Dan Lurie, 90, Star and Promoter of Bodybuilding, Dies
By BRUCE WEBER
Dan Lurie, whose chiseled physique and feats of strength earned him the title of America’s most muscular man and made him a cover model for fitness magazines and a walking promoter for both the sport and the business of bodybuilding, died on Wednesday in Roslyn, N.Y. He was 90.
The death was confirmed by his grandson Cary Epstein.
Not as recognizable a name as Charles Atlas, Joe Weider, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferrigno, Mr. Lurie nonetheless was a celebrity among bodybuilders. For one thing, he was not just strong but freakishly strong. According to his website, Mr. Lurie once did 1,665 push-ups in 90 minutes, and in a photo he can be seen at age 17 holding a 150-pound barbell above his head with one arm.
For another thing, he had a storybook tale to tell: Doctors determined he was born with a heart defect, and they told his parents he was not likely to live beyond his fifth birthday. Yet by the time he was 19 he had finished second over all in the 1942 Amateur Athletic Union Mr. America contest, a competition in which he was judged to have the best arms, the best legs and the second-best back and was voted most muscular for the first of three times. When, in February 1943, he was rejected by the Army because of a heart murmur, the irony was reported in Time magazine and The New York Times.
Mr. Lurie won most-muscular laurels again in 1943 and 1944, but his career as a competitive bodybuilder ended when, after he had appeared in magazine advertisements for bodybuilding equipment, the A.A.U. declared him ineligible for having violated its statutes governing amateurism. (Bodybuilding had yet to emerge as a professional competitive enterprise.) So Mr. Lurie made a name for himself in other ways.
He began opening gymnasiums in the 1940s, and he eventually owned eight in New York City and a ninth in Miami Beach. He was the owner of the Dan Lurie Barbell Company, a manufacturer of exercise equipment that began as a partnership with Mr. Weider after Mr. Lurie, still a teenager, first appeared on the cover of Your Physique, a magazine published by Mr. Weider, in 1942.
By 1948, however, the relationship between the men had soured — in interviews and in his 2009 autobiography, “Heart of Steel,” Mr. Lurie accused Mr. Weider, who died in March, of being dishonest — and Mr. Lurie made a success of the business on his own.
Through much of the 1950s, Mr. Lurie appeared weekly on television on “Big Top,” a circus show for families. Along with Johnny Carson’s future sidekick, Ed McMahon, who played a clown, Mr. Lurie was featured as a strongman who performed weight lifting feats, often to illustrate the healthful attributes of dairy products made by Sealtest, the show’s sponsor. Hence his lingering nickname: Sealtest Dan the Muscle Man.
Daniel Lurie was born on April 1, 1923, in Brooklyn and grew up in the borough’s Canarsie section. He graduated from Tilden High School, where, though his academic record was spotty, he became the state high school checkers champion, according to his autobiography, written with David Robson.
He was a gifted athlete, excelling in gymnastics and boxing, but he was not allowed to compete in the Golden Gloves boxing tournament because of his heart murmur. In his disappointment, he turned seriously to weight lifting. In addition to training in the gym, he worked with his father, who owned a moving company, hauling heavy furniture.
“To further build my muscles I would carry a piece of furniture up two or three flights of stairs and then ‘exercise’ on the way down,” he wrote. “I had put together several routines that called for certain exercises to be done at certain times. For instance, one routine would require 25 push-ups on the landing of the stairs before I returned to the truck for more furniture. Ten trips meant 250 push-ups.”
Mr. Lurie lived in North Woodmere, N.Y. In addition to his grandson, Mr. Epstein, he is survived by his wife, the former Thelma Rothman, whom he married in 1947; a son, Mark; four daughters, Andrea Herman, Jill Kucker, Sandy Carl and Rochelle Lurie; 14 additional grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
In the 1960s, Mr. Lurie started a magazine to promote bodybuilding, and some years later he wrote to President Reagan, informing him that as the publisher of Muscle Training Illustrated he was naming him the fittest president in history. Mr. Reagan invited Mr. Lurie, then 60, to the White House, where in February 1984 they arm-wrestled in the Oval Office.
The president, who had just turned 73, won, raising some eyebrows about the legitimacy of the contest.
A White House spokesman told The Times that it was a true test of the president’s strength, though he also admitted that a videotape of the event would not be released to the news media.
Mr. Lurie was silent on the matter, but years later, on his website, he confessed that he had thrown the match. “I wasn’t going to beat the president,” he wrote.
Mr. Lurie was also the founder of the World Body Building Guild, a promotional organization that ran competitions and gave awards to celebrities. He once arranged a ceremony at City Hall in New York to mark the induction of Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe, two actors who played Tarzan, into the guild’s hall of fame. At the ceremony, Mr. Lurie presented Mayor Abraham D. Beame with a model of the Liberty Bell that proclaimed Mr. Beame “Mr. America — 1976.”
“You have to do one push-up every morning or give it back,” Mr. Lurie said.
“I’ll send it back tomorrow,” the mayor said.