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Commentary: A unique aspect of Arnold

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent   |   Aug. 15, 2003 at 8:30 AM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- California Democrats are expected to unimaginatively attack Arnold Schwarzenegger for such obvious skeletons in his closet as being a movie star rather than a professional politician, having a father who was a Nazi Party member, smoking marijuana in a scene in the 1977 bodybuilding documentary "Pumping Iron," and womanizing.

It would be more interesting, however, if they questioned Schwarzenegger about being the all-time leading role model for steroid use. No man owes more to steroids and steroids owe more to no man. Yet, it's testimony to both the magnitude of his impact on world popular culture that his opponents seem largely stumped by this issue.

The Austrian-born superstar began his bodybuilding career in the late 1960s, an era when extreme muscularity in a man was considered something only the lower class admired. Despite his inability to speak English other than in a thickly accented monotone, by the late 1980's he had made himself the biggest movie star in Hollywood. In the process, he redefined masculinity in his own bulging, brutalitarian image.

The other, more conventional lines of personal attack are not terribly convincing. Many pundits are treating Arnold Schwarzenegger's bid for governor of California as a bizarre fluke, but no one familiar with the man's success in real estate, or his iron will, overwhelming drive, need for dominance and adulation, and absolute confidence should be surprised by his candidacy.

In his 1977 autobiography, "Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder," he wrote, "I knew I was a winner. I knew I was destined for great things. People will say that kind of thinking is totally immodest. I agree. Modesty is not a word that applies to me in any way." Way back in 1984, the author of a Rolling Stone magazine story on Schwarzenegger's extraordinary life felt obligated to include a section explaining that Schwarzenegger, not having been born an American, was ineligible to become president.

As for being the son of a man who was Nazi before Arnold was born in 1947, the sins of the father have not been widely considered the responsibility of the son for a few thousand years.

Al Gore's admission that he smoked marijuana didn't keep him from winning the popular vote in 2000. Nor does it seem likely that Schwarzenegger was ever much of a pothead. In Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown," Samuel L. Jackson comes home to find Bridget Fonda smoking dope on the couch. He points out, "That (stuff)'ll rob you of your ambitions." She replies, "Not if your ambition is to get high and watch TV." If Schwarzenegger had more ambition than he has now, he'd have to be running for Galactic Overlord.

When Schwarzenegger was thinking of trying for governor in the 2002 election, political consultant Gary South, the eminence grise behind Gray Davis, faxed a Premiere Magazine article to hundreds of journalists containing allegations that Schwarzenegger pawed women and cheated on his wife, Maria Shriver. Whether Californians, who tended to strongly support Bill Clinton in his 1998 scandals, will be shocked by such claims about a movie star is questionable.

The one aspect of the star's background that's getting the least attention, however, might be the one that most deserves inquiry: anabolic steroids. Elvis Costello claimed, "There's no such thing as an original sin," and that's certainly true for a politician having a bad dad, smoking dope, or chasing women. But the unique case of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his relationship with the manly molecules he injected is an exception.

The masculinizing effects of steroids on his massive muscles, deep voice and incredibly assured attitude have contributed to the male charisma that has made him the highest salary movie star ever ($30 million for "Terminator 3") and the front-runner for the governorship. In turn, his body and his career have provided steroids with their best advertising.

Schwarzenegger doesn't like talking about steroids, but he doesn't deny using them. He has seldom been quoted on the record about them without putting some mitigating spin on his admission, an example of the verbal caginess that should serve him well in politics. For example, in a mail order pamphlet he wrote in 1977 entitled "Arnold: Developing a Mr. Universe Physique," Schwarzenegger claimed, "Yes, I have used them, but no, they didn't make me what I am. Anabolic steroids were helpful to me in maintaining muscle size while on a strict diet in preparation for a contest."

A 1992 interview in U.S. News & World Report read, "On his steroid use: 'In those days you didn't have to deal with the black market. You could go to your physician and just say, 'Listen, I want to gain some weight, and I want to take something.' Then the physician would say, 'Do it six weeks before the competition, then it will be safe.' And that's what you would do. The dosage that was taken then vs. what is taken now is not even 10 percent. It's probably 5 percent."

Schwarzenegger didn't publicly argue for steroid use the way Timothy Leary spoke out for LSD (and Schwarzenegger denounces the drugs in the 1999 edition of his 832-page "The New Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding"). Still, Schwarzenegger promoted his only-possible-with-steroids body and personality more aggressively than anyone ever.

Reporters usually refer to his "using steroids as a bodybuilder in the 1970s," but he probably began some time before then. The former Mr. Austria Kurt Marnul became the young prodigy's weight-training mentor in 1961 when he was 14. According to Nigel Andrews' unauthorized biography "True Myths: The Life and Times of Arnold Schwarzenegger," at some point "Marnul introduced Arnold to steroids, which were then legal. In the early 1960s, the trainer claims, 'There was no weightlifter in the world who did not take them. You could get prescriptions for them from the doctor. Arnold never took them, though, without my supervision.'"

Schwarzenegger won the Mr. Olympia title six times in a row from 1970-1975, then retired from competition and made a couple of films. He made a comeback in 1980 and won again, then moved into movie stardom with 1982's "Conan the Barbarian" and other roles that required spectacular muscularity.

In his defense, Schwarzenegger might well have won without steroids if nobody else used them either. But he wouldn't have looked as formidable for his leap into movies.

His publicist Pat Kingsley said, "Arnold hasn't done steroids since they were made illegal." (Congress made them a controlled substance in 1990, shortly before George H.W. Bush bizarrely nominated Schwarzenegger to be the chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness.) Indeed, he seemed smaller for some of his recent roles.

Schwarzenegger has a nude scene in this summer's "Terminator 3," however, and he's in amazing shape for a man who recently turned 56. He denied using a body double, saying, "I went into the mode of training as if I'm preparing for a competition again."

Anabolic steroids, artificial male hormones designed to build muscle, aren't the worst problem drug bedeviling our society, but they are abused, with lamentable health and behavioral consequences. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 5 percent of male 10th graders have used anabolic steroids, some for athletics, but many just for cosmetic purposes.

NIDA reports, "Anabolic steroid abuse has been associated with a wide range of adverse side effects ranging from some that are physically unattractive, such as acne and breast development in men, to others that are life threatening, such as heart attacks and liver cancer. Most are reversible if the abuser stops taking the drugs, but some are permanent."

Some users are prone to what bodybuilders call "'roid rage." In 1984, Oxford graduate Sam Fussell, the timid 6-foot, 4-inch, 170-pound scion of a family of literary critics, read Schwarzenegger's autobiography. As described in Fussell's book "Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder," he immediately began a four-year devotion to bodybuilding that led Fussell to quit his job in publishing and move to Southern California with little besides his Schwarzenegger poster and books. There, with the help of massive doses of steroids, he topped out at 259 pounds of muscle. "From my first moment on the juice, nothing else mattered. Nothing but my workouts, my growth, my meals, my injections ..."

Fussell wrote, "The reaction wasn't just physical. I found myself psychologically affected as well ... I needed to rule ... I was fueled by my own anger, which I seemed to draw from an inexhaustible source. I watched almost as a spectator as my body operated beyond my control. I wasn't just aching for a fist fight, I was begging for it. I longed for the release. So I strutted through the city streets, a juggernaut in a do-rag, glaring and menacing anyone who met my eye ... The shouting matches invariably ended as soon as I discarded my shirt for battle. My opponents always fled."

Schwarzenegger's impact on most young men was far less overwhelming. Still, it's hard to fully dismiss the notion that it's increasingly Arnold's world and we're all just living in it.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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