In late October 2012, I had my second meeting with Lou Ferrigno.
I picked him up at the Marriott hotel in downtown Austin, Texas around 4pm on a warm afternoon.
As I sat in the truck outside the hotel, I looked in my passenger rear view mirror to watch for the legend. I remember watching Lou in the 70’s TV show, The Incredible Hulk and how it made a huge impression on me. I received my share of bullying as a kid but when I watched The Hulk, I became The Hulk. In fact, that became my nickname after I began lifting weights as a teenager. As muscles began sprouting, my classmates referred to me as “Hulk”.
My first meeting with Lou took place months earlier in June. We ended that meeting with the idea that we would meet again when Lou came down to attend a Gun Show in the Austin area. He’s a reserve deputy with the San Luis Obispo’s Sheriff’s Department in California and he and his friend, Brad share a love of guns.
All of a sudden there was Lou standing outside the truck. The afternoon hustle and bustle of a Friday afternoon was in full swing. He quickly opened the door, slid in, extended his hand, looked me in the eye and said “Hello!” with a big smile. This time I acted less star struck. It was a comfortable feeling. Vascularity was evident in his arms, he was lean and energetic and wore a dark grey shirt and black dress pants.
HE LIKED THE TRUCK
After we exchanged pleasantries, he commented on how much he liked the truck, asking what kind it was and what year (2012 Chevy Silverado 1500, Extended Cab). As we made our way through the streets of downtown Austin, I couldn’t help but think to myself:
“This guy was my hero in the TV show “The Hulk”. This man was featured in the movie “Pumping Iron” with Arnold. We’re in the truck together just the 2 of us.”
We headed over to another hotel to pick up Lou’s friend, Brad and then we drove South On IH 35 towards Wimberley, Texas to meet up with Joe Vitale. Joe has a Steve Reeves bodybuilding collection like you’ve never seen. Joe has been collecting items from Steve’s estate piece by piece for years. Some of the collection includes:
- Steve’s Universal Gym that he worked out on in his garage until the day he died
- Steve’s 1977 Jaguar XJS V-12. Rock Hudson walked into the Beverly Hills, California dealership and wanted to buy the car. The salesman said to Rock, “You can’t have it, it’s reserved for Steve Reeves.” Rock says, “I know Steve Reeves, he’s in Europe filming and he won’t mind if I buy it.” “No”, says the salesman and kept the car for Steve.
- Steve’s trophies – including Sandows
- Steve’s dining room table that he ate at as a boy
- “The Wall”. The section of garage wall that Steve marked his standard workout on as a teenager, growing up in Oakland
- Clothing, Saddles, Watches
- The Hyperextension machine that Steve trained Bo Derek on
- Steve’s bicycle
- Steve’s books
- Steve’s Directors Chair with “Steve Reeves” branded on the back. He took this chair everywhere with him when filming
- Steve’s dumbbells that he worked out with on movie sets
- And much more
If you’re a bodybuilding fan, you could spend hours in Joe’s gym looking and admiring all of this stuff.
And Lou is. He’s a fan and was immensely inspired by Steve Reeves. This is the reason for the trip. To check out the Steve Reeves collection and have dinner.
As we drive down the highway, we talk about a million things – Steve Reeves, George Reeves (played Superman and was another hero of Lou’s), bodybuilding. I asked Lou if it was true that Joe Gold kicked him out for yelling and his answer was an emphatic “No”. I wasn’t going to argue that I had heard from a source firsthand that it was true. Whatever. Let sleeping dogs lie.
At one point, Lou asked me to “speed up”. It still kind of makes me laugh because I’m not sure why. The highway was busy with rush hour Friday traffic. We weren’t late or anything. Maybe he was getting hungry. Maybe I was talking too much 🙂 We turned off to exit the highway and drove the last several miles through the hill country to Wimberley. It began to grow dark as the farm and ranch lights began to come on.
We arrived, met Joe who hugged Lou and immediately went over to check out the Jaguar. Lou was in awe – which was cool to see. Lou has seen a lot in his life so to see him in awe was inspiring. After spending 10 minutes or so with the car, we made our way into the gym. There Lou encountered the Universal and some of the other pieces mentioned above.
Lou spent a lot of time looking at “The Wall”.
After spending time in Joe’s gym admiring all of the Steve Reeve’s collectibles, we headed into the house to see more – the table, clothing, trophies. Finally we went up to Joe’s office to see even more – pictures of Steve, more trophies, statues. Lou was blown away. Joe’s office is dripping in luxury from collectible books, guitars, pictures and paintings. Lou sat at Joe’s desk and took it all in. You could tell he felt at home. Lou asked surprisingly in-depth questions, such as, “What is your greatest fear?’ Joe spent so much time thinking about his answer that Lou nudged Joe by saying, “You know what it is.” After Joe told him about fear of failure, he confessed he doesn’t know how to swim. He fears going down in a plane over water.
We could have spent more time here but we felt our stomachs grumbling so off we went to dinner. We ate in the “Vitale Cigar Room” at Bruce Colleys restaurant in Wimberley. Bruce is a former pro football player and has 13 kids with his wife, Holly. Thirteen! Bruce is a giant of a man too, so it was fun to see Lou and Bruce meet for the first time.
Bruce talked about how Lou had inspired him early on in life and came to tears at one point. Lou was flabbergasted that Bruce and Hollie had 13 kids and at how well behaved they were as they helped to serve the meal.
I sat next to Lou at the dinner table. We had appetizers, Steak, baked potato, salad and wine. Lou kept it clean and didn’t overindulge. I had the Vitale steak which is a 20 oz monster fit for the biggest bodybuilder or famous fitness celeb.
After a 3 hour dinner, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Austin. It was late around 10pm. I drove Lou and Brad back to their hotels. We talked about Arnold, Sergio, Steve Reeves, the fun that we had just had and plans to hang out again. Next on our list could be the Joe Weider Museum in Austin on the University of Texas campus. Lou asked me about my family, my wife, kids, about what I do for a living. He showed genuine interest in all of it. During the drive back, I mentioned that my former boss, Frank Capallupo was a Mr AAU MR America Masters winner and had placed 2nd to Boyer Coe as a teenager. He trained at the Duncan YMCA in Chicago (same as Sergio). Lou showed great interest in all of this. I couldn’t help myself, I dialed Frank’s phone number and handed the phone to Lou.
Frank got the shock of his life, when all of a sudden Lou said “Hello, this is Lou Ferrigno”. They talked for about 5 minutes. Frank and I used to watch “Pumping Iron” over and over again in the 90’s when we were both competing. We couldn’t get enough of all of the quotable lines and memorable scenes.
Once at the hotel, I got out hugged Lou, shook his hand and watched as he walked quickly to the hotel. I smiled all the way home – it was a night filled with great stories, great times and great food.
P.S. I have a ton of stories like this with various people in the bodybuilding and fitness industry. Be sure to enter your email for future articles like this so you don’t miss out!
P.P.S. I hope I didn’t talk him to death!