A Rise, A Fall, A Rebuilding: The Inspiring Legacy Of Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger has become an indisputable icon of the film and bodybuilding industries. When people think of Schwarzenegger, they most often think of his famous physique as a legendary bodybuilder or his various, now-immortalized roles in action movies. But amid his overwhelming success, he has overcome many personal obstacles.
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There is so much history, some of it dark and brutal, behind his glimmering celebrity. Let’s look back on the journey that made Arnold Schwarzenegger the highly influential figure he is today.

Trouble at Home

Schwarzenegger’s father, Gustav, harbored a dark (and unfounded) suspicion that Arnold wasn’t indeed his biological son. Schwarzenegger recalls that he “had no patience for listening or understanding your problems.” Gustav treated him abusively but favored the older son, Meinhard. “My hair was pulled,” Arnold said.

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Remarkably, the abuse drove Arnold to focus on the dreams inside of him. “Every time someone said, ‘You can’t do this,’ I said, ‘This is not going to be for much longer because I’m going to move out of here. I want to be rich. I want to be somebody.’”

A Harsh Beginning

Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger was born to Aurelia and Gustav on July 30, 1947, in Thal, Austria. Schwarzenegger grew up with no money, and one of the most memorable aspects of his childhood was when the family got something as essential as a refrigerator. Post World War II, Austrian society was also a rather dark existence and harsh and strict.

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He’s opened up about his childhood explaining how he felt that growing up in Austria was a “different world.” He continued, “If we did something bad or we disobeyed our parents, the rod was not spared.”

How It Started

Schwarzenegger got into sports from a young age. He was intrigued by weightlifting and bodybuilding, which grew to be his passionate pursuit. Though his father wanted him to be a police officer and his mother wanted him to go to trade school, Schwarzenegger had formed his own plan when he was 14 years old.

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He was nearly obsessive in his routine, “It would make me sick to miss a workout… I knew I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror the next morning if I didn’t do it.”

An Uncommon Path

Bodybuilding and fitness was not the popular trend at the time and, when Schwarzenegger began pursuing it with all of his might, his mother grew concerned.

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On 60 Minutes, Arnold shared how concerned she was about his newfound hobby. Thankfully, his mother eventually understood more about her son’s passion and even condoned them.

Military Time

Upon turning 18, Arnold served one year in the Austrian Army as a tank driver. He shared that this time “appealed to the part of me that has always been moved by any show of strength and force.” Perhaps his time in the military only further fueled his fire for pushing his physical limits.

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Schwarzenegger gave his all (including breaking his military service) to participate in the Junior Mr. Europe competition. His hard work paid off when he came out number one! However, as punishment for insubordination, Arnold also served time in military prison.

A Leg Up

While going hard at the gym as a teen, Schwarzenegger noticed that his upper body was developing a lot better than his lower half, creating a disproportionate appearance.

 

Realizing he needed to focus more on his lower half, the teen then cut off all his pants at the knee so that his self-consciousness would motivate him. And, looking at him today, his “whatever it takes” approach certainly worked!

First Plane Ride

After completing his service in the Austrian army, Schwarzenegger went to London in 1966, which was his first time on an airplane. He was headed to London to compete in the Mr. Universe competition.

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Unfortunately, he was not the winner this time around. The champion was American Chester Yorton, who had the better legs. However, England had more in store for the Austrian bodybuilder.

An English Lesson

After his loss to Chester Yorton, one of the competition’s judges, Charles “Wag” Bennett, offered to coach Arnold in his English. Bennet was very hospitable and even let him stay with him at his home.

 

Reminiscing, Arnold said: “Being with them made me so much more sophisticated. When you’re the age I was then, you’re always looking for approval, for love, for attention, and also for guidance. At the time, I wasn’t aware of that. But now, looking back, I see that the Bennett family fulfilled all those needs. Especially my need to be the best in the world.”

Mr. Universe

After training with some of the bodybuilding world champions, Schwarzenegger has finally crowned the winner of the Mr. Universe competition in 1967, at just 20 years old. In fact, he became the youngest person ever to win! And one victory was certainly not enough for him as he went on to win three more times.

