Ben Weider, Bodybuilding Pioneer and Napoleonic Scholar Dies in Montreal
February 1, 1923 -- October 17, 2008
Last update: 12:14 p.m. EDT Oct. 18, 2008
MONTREAL, Oct 18, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Ben Weider, sports leader, scholar, businessman, and philanthropist, known and honored worldwide for his pioneering work promoting and organizing the sport of bodybuilding and groundbreaking work as a self-taught but hugely influential and popular Napoleonic historian and author, died suddenly Friday in Montreal, city of his birth and lifelong home. He was 85 years old.
In his more than sixty years of involvement in bodybuilding, as Founding President of the International Brotherhood of Body Builders (I.F.B.B.), Mr. Weider worked in close association with his older brother Joe Weider, an iconic figure known as the Father of Modern Bodybuilding. The Weiders anticipated, then led, the worldwide fitness revolution and legitimized bodybuilding -- training with weights to build strength and musculature -- in all of athletic conditioning and healthful exercise for the general public. The I.F.B.B., founded by the Weiders in 1946, has 173 member national federations worldwide and sanctions thousands of amateur and professional competitive events.
Mr. Weider's achievements in Napoleonic history were as notable as his work in organized sport. Mr. Weider's knowledge of health, through his work in bodybuilding, led him to doubt the generally accepted theory of Napoleon's death -- that he died of stomach cancer. Working with a fellow-doubter, a Swedish dentist and toxicology expert, Mr. Weider obtained authenticated Napoleon hair samples and arranged for forensic tests that showed that Napoleon had been poisoned with arsenic. A popular account of the historical sleuthing, co-authored by Weider and published in 1982 -- The Murder Of Napoleon -- became one of the best-selling history books of all time, now with editions in 45 languages. Though subsequent analysis provided proof positive that Napoleon was killed by a poisoner, entrenched academic historians, particularly in France, resisted Mr. Weider's new findings, before finally accepting them. Even France was finally won-over, witness Mr. Weider receiving the Legion of Honor, France's highest national honor, in 2000.
The French award was one of many such high honors. In 1975 he received the Order of Canada, his nation's most prestigious award, in recognition of his contributions to sport. In 2001 he received another signal honor, the Order of St. John, in recognition of charitable work promoting youth fitness and health worldwide. Montreal, where he was a very well-known figure, has such monuments to his philanthropy as the Ben Weider Jewish Community Center and a new museum gallery showcasing a major collection of Napoleon's personal artifacts donated by Mr. Weider to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Mr. Weider died less than a week before a gala gallery opening, scheduled for October 23.
Concerning his decades-spanning struggles to win respect and acceptance for bodybuilding, a once-reviled, fringe activity, and mainstream recognition of the truth about Napoleon's death, Mr. Weider wrote, "I must love long, uphill battles..."
Ben Weider's ultimate battle, to make something of himself in spite of poverty, lack of opportunity, and prejudice, began with his birth in Montreal's old Jewish immigrant quarter, known as "The Main." Ben was the third son of Louis and Anna Weider, immigrants from Poland. He, like his big brother Joe, had to drop out of school at the end of the seventh grade to help support the family, which was hit hard by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Young Ben took jobs in garment sweatshops and restaurants before enlisting in the Canadian Army and serving during World War II. After Ben left the Army, then-overt anti-Semitism walled him out of entry-level positions in Montreal architecture firms, his dream career path at the time. While he sought work, he pitched in to help his brother Joe, a passionate believer in bodybuilding, who put out a physique magazine and operated a mail-order business in weights and exercise gear.
Thus was born an extraordinary lifelong alliance, with a division of responsibilities that also endured. Joe functioned as the visionary and creative engine of the Weider enterprises, while Ben became the promoter and producer of physique contests and traveled the world as an ambassador of bodybuilding, introducing the sport overseas and organizing new national federations of the I.F.B.B. In 1947, Joe relocated to New Jersey, later moving the U.S. Weider enterprises to Southern California, while Ben remained in Canada.
Ben developed his own passions commensurate with Joe's, for the federation he led, and for the power of sport to build bridges between nations and foster international amity. His two passions fused in dream of winning recognition for the I.F.B.B. by the International Olympic Committee, an ultimate stamp of approval by the group that championed his own highest ideals about sport.
Beginning in 1947, Ben traveled the world, promoting his sport, organizing exhibitions and competitive events. Where there was sufficient interest, he helped set up I.F.B.B. affiliate national federations. At the height of Cold War tensions, he courted sports officials of militantly anti-Western regimes in the then-Soviet Union and Communist China. Though Jewish, he had great successes promoting his sport and setting up affiliates in Arab countries. Through bodybuilding he struck a blow at the racist apartheid system in South Africa, insisting on shared accommodations and equal treatment for all athletes at a world championship contest in Pretoria in 1975. While he grew his sports organization, he courted successive presidents of the International Olympic Committee and laid groundwork at national, regional and I.O.C. top organizational levels for recognition of bodybuilding, which was temporarily, provisionally granted in 1998, but then lapsed.
Ben Weider, characteristically, was not at all discouraged by the lapse in recognition, declaring that his dream would surely be achieved, for good. And he was deeply, justifiably proud of what the near miss meant. As he wrote, "Wherever there are people on this earth, there are bodybuilders organized under the I.F.B.B."
Ben Weider is survived by his wife, Huguette, nee Derouin, sons Louis, Eric, and Mark, and grandchildren Joseph and Vanessa. Also surviving are his brother Joe and sister Freda Yankofsky. Family and friends will gather for a memorial service on Monday, October 20th, at Paperman's Funeral Home in Montreal. The family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Ben Weider Jewish Community Center.
SOURCE: Weider Health and Fitness
for Weider Health and Fitness
Charlotte Parker, 818-990-2252 JParkerPR@sbcglobal.net
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