Franco Columbu

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Franco Columbu
Columbu in Sardinia
Personal info
NicknameThe Sardinian Strongman[1]
Born(1941-08-07)August 7, 1941
Ollolai, Sardinia, Kingdom of Italy
DiedAugust 30, 2019(2019-08-30) (aged 78)
San Teodoro, Sardinia, Italy
Height5 ft 5 in (165 cm)[2]
WeightContest: 185 lb (84 kg)
Off season: 195 lb (88 kg)[2]
Professional career
Best win
  • IFBB Mr. Olympia
  • 1976, 1981
PredecessorArnold Schwarzenegger (1975, 1980)
SuccessorFrank Zane (1977)
Chris Dickerson (1982)
ActiveRetired after 1981 Mr. Olympia

Francesco Maria Columbu[3] (August 7, 1941 – August 30, 2019) was an Italian-American bodybuilder, powerlifter, actor, author, producer, and a licensed chiropractor.

Originally a boxer, Columbu won the Mr. Olympia in 1976 and 1981, and competed in the inaugural edition of the World's Strongest Man in 1977, where he placed fifth.[4] He also had an acting career and authored numerous books on bodybuilding and nutrition. Columbu was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2001, International Sports Hall of Fame in 2013[5] and received the Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.[6]

Early life[edit]

Columbu was born on August 7, 1941, in Ollolai on the island of Sardinia, Italy. He was a son of shepherds Maria Grazia Sedda and Antonio Columbu. He said in 1982: "I was always skinny. Until I was 11, I got beat up a lot. Then one day, I started beating people up. Nobody could touch me." He worked as a shepherd while training as a boxer. He won over 30 fights as a boxer before quitting the sport in favor of weightlifting and bodybuilding, stating: "Boxing's too rough on your face and head."[7]

Columbu moved to Germany at a young age for work,[3] and met Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1965 at a bodybuilding competition in Stuttgart, Germany.[8][9] Columbu formed a lifelong friendship with Schwarzenegger,[10] and was Schwarzenegger's best man for his marriage to Maria Shriver in 1986 and godfather to their daughter Christina.[11][12][13] Columbu and Schwarzenegger remained very close friends until Columbu's death, with Schwarzenegger stating in 2016 "He was my favourite training partner four decades ago and he is my favourite training partner today."[14]

Athletic career[edit]

With Schwarzenegger, Columbu moved to California in the late 1960s to train and work with Joe Weider.[7] Weider provided them with a place to live and an $80 (equivalent to $640 in 2022) per week stipend.[15] The stipend was not enough to live on, so to support their bodybuilding careers, they began a bricklaying company named European Brick Works in 1969.[13]

At 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m) and a competition weight of around 185 pounds (84 kg), Columbu won the IFBB Mr. Europe and Mr. Universe titles in 1970, and the 1971 IFBB Mr. World. He won the lightweight class of the 1974 and 1975 IFBB Mr. Olympias, before winning the overall competition for the first time in 1976.[16]

Columbu participated in the inaugural edition of the World's Strongest Man in 1977. He placed fifth, behind four men who outweighed him by around 100 pounds (45 kg).[17] During the event, he dislocated his left knee while carrying a refrigerator on his back.[7] The injury kept him out of competition for a few years, and he received a reported $1 million (equivalent to $4.8 million in 2022) in compensation.[18] Columbu returned to win the 1981 Mr. Olympia then retired from competition.[16]

Known for his strength, Columbu's clean and jerk record was 400 pounds (181 kg), his bench press record was 525 pounds (238 kg), his squat record was 655 pounds (297 kg), and his deadlift record was 750 pounds (340 kg).[1][7] He was named in The Guinness Book of Records in 1978 for bursting a hot water bottle by blowing into it, which he achieved in 55 seconds.[6]

Acting, writing, directing, and producing careers[edit]

Columbu appeared as himself in the 1977 bodybuilding docudrama Pumping Iron. He was the body building coach for Sylvester Stallone in the film Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985),[19] and had roles in films that starred Schwarzenegger, including Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Terminator (1984), and The Running Man (1987).[20] In addition, Columbu's name appears during the opening credits of Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero as the director of fictional film Jack Slater IV.

Columbu's later films, also as a writer and producer, included the cult film Beretta's Island, (1993), Doublecross on Costa's Island, which he also directed and Ancient Warriors (2003). These three films were almost entirely shot in his homeland of Sardinia. He was also featured, as an actor, in the low budget production of Dreamland - La terra dei sogni [it].[7]

Personal life and death[edit]

Columbu lived in Los Angeles since the 1970s. He was a licensed chiropractor, earning his degree from Cleveland Chiropractic College in 1977.[6] Columbu returned to his hometown of Ollolai in Sardinia every year towards the end of August to attend the local festivities.[21] Columbu became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1983.[22]

On August 30, 2019, after feeling unwell while swimming off the coast of San Teodoro, Sardinia, Columbu died during transportation by helicopter to a hospital in Olbia,[23] twenty-three days after his 78th birthday.[24][25] He was survived by his wife, Deborah, their daughter, Maria,[26] and three sisters: Anna, Gonaria and Celestina.[7] A funeral was held in his birthplace of Ollolai on September 3.[21] A memorial was held in Los Angeles on October 6, 2019.