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Schwarzenegger then moved to Munich, Germany, and enrolled in business school. He then began to diversify his interests, sharing with his English coach at the time: “I’m going to become the greatest actor!”

Coming To America

In 1966, Schwarzenegger moved to London, where he finally won his first Mr. Universe title at 20 in 1967. “The Mr. Universe title was my ticket to America — the land of opportunity, where I could become a star and get rich.”

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The following year he decided to head to the U.S. and was thrilled that he “overcame a thick Austrian accent and transcended the unlikely background of bodybuilding to become the biggest movie star in the world in the 1990s,” said “LA Weekly.” Arnold finally became a naturalized American citizen in 1983.

A Businessman

One perhaps lesser-known part of Schwarzenegger’s life is that he was already a relatively successful businessman before his celebrity took off. He started a bricklaying business in 1968 in California at just twenty-one years old.

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Curiously enough, he went into business with fellow-bodybuilder Franco Columbo, and his company became essential after the San Fernando earthquake in 1971.

Sudden Tragedy

As he reveled in his success for his Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia titles in the U.S., tragedy struck close to home for Schwarzenegger. Arnold’s brother, Meinhard, was killed in a traffic accident in 1971 while driving under the influence. And just a year and a half later, his father also passed. Arnold did not attend either one of their funerals.

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Although he was on good terms with Meinhard, he reportedly wanted to avoid seeing his father, with whom he had a strained relationship. Awhile after this, Arnold was able to help his nephew, Patrick, come to America.

Patrick M. Knapp Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nephew, Patrick, was primarily raised by his mother and grandparents. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2006 but retained his Austrian citizenship like his now-famous uncle. In 1991 Knapp Schwarzenegger graduated from UCLA with a degree in Economics and Political Science.

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Today, Patrick is a lawyer with decades of experience. He was Arnold’s advisor while he was the host of “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” alongside Tyra Banks, Warren Buffet, and others.

Body of Work

Arnold went on to take three Mr. Universe titles and seven Mr. Olympia titles, the last of which he won after joining the competition exceptionally late! However, there has been controversy over his use of anabolic steroids, which he took while still legal.

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In 1977 he commented on this, saying that “steroids were helpful to me in maintaining muscle size while on a strict diet in preparation for a contest. I did not use them for muscle growth, but rather for muscle maintenance when cutting up.”

His First Films

Schwarzenegger’s acting ambition began to pay off when he was cast as Hercules in 1969’s “Hercules” in New York, though his accent was dubbed over. He won a Golden Globe in 1976 for New Star of the Year for his role in the movie “Stay Hungry.”

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But he probably was most at home while starring in the 1977 bodybuilding film, “Pumping Iron.” Though his filmography is very impressive today, Schwarzenegger admitted that “It was very difficult for me in the beginning.”

Schwarzen-what?

When Schwarzenegger first entered the film world, he encountered some unusual criticism. To look at all of his success as an actor today, you would never imagine that he, in fact, was told that he was too big and muscular.

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Ironically, this was one of two other significant obstacles he faced, including being told that his accent was too heavy and that his name was too difficult for American audiences. An attempt was even made to change his name in one of his film’s credits, but he decided to stick with the now-iconic “Schwarzenegger” instead.

His Many Nicknames

With such an illustrious career, Schwarzenegger has earned himself a few nicknames over the years to go along with his fame.

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Schwarzenegger was nicknamed the “Austrian Oak” during his bodybuilding days, “Arnie” or “Schwarzy” throughout his acting career, and perhaps most famously, “The Governator” during his political career. And with a name as long as Schwarzenegger, a few nicknames couldn’t hurt!

The Roles He Refused

Though he is without question a household name today, Schwarzenegger turned down a handful of roles, some of them very well-known. He dismissed the idea of being Animal Mother in “Full Metal Jacket,” John McLane in “Die Hard,” and even Kyle Reese in “The Terminator.”

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He also made his own creative choices in turning down appearances in both the “Commando” and “Predator” sequels. And what role does he regret turning down? The offer to be in “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

His Own (Stunt) Man

It may come as no surprise that Schwarzenegger has done many of his stunts for his films, given his physicality and dedication to his roles. But one of the primary reasons he ended up getting his hands dirty was because few stuntmen were as prominent as he was!

