How Arnold Schwarzenegger Conquered 3 Different Careers and Became a Living Legend
You may know him as one of the world’s greatest bodybuilders. Or, you may recognize him as an iconic action star from some of Hollywood’s most iconic blockbusters. Perhaps when you see him, you see a two-time governor of California.
Just like his movie roles, Arnold Swarzenegger’s rise to the top in America was bigger-than-life. It’s full of challenges, drama and even a bit of comedy.
Here are 21 facts you might not know about Swarzenegger’s remarkable story.
He Had a Poor Relationship With His Dad
Born in Thal, Austria, Schwarzeneggar did was not favored by his father, Gustav, who served as the local police chief. His dad was a member of the Nazi party and favored Arnold’s brother, Meinhard. In fact, Gustav reportedly did not believe that Arnold (shown here in 1977) was his true biological son.
Despite his struggles with his father and brother, Arnold retained a strong bond with his mother, Aurelia, until her passing in 1998. Call him a “mama’s boy” at your own risk.
He Discovered Bodybuilding Through Soccer
Believe it or not, Arnold wanted to play soccer when he was a teenager. He was a thin boy, but with physical potential. When the team’s coach took his squad to a gym for weight training, Arnold fell in love. Within a year he was training for bodybuilding with a new coach, and by 17 he started to compete in bodybuilding competitions.
If you can’t score goals, set new ones, right?
He Was the Youngest Person to Win the Mr. Universe Competition
Arnold’s first attempt at winning the NABBA Mr. Universe competition in London was in 1966. He didn’t win, but he did come in second place. A bodybuilding coach in attendance named Charles “Wag” Bennett saw Arnold and saw the raw potential. He agreed to coach him.
With Bennett’s coaching, Arnold came back to the competition the next year and won the title of Mr. Universe at the age of 20. He was the youngest man ever to win the title
You have to wonder, in 1966 did he tell the judges, “I’ll be back!”
He Came to America Dreaming of the Silver Screen
Arnold dreamed of coming to the U.S. as early as the age of 10. Later, he realized that bodybuilding could be his ticket. Despite his success, what he really wanted was to be an actor. He finally made the move in 1968 at the age of 21.
He spoke very little English, but lived in L.A. and continued his training for the Mr. Olympia contest. It turned out that it was easier to build biceps than a film career.
He Made His First $1 Million Before Acting
How does a bodybuilder make money while staying in shape? By owning a bricklaying business, of course. Schwarzenegger (middle, left) teamed up with fellow bodybuilder, Franco Columbu (middle, right), who was an expert bricklayer and mason to start up a business. Using their European heritage as a selling point, the pair were very successful.
Arnold began to use his part of the profits to finance a mail-order business for workout equipment. He became a self-made millionaire before he ever got his big break in the movies.
Arnold Played a God in His First Movie...
Arnold finally broke into acting as the lead role in 1970’s “Hercules in New York.” In the film, Hercules gets bored on Olympus and heads to New York. Olympian shenanigans ensue.
...But the Movie Didn’t Use His Voice
Though Schwarzenegger plays the lead, his voice is not heard on the original “Hercules in New York.” The director thought his accent was so unintelligible that he had all of his lines voiced over by another actor.
Ironically, Arnold’s accent would later become as much of a trademark for him as his physique.
He Won a Golden Globe Award in 1977
In a 1976 film called “Stay Hungry,” Schwarzenegger played Joe Santo, an Austrian bodybuilder who is training for the Mr. Universe competition. Whether or not the role was a stretch for him, Arnold nailed it. He took home the Golden Globe award for the “Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture.”
He’s Won Mr. Olympia 7 Times
Speaking of trophies, Schwarzenegger wasn’t spending all his time going to movie auditions. He continued his bodybuilding career and dominated the competition scene.
At 23 years old, he was the youngest man to win Mr. Olympia. He went on to win the title six more times. It seems only right that Hercules would be Mr. Olympia, right?
He Was the Star of a Docudrama
In 1977 a docudrama called “Pumping Iron” dove into the world of Mr. Olympia competitions. While much of the film was true to life, it did fictionalize some aspects of the competition between Arnold and fellow bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno.
