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Dave Draper, iconic American bodybuilder, dies at 79

Dave Draper preparing to catch Shannon Tate in the set of "Don't Make Waves"
MPTV vias Reuters
Dave Draper preparing to catch Shannon Tate in the set of "Don't Make Waves"

Dave Draper, the sinewy former Mr. Universe known as "the Blond Bomber," who inspired a generation of bodybuilders including Arnold Schwarzenegger, has died. He was 79.

His wife Laree Draper wrote on Facebook that he died on Tuesday, without giving a cause of death.

"I was with him and it was calm and peaceful," she said. "It, as his doctor told me a little while ago, was a good death."

Draper, who was born on April 16, 1942 in Secaucus, N.J. said that by the age of 12, barbells and dumbbells had become very important to him.

"They were my solid steel friends that I could trust," Draper wrote on his website. "When the going got tough, when I kept missing the baseball, and when girls were far too cute to talk to, the weights were there and they spoke my language."

After being crowned Mr. New Jersey in 1962, Draper took a job with the Weider Barbell Company in Santa Monica, Calif. and trained at Muscle Beach — a symbol of the 20th century fitness boom — with Joe Gold, founder of Gold's Gym, and renowned bodybuilders such as Frank Zane and Irvin "Zabo" Koszewski.

Draper was six feet tall and his ripped body weighed in at 235 pounds. Among the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness titles he won were Mr. America in 1965, Mr. Universe in 1966 and Mr. World in 1970.

One young Austrian-born bodybuilder he trained with at Muscle Beach, who would later become governor of California, recalled how he looked up to Draper.

"Dave Draper was an inspiration to millions of people all over the world, including me. He was one of my idols," Schwarzenegger wrote on his Instagram page.

Growing up in Austria, he kept a magazine cover photo of Draper "on the wall above my bed for motivation," and when he saw him star in the 1967 movie Don't Make Waves, "I thought, 'My dreams are possible.'"

"When I got to America and finally met Dave, I learned his heart was as big as his pecs," Schwarzenegger said.

Draper was featured in dozens of physique magazine cover shots and was open about his past use of steroids, saying, "If you're not taking them, don't. If you do, you'll wish you never did."

Draper also wrote books on bodybuilding and fitness. His last, a memoir titled A Glimpse in the Rear View, was published in 2020.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mia Estrada
Mia Estrada is a 2021-2022 Kroc Fellow. She will spend the year rotating through different parts of NPR, including the Culture Desk, National Desk and Weekend Edition.