Francesco “Franco” Columbu was a formidable Italian athlete who made his name as a bodybuilder and powerlifter.
He achieved great success despite his relatively small stature – five foot five inches – was named Mr Olympia, and was reputed to be among the strongest men in the world at one time.
The bodybuilder was capable of extraordinary feats of strength, including lifting cars.
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Franco, You’ve heard me say that I don’t like when people call me a self-made man. You’ve even heard me say that you’re part of the reason I could never accept that label. But I wanted you to know why. From the minute we met in Munich, you were my partner in crime. We pushed each other, we competed with each other, and we laughed at every moment along the way. When I finally got to America, I was alone. I’d left my family, my country, my whole life behind. So when I asked Joe Weider to bring you to train with me, it was because I knew I wasn’t the same without my best friend. I could thrive without money, without my parents, but I couldn’t thrive without you. I am devastated today. But I am also so, so grateful for the 54 years of friendship and joy we shared. The pumps, the chess games, the construction work, the meals, the pranks, the life lessons – we did it all together. We grew and we learned and we loved. My life was more fun, more colorful, and more complete because of you. I will always miss you. But I’ll also know that a part of you lives on in me, in Debbie, in Maria, and in the millions of people you inspired every day you lived. And I will be there for Maria and Debbie, so you can rest now with no worries. I love you Franco. I will always remember the joy you brought to my life, the advices you gave me, and the twinkle in your eye that never disappeared. You were my best friend. Love always, Arnold
Columbu and Arnold Schwarzenegger met in Germany, and performed in different weight classes during their competition days.
They became close friends, and Columbu served as the best man at Schwarzenegger’s wedding to Maria Shriver.
At the encouragement of a bodybuilding trainer, both Schwarzenegger and Columbu came to the US in the late 1960s.
The Hollywood star has credited his Italian friend with supporting him during this time, when separation from his family was becoming a strain.
Like his friend, Columbu gained numerous film credits in small extra roles, though without achieving the Hollywood fame of Schwarzenegger.
He did however appear in his friend’s hits, including The Terminator and Conan The Barbarian.
The athlete would go on to devise men’s fitness regimes after his retirement from bodybuilding.