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And when he did find a stunt double who could take the job, he kept them around. Billy D. Lucas, Peter Kent, and Joel Kramer became his regulars and friends off the set.

A Cliffhanger

Being an action star can be hazardous work! Schwarzenegger had a near-death experience while filming the movie “True Lies.” In a scene where he is riding a horse, the creature was startled by the film equipment and backed up near a steep drop (estimated to be about 90 feet down), almost throwing the actor off the edge!

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Thankfully, Schwarzenegger was able to get off just in time before he fell. Arnold managed to slip off the horse in time, and a stunt man pulled him to safety.

So You Think You Can Dance?

While we reference his film, “True Lies,” it is true that, for the role, Schwarzenegger agreed to acquire an exceptional skill.

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He decided to take dancing lessons (specifically Tango) for a scene in the film and rehearsed for six months. It seems like he is so devoted to acting, there’s nothing Schwarzenegger won’t do.

Constant Dedication

Schwarzenegger seems to have been very committed to all of his roles, no matter what was required.

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For “The Terminator,” the actor made sure he was well-familiarized with weapons. He spent a month making sure he knew how to use them so that, when he was around the props, he was as natural and machine-like as, well, the machine he was playing.

All This And TV Too

While you’re used to seeing him on the silver screen, Schwarzenegger made some brief cameo appearances on TV before many of his action roles. Arnie popped up in shows like “The San Pedro Beach Bums,” “Happy Anniversary” and “Goodbye” (with Lucille Ball).

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It’s curious to think that he made low-key cameo appearances considering he’s 6’3” and weighs about 235 pounds.

Getting Behind the Scenes

It wasn’t enough for Schwarzenegger to just be in front of the camera as an actor; he also took an interest in the business of film. He now has his own production company called Oak Productions (most likely paying homage to one of his nicknames).

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Oak Productions has helped produce his films “Iron and Beyond,” “The Last Action Hero,” “Aftermath,” and most recently, “Superhero Kindergarten.”

Almost the Hulk

Though he is a hulking man, Schwarzenegger was considered for The Hulk’s role in the 1970s TV series.

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Ironically, he was considered too short for the part and (even more ironically) the role was won by a former bodybuilding competitor of his, Lou Ferrigno.

Can’t Win Them All

Though he has much in his filmography to be proud of as an actor, Schwarzenegger did get a lot of criticism for his “The 6th Day” performance. But he won three awards for it! Though, not the kind of award that any serious actor wants…

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Schwarzenegger won three Razzie Awards for his sub-par performance in The 6th Day for Worst Actor, Worst Supporting Actor, and Worst Screen Couple (which was just him and a clone of himself on screen). He has also been nominated for other Razzie Awards in his career.

A Real-Life Hero

Schwarzenegger’s muscles are not just for the silver screen; he actually saved a man’s life while on vacation in Hawaii.

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The man had been swimming in the ocean and was starting to drown when Schwarzenegger jumped in and saved him. It’s nice to know he’s a real-life action hero too!

A Blockbuster Titan?

So, just how much have Schwarzenegger’s movies raked in? Well, combining all of the films he made throughout the 80s and 90s (such as “Total Recall,” “Predator, Commando,” and many others), it comes to a staggering 4 billion worldwide!

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Interestingly, Schwarzenegger’s most profitable film is the 1988 blockbuster, “Twins,” which he starred in alongside Danny DeVito. Both actors, along with director Ivan Reitman all agreed to not take a salary from the studio in exchange for owning 40% of the film.

On-Screen Romances

When he first got to Hollywood, Schwarzenegger’s first on-screen romance was with Sandahl Bergman in “Conan the Barbarian.”

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In addition to this, Penelope Ann Miller, his love interest in “Kindergarten Cop,” taught him how to kiss on-screen to sell it to the audience appropriately. Hey, there’s a first time for everyone!

An Unfaithful Past

Being in the public eye with such a famous physique may have attracted women to the super-strong Schwarzenegger, but unfortunately, it seemed that he was weak in his relationships.