Year Title Role Notes
1976 Stay Hungry Franco Orsini Uncredited
1977 Pumping Iron Himself
1980 The Hustler of Muscle Beach[27] Himself
1980 The Comeback Himself
1982 Conan the Barbarian[7] Pictish Scout
1984 The Terminator[7] Future Terminator
1984 Getting Physical Himself
1986 Don Rickles: Rickles on the Loose Himself
1987 Predator Medic Uncredited
1987 The Running Man[7] 911 Security Officer #2
1987 Last Man Standing Batty
1988 Big Top Pee-wee Otto the Strongman
1990 Perduta L'americano
1992 Il ritmo del silenzio Nerescu Also executive producer
1993 Beretta's Island[28] Franco Armando Beretta Also producer and writer
1994 Taken Alive Enrico Costa Also producer and writer
1997 Doublecross on Costa's Island Enrico Costa Also director, producer, and writer
1998 Hollywood Salutes Arnold Schwarzenegger: A Cinematheque Tribute Himself
2002 Raw Iron: The Making of Pumping Iron Himself
2003 Ancient Warriors Aldo Paccione Also producer
2008 Why We Train Himself
2010 Muscle Beach then and Now Himself
2011 Dreamland La Terra dei Sogni[7] Frank Graziani
2015 One More Round Franco Turelli


Bodybuilding titles[edit]

World's Strongest Man[edit]

Powerlifting records[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b O'Reilly, Anthony (August 30, 2018). "Two-time Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu Dead at 78". Muscle & Fitness.
  2. ^ a b "Franco Columbu - Greatest Physiques". July 27, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Addio a Franco Columbu, il Terminator italiano: muore per un malore a San Teodoro". Gallura Oggi. August 30, 2019.
  4. ^ "Deadlifting For Massive Strength?". Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  5. ^ Dr. Robert Goldman (March 12, 2013). "2013 International Sports Hall of Fame Inductees". Retrieved July 14, 2023.
  6. ^ a b c Farrell, Paul (August 30, 2019). "Franco Columbu Dead: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Slotnik, Daniel E. (September 2, 2019). "Franco Columbu, Bodybuilder and Schwarzenegger Friend, Dies at 78". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Schwarzenegger, Arnold (October 31, 2016). "The 51 Year Bromance: Arnold and Franco". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 11, 2021. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  9. ^ "Arnold Schwarzenegger's competitive bodybuilding history 1963-1966". GMV Productions. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  10. ^ "Ahhnold!?". Time. August 18, 2003. Archived from the original on July 7, 2011. Retrieved June 11, 2010. 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.'
  11. ^ "Maria Owings Shriver Wed To Arnold Schwarzenegger". The New York Times. April 27, 1986. Retrieved June 11, 2010. 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.
  12. ^ "Franco Columbu dead: Bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger best friend was 78". Fox News. September 1, 2019.
  13. ^ a b McGowan, Michael (September 1, 2019). "Arnold Schwarzenegger pays emotional tribute as 'best friend' Franco Columbu dies". The Guardian.
  14. ^ Franco and Arnold are... Still Hungry, archived from the original on December 11, 2021, retrieved April 25, 2021
  15. ^ LeDuff, Charlie (September 8, 2003). "Ethnic Issues in Recall Play Out at Latino Parade". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 9, 2014. 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 $85 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.
  16. ^ a b c d e "Franco Columbu". International Federation of BodyBuilding.
  17. ^ Merritt, Greg (December 28, 2013). "Even Stronger Than They Look: Franco Columbu". Muscle & Fitness.
  18. ^ McCormack, Mark H. (1987). The terrible truth about lawyers: how lawyers really work and how to deal with them successfully. Beech Tree Books. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-688-06621-5.
  19. ^ Marbella, Jean (October 28, 1985). "Dr. Rambo Sylvester Stallone's Body-Beautiful Status for His John Rambo Character Portrayal Had a Little Help from the Real Man Behind the Muscle, Bodybuilder/Chiropractor Franco Columbu". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved August 31, 2019.
  20. ^ Horswill, Ian (September 3, 2019). "Arnold Schwarzenegger tribute to best friend bodybuilder Franco Columbu". CEO Magazine. Retrieved September 3, 2019.
  21. ^ a b Martedì a Ollolai i funerali di Franco Columbu Archived November 15, 2021, at the Wayback Machine L'Ortobene
  22. ^ "California, U.S., Federal Naturalization Records, 1843-1999 for Francesco Maria Columbu". Retrieved January 29, 2023.
  23. ^ "Il culturista ed attore Franco Columbu annegato". La Nuova (in Italian).
  24. ^ Hall, Derek (August 30, 2019). "Legendary Bodybuilder Franco Columbu Dies, Age 78". Fitness Volt. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
  25. ^ "Italian Actor, Bodybuilder Franco Columbu, Dies At 78". The Hollywood Reporter. August 31, 2019.
  26. ^ "'Devastated' Arnold Schwarzenegger pays tribute to bodybuilder friend Franco Columbu". Sky News. Retrieved August 31, 2019.
  27. ^ Hal Erickson (2015). "The Hustler of Muscle Beach (1980)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 10, 2015. Retrieved June 11, 2010. 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.
  28. ^ Hal Erickson (2013). "Beretta's Island (1993)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 7, 2013. Retrieved June 11, 2010. 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.
  29. ^ a b c d Mary Stevens (February 5, 1988). "Throw Away The Excuses, Turn On The Vcr And Shape Up". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 11, 2010. ... is 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.
  30. ^ Pratt, Rob (June 2, 2015). "The Worlds Strongest Man Classics 1977 - Franco Columbu's tragic fridge race". World's Strongest Man. Retrieved September 1, 2019.


External links[edit]

Mr. Olympia
Preceded by Overall Champion
First (1976)
Succeeded by
Second (1981)
Succeeded by