“I want to be somebody.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Austria in 1947 to a Nazi police officer and his mild-tempered wife. Arnold’s father showed blatant and strong favoritism towards his older brother because of the unfounded suspicion that Arnold was not his biological child.
Both Arnold’s parents were harsh disciplinarians. Later Arnold would say, “”Back then in Austria it was a very different world … if we did something bad or we disobeyed our parents, the rod was not spared.” They were also very poor. Arnold recalls one of the highlights of his childhood was when his family got a refrigerator.
Very interested in sports as a boy, Arnold made the choice at 14 to become a bodybuilder, choosing this path over soccer. Bodybuilding at the time was seen as eccentric and didn’t have the kind of respect that it does today, largely thanks to Arnold’s professional body building career.
In 2004 in an interview with Fortune, Arnold said he suffered what “would now be called child abuse” at the hands of his father, whose funeral he did not attend in 1972.
I Want to Be Somebody
He told Fortune how his adversities made him passionate about success in life, saying that every time he was hit and every time he was told he will never succeed at body building, he would say, “This is not going to be for much longer, because I’m going to move out of here. I want to be rich. I want to be somebody.”
While serving his one year of mandatory military service in the Austrian Army, Arnold went AWOL to compete in the Junior Mr. Europe contest. After winning the competition he spent a week in military prison for going AWOL and was assigned to kitchen duties as punishment. This turned out to be an incredible opportunity for Arnold, who now had access to eat all the food he needed to accelerate his body building!
In his 2015 comedy special, standup comedian Bill Burr would later summarize the incredibly superlative distinction of Arnold’s path in life:
“That dude should be unloading trucks in Transylvania. That should have been the height of his success…”
He became famous for lifting weights. Did he rest on his laurels? No. Next challenge: I’m going to become an actor despite the fact that nobody can really understand me.
Against the Odds
Against all odds, he starts making movies! ‘Get down! There’s a bomb! Get out of there!’ He becomes one of the biggest blockbuster stars of all time! ‘What are you going to do next Arney?’ ‘I think I’ll marry a Kennedy.’ ‘There’s no way you can do that!’ Bam! He does it!
Cherry on top: ‘I’m running for governor of a state I can’t even pronounce,’ —and he wins the election! …anyone else think they can move to Austria, learn the language, become famous for working out, become a movie star, marry into their royalty, then hold public office?”
A True Olympian
After leaving the Army and competing in his first Mr. Universe competition in 1966 (taking second place that year), Arnold moved to London to begin training with one of the judges of the competition who offered to coach him.
Two years later he fulfilled his childhood dream of moving to America and took up residence in Los Angeles, California where he began working out at Gold’s Gym. In 1970 at age 23, he won his first Mr. Olympia competition in New York, a title he would win seven times setting a world record. He won Mr. Universe five times.
He would go on to parlay his athletic fame into a blockbuster movie career, earning him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and from there became governor of the state of California in 2003, serving until his term limit was up. He turns 70 this year and he still lifts weights to this day.