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His ex-girlfriend, Barbara Outland Baker, discovered that Arnold was unfaithful during their relationship and later published a book sharing the scandal and illicit substance use, which was seen in “Pumping Iron.” Schwarzenegger subtly fired back, saying that “sometimes Barbara’s recollection of events differs from my own.” Despite his self-defense, infidelity would later scar his life.

Taking Off

Several years passed between Schwarzenegger’s first film and his Golden Globe Award in 1976. His acting career began to sizzle in 1982 when he was cast as the lead role in Conan in “Conan the Barbarian.”

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Schwarzenegger did well enough in the film to be chosen for the 1984 sequel, “Conan the Destroyer,” which unfortunately wasn’t as well-received as the first film. But the disappointing reception was soon to be forgotten as he was about to step into his most iconic role.

The Terminator

Schwarzenegger finally found his place in 1984’s “The Terminator,” where he stepped comfortably into the role of action star. He grew his action-film prowess alongside other big stars like Sylvester Stallone during the 1980s, although Schwarzenegger’s roles were generally more comedic.

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Ironically, his European background did not deter filmmakers from repeatedly casting him as the all-American action hero, a position the public received very well!

A Terminator Once Again

James Cameron was unsatisfied with just one blockbuster film and decided to expand the Terminator franchise. And of course, Schwarzenegger reprised his role.

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He went on to star in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” in 1991, “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” in 2003, “Terminator Genisys” in 2015, and “Terminator: Dark Fate” in 2019. You could certainly say that Cameron enjoyed working with him, and Schwarzenegger did not grow tired of the role!

Secret To Success

When asked about his success as an actor, Schwarzenegger had an uncomplicated approach; he said he chooses “movies people like to see. It’s that simple. You try to make sure the movies are memorable. Not just another movie.”

 

He continued, “You’ve got to have a feeling for hipness. You milk certain lines. ‘Hasta la vista, baby,’ or, ‘I lied.’ You go a little over the top. People love it. Kids love it. And you do some athletic stuff, some fitness, and people think you’re cool.” His methods have certainly paid off well!

Maria Schriver

Arnold Schwarzenegger finally appeared to settle down when he married Maria Shriver in 1986, a member of the illustrious Kennedy family. In a 2009 commencement speech at the University of Southern California, Schwarzenegger cheekily commented on the necessary turns to take on the road to success: “Number one, come to America. Number two, work your butt off. And number three, marry a Kennedy.”

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Schwarzenegger continued to work his butt off, and, in 2020, his net worth is estimated to be around $400 million. But despite the fame and the money, his extramarital habits would threaten his seemingly perfect life…

A Family Of His Own

Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger settled in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, although they also had vacation homes in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

 

They had four children together, their first being Katherine, born on December 13, 1989, followed by Christina, born on July 23, 1991. Sons Patrick was born on September 18, 1993, and Christopher born on September 27, 1997, would follow later. All seemed well for the happy family of six until a disturbing discovery…

The Governator

The always-ambitious Schwarzenegger set his sights on another field: politics. He ran as a Republican candidate and was elected as the 38th Governor of California in 2003. But his win was part of a recall election to replace Governor Gray Davis, and so at first, he only completed Davis’s term.

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However, he was re-elected in 2006 to serve a full term and even a second term after returning to Hollywood.

Worrying Allegations

Though they were eventually married, Shriver and Schwarzenegger had an impressive start to their relationship. The two began dating while Schwarzenegger was in an open relationship with another woman, Sue Moray. Many women have placed allegations on Schwarzenegger for inappropriate behavior in his past, but others have defended him.

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In another disturbing allegation, a former bodybuilder, who is African-American, accused him of racism. Despite these serious allegations, Schwarzenegger and his fans deny any claims that he is a misogynist or a racist.

Child Number Five

Sadly, it was announced in 2011 that Maria and Arnold were separating. The root of the breakup? It was soon revealed that Schwarzenegger had had an affair with the family’s maid and fathered her son. The mother of his son was Mildred Patricia “Patty” Baena. For years, everyone assumed that the child, Joseph, was her husband’s biological son, Rogelio de Jesus Baena.

