlifter Studies to Become Chiropractor (page 35 of pdf file; page 37 of numbered journal pages)" (PDF). ACA Journal of Chiropractic. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 20, 2011. Retrieved 2009-10-02.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  11. ^ "Results Plus". The New York Times. July 29, 1989. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
  12. ^ Julie Carft (July 29, 1989). "Image is Heavy Burden - Weightlifter Karyn Marshall Feels Pressure to Project 'Femininity, Intelligence'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
  13. ^ Coming on Strong, Franco Columbu and George Fels, publisher=Creators 2016
  14. ^ Staff writer (2010). "Beretta's Island (1993)". The New York Times: Movies. Retrieved 2010-06-11. Beretta (Franco Columbu) is an ex-Interpol agent. Imagining himself retired, Beretta returns to active duty when his friend is killed. His quest for justice takes him all the way to Sardinia. Going undercover, Beretta gets enmeshed in a vicious drug-smuggling operation. Watch for Arnold Schwarzenegger in a cameo.
  15. ^ Staff writer (2010). "The Hustler of Muscle Beach (1980)". The New York Times: Movies. Retrieved 2010-06-11. ...The hero's get-rich-quick scheme gets him into hot water when he selects a most unusual candidate for his protégé. Several real-life male bodybuilders appear onscreen, including Franco Columbu and Frank Zane, but the film's ad campaign focused on the bikini-clad female contestants.
  16. ^
  17. ^ [1][dead link]
  18. ^ John Hill and Kevin Yamamura. "Chaos on chiropractic board. The governor's appointees -- including ex-bodybuilding chums -- accused of 'coup.'" Bee Capitol Bureau, Thursday, March 8, 2007
  19. ^ "Board of Chiropractic Examiners Public Session Minutes" (PDF). California State Capitol. January 16, 2014.

External links[edit]

Mr. Olympia
Preceded by
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Overall Champion
First (1976)
Succeeded by
Frank Zane
Second (1981)
Succeeded by
Chris Dickerson