Much like the popular wrestling stars, the pair were cast as the good guy and the villain, with Arnold playing the bad guy.
He Hit it Big with ‘Conan the Barbarian’
It wasn’t until 1972’s “Conan the Barbarian” that Arnold Schwarzenegger became a household name as an actor in America. Playing the beefed-up barbarian, he was able to use his physical abilities to bring the famous comic book character to life on the big screen.
And ‘Conan’ Keeps on Giving
The movie spurred a sequel, “Conan the Destroyer,” in 1984. There are even rumors of a new sequel, “The Legend of Conan,” that would cast the 72-year-old Arnold in his iconic role one more time.
We wonder if it starts with Conan yelling, “Hey you kids! Kid off my lawn!”
He Was Not the Director’s First Choice to Play the Terminator
Perhaps the most recognizable role in Schwarzenegger’s career wasn’t supposed to be his at all. The production studio wanted O.J. Simpson for the part, but director James Cameron thought he seemed too likable.
When he met Schwarzenegger, he realized that his massive build and stern look were perfect for the part. Besides, the Terminator’s gloves actually fit Arnold.
He Didn’t Want to Say ‘I’ll Be Back’
You read that right. The famous line made No. 19 on Hollywoordreporter.com’s list of Hollywood’s 100 Favorite Movie Quotes. Because of his accent and his belief that a robot Terminator wouldn’t use contractions, Arnold wanted to change the line to “I will be back.”
Director Cameron wouldn’t hear of it and insisted that he do the line as written. Arnold had fewer than 20 lines in the whole movie, so why mess with them?
He’s Been in 6 Terminator Movies
After rocking the world as the first movie, Schwarzenegger has remained a part of the franchise, returning to appear in a total of six Terminator movies. He's shown here in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."
And He’s Been in Many Other Terminator Projects
He’s also done voice work for Terminator video games and took part in “Terminator Genisys: The YouTube Chronicles,” a TV mini-series.
Apparently, when he said, “I’ll be back,” he wasn’t kidding.
He Was Elected Governor of California...Twice
What do you do once you’ve conquered the bodybuilding scene and dominated the movies as one of the most successful action actors ever? You go into politics, of course.
Elected in 2003, Arnold refused the Governor’s salary and used his own private jet to travel. Staying true to form, he came back for a sequel...we mean second term, in 2007.
He Tried to Be The Incredible Hulk
Remember that docudrama that put Arnold up against Lou Ferrigno? It happened in real life as television prepared to bring “The Incredible Hulk” to the small screen back in the ‘70s.
This time he lost out to his rival, as Ferrigno (right) went on to star in the show in what would be his most famous role. Ferrigno got to Hulk out, but Schwarzenegger was left green with envy.
Thal, Austria Retired His Childhood Home
You know how your favorite team might retire the jersey number of a really great player? Well, that’s what Arnold Schwarzenegger’s home town did for him, except they retired his home address from where he grew up.
The address is not only retired so no one else can move in and claim it; the home has been turned into the “Arnold Schwarzenegger's Birth House Museum.” He still likes to visit his hometown.
You can take the Terminator out of Austria...
He Owned a Restaurant Called Schatzi On Main
From 1992 to 1998, Arnold owned a little restaurant in Santa Monica called Schatzi on Main. It was an eclectic mix of American and European dishes, with waiters in Hawaiian shirts and German language lessons piped into the speakers in the restrooms.
He later went on to be a part of the Planet Hollywood franchise.
He’s a Real-Life Hero
In 2004, while he and his then-wife, journalist Maria Shriver, were vacationing in Hawaii, they took to the water for a nice, relaxing swim. Arnold noticed another man in distress about 100 yards out from shore. The man was clutching a boogie board, but obviously in need of help.
Schwarzenegger swam out to the man who was suffering from severe cramps and told him to hold on to the board. Then, he towed the man back to safety.
Can you imagine being stuck out there and having the Terminator save you? What a story.
Related: Fun Facts About James Cameron