 

What was even more shattering was that Joseph was born on October 2, 1997, only days after Maria and Arnold’s second son, Christopher, was born. Schwarzenegger did not know the child was his for about seven or eight years.

The Truth

Indeed, Schwarzenegger admitted it was only when Joseph “started looking like me, that’s when I kind of got it. I put things together.” It wasn’t until he ended his foray into politics that his wife confronted him about the affair, which happened after she had confirmed this incident vis-a-vis Baena.

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Shriver described his admission as “painful and heartbreaking.” They split in May of 2011, with Maria moving into a nearby home so their children could easily go between the two parents.

Big Regrets

Though now divorced, Maria and Arnold appear to have an amicable relationship, and, from the start, he has taken financial responsibility for his son, Joseph. Schwarzenegger owns up to his transgressions, publicly admitting his most personal mistakes.

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“I’m least proud of the mistakes I made that caused my family pain and split us up.” All of his fame, accomplishments, and successes were vastly overshadowed by his infidelity, though he has recognized the devastation it has caused.

About Joseph

“He’s terrific, and he understands the situation,” Arnold said about his son, Joseph, in 2015. When Mildred shared with her son who his father was, Joseph reportedly replied, “Cool.”

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Several years after the affair was revealed and he and Maria split, Schwarzenegger explained that it all worked, but that it was a tough situation for Joseph, his kids, and the rest of this family. It was tough for everybody. But he understood that it happened and that they now had to figure out how to live with it.

Still A Family

“That’s the best thing for everyone, despite it all.” said the eldest daughter Katherine. She explained that her parents made sure that they remained a family unit no matter what happened, and that they excelled at it.

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Katherine continued to reveal that the family remained very normal and had a lot of love for one another. She admits that despite their split, she thinks her parents did a great job maintaining their family unit.

Another New Family Member

Katherine Schwarzenegger began dating one of Hollywood’s leading men, Chris Pratt, in June of 2018. The two then got engaged in January of 2019 and, though it might seem nerve-wracking to ask someone like Schwarzenegger for his daughter’s hand, Pratt said the two share a lot in common, which must have diffused any tension.

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Though there were reports that Arnold disapproved of Pratt, the claims were wrong as he has expressed only warmth and support for his daughter’s relationship.

A New Role

Schwarzenegger was most recently cast into a particular role, the roll of grandpa. After marrying in June of 2018, daughter Katherine and husband Chris Pratt welcomed daughter Lyla in August of 2020.

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Like his other roles, we are sure that Schwarzenegger will be great in grandpa’s position too!

His Strong Jaw

Another notable physical feature about Schwarzenegger (other than his muscles) is his strong jaw. But in his younger years, he needed a genioplasty, a surgery that realigned his jaw, which had been jutting out.

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Over the years, there has also been much fixation over Arnold’s chin. There is something tenacious about it, giving off the impression that he is a man who will stick to something he believes in.

A Conscientious Celeb

It may be the last thing anyone would consider when examining his image or career, but Schwarzenegger is a passionate environmentalist. During his time as governor of California, he made an effort to be a part of the United States’ first emission’s cap on greenhouse gas (part of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006).

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He has also chastised politicians in the past for not taking environmental issues more seriously and has attempted to drive more eco-friendly cars.

Getting a Good Heart

Schwarzenegger may look invincible with all of his impressive muscles, but he had a past health scare regarding his most important one. In 2018, the former bodybuilder underwent heart open surgery to replace a pulmonary valve.

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He had also previously had heart surgery in 1997 to fix a congenital heart valve condition. Thankfully for Schwarzenegger, all appears to be well now, and, at age 73, he still works out about three times a day!

A Lot On His Plate

With so many energy-demanding roles and to maintain such a physique, we all wonder, what does Schwarzenegger eat? While he admitted to eating nearly anything and everything in his competition days, he has decided to almost cut out animal protein entirely (with an occasional steak, just for fun) because of his recent health scares.

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These days he focuses on whole foods, that being primarily fruits and vegetables, and plant-based protein.