Franco Columbu

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Francesco (alias "Franco") Columbu
— Bodybuilder —
Bar bending.jpg
Columbu in powerlifting competition
Personal info
Nickname The Sardinian Samson
Born (1941-08-07) August 7, 1941 (age 75)
Ollolai, Sardinia, Italy
Height 164 cm (5 ft 5 in)
Weight 88 kg (194 lb)
Professional career
Pro-debut 1968 Mr. Universe, 1968
Best win IFBB Mr. Olympia 1976, 1981,
Predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger (1975, 1980)
Successor Frank Zane (1977)
Chris Dickerson (1982)
Active Retired 1981

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



Columbu was born in Ollolai, Sardinia (Italy). Starting out his athletic career as a boxer, Columbu progressed into the sport of Olympic Weightlifting, powerlifting and later bodybuilding, winning the title of Mr. Olympia in 1976 and 1981. At 164 centimetres (5 ft 5 in) in height, Columbu is shorter than most of his bodybuilding competitors, but that did not prevent him from achieving widespread success.[1]

In 1977, Columbu competed in the first World's Strongest Man competition and was in fifth place in total points during the competition; a remarkable outing, considering that Franco weighed much less than all his competitors. Then came the refrigerator race, which called for a downhill race in which a heavy, bulky, unwieldy refrigerator is strapped to the racer's back.[2] While ahead, Franco stumbled, and was shown on national television collapsing with a grotesquely dislocated leg. This ended his participation in the World's Strongest Man contest (in the end, he finished in fifth place). After a court settlement, he received a reported $1 million in compensation for his injury.[3] After Arnold Schwarzenegger's comeback victory in the 1980 Mr. Olympia, Franco followed suit and won the 1981 Mr. Olympia.

Columbu is a longtime friend of Schwarzenegger,[4] whom he met in Munich 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 final champion was determined by a pose down between the two class winners. The IFBB has since abandoned weight classes. Arnold and Franco were inseparable during the early to mid-1970s and were training partners. Columbu served as the best man at the wedding of Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver in 1986.[5] Columbu and Schwarzenegger had been encouraged to come to America by bodybuilding guru Joe Weider in 1969; Weider sponsored them with an $80/week stipend and the two European bodybuilders began a bricklaying and patio business called European Brick Works in 1969, according to a report in The New York Times.[6]

From the time he arrived in America in 1969, Franco Columbu was considered one of the world's strongest men. He held a number of powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting world records. He also performed a strongman act in which he routinely blew up a hot water bottle by inflating it orally, lifted vehicles onstage (while someone else was changing a tire) and deadlifted over 320 kg (700 lbs) for repetitions. He designed a comprehensive workout for men in 1988 to flatten the stomach, narrow the waist, and eliminate love handles.[7] He is both a chiropractor and a weightlifter and his career parallels that of American weightlifting champion Karyn Marshall, who has used chiropractic therapy to train for competitions and who became a chiropractor herself.[8][9][10]

Acting career[edit]

In addition to his athletic accomplishments, Columbu has also made intermittent minor forays into acting. Appearing alongside Arnold in Pumping Iron, he has also appeared in cameo roles in Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, The Running Man and starred in his own films such as Beretta's Island.[11]

He has also done TV commercials, most notably, Vitalis ("the pump").

Other TV appearances include The Streets of San Francisco (1977) and Dead Lift with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Last Action Hero, the words "A Franco Columbu film" appear on the screen at the beginning of Jack Slater IV (a film within the film) as a tribute to Columbu.

In the opening scenes of Conan the Barbarian, Columbu plays a 'pictish scout', complete with mustache, wig and blue body-paint.

In The Terminator, Columbu plays the infiltrating Terminator in Reese's flashback/dream in which the picture of Sarah Connor is destroyed by fire.

The Columbu Terminator also features as a boss character in the Terminator 3 video game.


  • 1976: Stay Hungry - as Franco Orsini (Uncredited)
  • 1977: Pumping Iron - Himself
  • 1980: The Hustler of Muscle Beach - Himself [12]
  • 1980: The Comeback – Himself
  • 1982: Conan The Barbarian as Pictish Scout
  • 1984: The Terminator as Future Terminator
  • 1984: Getting Physical – Himself
  • 1986: Don Rickles: Rickles on the Loose – Himself
  • 1987: The Running Man as 911 Security Officer #2
  • 1987: Last Man Standing as Batty
  • 1988: Big Top Pee-wee as Otto the Strongman
  • 1993: Il ritmo del silenzio as Nerescu
  • 1994: Beretta's Island as Franco Armando Beretta
  • 1995: Taken Alive as Enrico Costa
  • 1997: Doublecross on Costa's Island as Enrico Costa
  • 1998: Hollywood Salutes Arnold Schwarzenegger: A Cinematheque Tribute – Himself
  • 2002: Raw Iron:The Making of Pumping Iron – Himself
  • 2003: Ancient Warriors as Aldo Paccione
  • 2008: Why we Train – Himself
  • 2010: Muscle Beach then and Now – Himself [12]
  • 2011: Dreamland La Terra dei Sogni


Colombu is a qualified chiropractor. According to Columbu's website he holds a DC from the Cleveland Chiropractic College achieved in 1977.[13] In 2004, Columbu was ordered by the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners to stop claiming on his letterhead that he has a Ph.D. in nutrition.[14]

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?][15] Dr. Columbu's tenure on the Board ended in January 2014.[16]


Bodybuilding titles[edit]

Powerlifting titles[edit]

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

World's Strongest Man competition[edit]

  • 1977: World strongest man, 5th place (after becoming injured)

Powerlifting Best Lifts[edit]

  • Bench press 525 Lbs / 238 kg
  • Squat (exercise) 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)


  • Amateur Boxing Champion of Italy


  • 2009: Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Franco Columbu Bodybuilding, Height, Stats, Measurements and Video". 
  2. ^ "World's Strongest Man Index". 
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ "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." 
  5. ^ "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. 
  6. ^ CHARLIE LeDUFF (CHARLIE LeDUFF). "Ethnic Issues in Recall Play Out at Latino Parade". The New York Times. 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)
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ "Results Plus". The New York Times. July 29, 1989. Retrieved 2009-10-02. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ a b 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. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ [1][dead link]
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ [2]


External links[edit]

Mr. Olympia
Preceded by:
Arnold Schwarzenegger
First (1976) Succeeded by:
Frank Zane
Preceded by:
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Second (1981) Succeeded by:
Chris Dickerson
  1. ^ Franco columbu deadlifting