Arnold Schwarzenegger owes Joe Gold big time.
Not everyone who got to know the legendary bodybuilder and founder of the now-famed Gold's Gyms ended up a movie star or governor of California or even married to a Kennedy, but enough of those sweating, grunting, iron-pumping maniacs made out pretty well, and they've got Joe to thank for it.
Because Gold, who died this week at 82, was the real iron man. One of those who helped carve out a place in the American mainstream for the hardbody.
It was Gold, who founded his original Gold's Gym in 1965 in Venice, Calif., and other body-conscious pioneers of the Muscle Beach era who fostered the nation's fitness revolution and tapped into that very human desire for eternal youth, for immortality.
"Everybody wants to live forever" was the chorus of the theme song in the 1977 bodybuilding documentary "Pumping Iron." That film made Gold's Gym famous and starred Joe's protege, a young and buff Schwarzenegger.
Although not as well known outside the muscle-mass culture as the iconic gurus Jack LaLanne and Charles Atlas, Gold was just as much of a believer. He mentored men such as Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, who became legends in their own right as they helped us all become more body-conscious, pushing us closer to our truer, vainer selves.
The ego has a lot of muscle in the American psyche. Everybody wants a great body. It's one big reason dieting is a national obsession. It's why the number of fitness centers has grown over the past decade or so. It's why regular exercise is now fashionable, even if the heavy squats and dead lifts Gold favored have largely been benched in favor of treadmills, stairsteppers and stationary bikes facing a wall of televisions.
Even though the gyms that bear his name (Gold sold the rights to his name and gym in the early '70s to the owners who franchised it to more than 600 locations) and the branches of World Gym, which he owned and operated, are more hard-core workout shops, they don't resemble the old-school chalk-and-sweat dungeon packed with free weights and lifting devices that Gold designed and welded together himself.
Most of us couldn't hack it at the gyms that Joe built. Despite Joe Gold's legacy of increased fitness consciousness in this country, Americans are fatter than ever. And in the end, the pleasure principle usually wins.
Most of us are living the pizza-beer-doughnuts reality; "six-pack abs" means something quite different now from when Gold coined such terms. And although we may daydream of washboard stomachs, sculpted thighs and tight buns, most of us don't actually get around to it.
And that's the abyss between the best of intentions and daily behavior.
Gold thought survival of the fittest meant something else.