TV & Movies

The Transformation Of Arnold Schwarzenegger From 1 To 74

Known originally for his perfect physique, Arnold Schwarzenegger made a name for himself as a bodybuilder. The big man from Austria transitioned from showing off his muscles on stage to flexing his acting chops on the big screen, and his first hit on screen was playing the buff and often shirtless “Conan the Barbarian.” Then, in 1984, Schwarzenegger landed one of his most iconic roles ever: the title character in “The Terminator.” In the film, he played a robot from the future and delivered the famous movie line “I’ll be back.” These three words helped turn Schwarzenegger into an action movie star. (The line “Get to the choppa” from “Predator” would only add fuel to his brightly burning stardom.) 

Starting with a challenging childhood, Schwarzenegger’s life became an incredible true story of an immigrant moving to the US with huge hopes and succeeding. Not that his path was easy; Schwarzenegger’s controversial past caught up with him several times. And he faced several scary health setbacks. But over the course of decades in the public eye, Schwarzenegger became a pop culture icon.

This is the transformation of Arnold Schwarzenegger from 1 to 74.

Life as a boy for Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Thal, Austria, in 1947, soon after the end of World War II. His dad was a police officer and “former Nazi stormtrooper,” author Tony Denera said in his book “Joining Arnold: Rise of the Girlie Man.” As a young man, Schwarzenegger was reportedly an average student in school but well-liked for his “cheerful” attitude. And in his free time, he often went to the cinema — alluding to a future career on screen. But the Schwarzenegger family was not wealthy and the young boy recalled his parents’ struggles. Since Schwarzenegger’s dad was a newer police officer, he didn’t make a lot of money.

As Schwarzenegger told NPR, “And we lived in this little house, and there was no food. It was really my mother had to go out and beg for food when she went from farm to farm and beg for food.” Schwarzenegger remembered his mom often begging to feed her family and admitted “it was really horrible.” Seeing this difficulty inspired the young man “to get out of that village and become the best in something.”

When did Arnold Schwarzenegger start lifting?

As a teenager, Arnold Schwarzenegger — surprise! — was an athlete. “I was involved in so many different sports, trying to search what it is that I’m good at, because I always felt like it’s through athletics I could get out of the country and become somebody,” he told NPR. But after seeing a professional bodybuilder and other strong men working out, the young boy became inspired to do the same. “I started cutting out pictures of these bodybuilding magazines and boxing magazines and weightlifting magazines and put them up on the wall above my bed,” Schwarzenegger revealed. This motivated the teen to begin powerlifting and training to get bigger.

Schwarzenegger started his weight training journey at the age of 15. At the time, he was not naturally big but had already developed a fitness base through sports. “I felt that although I was slim, I was well-developed, at least enough so that I could start going to the gym and start Olympic lifting,” Schwarzenegger once said (via “Joining Arnold: Rise of the Girlie Man”). And though he set his sights on bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger shared that his parents hoped he’d either get into law enforcement or study something practical. Suffice to say, he stuck to his dream, and working out sure seemed to work out for him.

Arnold Schwarzenegger broke the rules

In 1963, Arnold Schwarzenegger competed in his first bodybuilding contest. At the Steirer Hof Hotel in Graz, Austria, the young man placed second, as recounted in “Joining Arnold: Rise of the Girlie Man.” Then in 1965, as he was continuing to get more and more ripped in the gym, Schwarzenegger joined the Austrian army at the age of 18, per the country’s requirement. But Schwarzenegger didn’t let this stop his dreams. While serving, he went and won a bodybuilding contest… and got in trouble for leaving the base without warning. “Participating in the competition meant so much to me that I didn’t carefully think through the consequences,” he said in a 2001 speech (via “Joining Arnold”).

Despite his punishment, Schwarzenegger’s brief time in the military helped his professional goals. As a tank driver, he told NPR, “It was the first time that I had meat and protein every day. And that made me gain 25 pounds during the year.” Once his service ended, Schwarzenegger, who was 19, relocated to Munich, Germany, to continue his bodybuilding training.

Arnold Schwarzenegger pursued a perfect body

As chronicled in “Joining Arnold: Rise of the Girlie Man,” at the age of 19, Arnold Schwarzenegger headed to London for the Mr. Universe competition, where he placed second. While at the event, the book recounted, Schwarzenegger earned the nickname the “Austrian Oak” because of his “large build and the story of him performing chin ups from the limb of an oak tree.” Never one to give up, Austrian Oak headed back in 1967 and ultimately became the youngest Mr. Universe winner in the competition’s history. This moment was the culmination of Schwarzenegger’s hard work and original aspiration. Right as he began lifting weights, the young boy said Reg Park — a Mr. Universe winner and actor — became his idol. After seeing a photo of the strongman, Schwarzenegger recalled to NPR, “I immediately started creating visions of me standing there on the pedestal at the Mr. Universe contest.”

Joe Weider, one of the sponsors of the Mr. Universe contests, saw potential in Schwarzenegger to become even bigger — figuratively. ”I knew, and he knew, that he could be great,” Weider told The New York Times. “He was special because he was tall, he had willpower, charm and above all he wanted to win,” Weider added. With the intention of using Schwarzenegger to “turn bodybuilding into a mainstream sport,” Weider convinced the Austrian to move to the US in 1968.

The journey of Arnold Schwarzenegger to America

Soon after Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived in America, he competed in the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition. But similar to his experience at his first Mr. Universe event as a teen, Schwarzenegger came in second place in 1969 only to go on and win the next year, as detailed in “Joining Arnold: Rise of the Girlie Man.” Schwarzenegger also appeared in his first film as an actor in 1970, in what The New York Times called “the now-forgotten ‘Hercules in New York.'” It wasn’t exactly a critical darling. As Michael Bowen wrote for The Boston Globe (via MetaCritic), “When you become a megastar like Arnold Schwarzenegger, you must expect your past to jump up and bite you — especially if you’ve made a stinker like this one.” Here’s a factoid to keep in your back pocket for trivia night: Schwarzenegger was credited as Arnold Strong for the movie. 

Early in Schwarzenegger’s acting career, his brother and father died a year apart. However, as “Joining Arnold” noted, he did not go to either of their funerals. He also faced a serious setback in bodybuilding. While in South Africa in 1972, he injured himself training for the Mr. Olympia competition. But Schwarzenegger recovered in spectacular fashion. “I came back from that knee injury and my thighs were bigger and better and more cut in 1973 at the Olympia and I won the Mr. Olympia,” Schwarzenegger recalled on “The Tim Ferriss Show.”

The lucrative side hustle for Arnold Schwarzenegger

Even though Arnold Schwarzenegger already appeared in films after coming to America, he wasn’t confident in his ability to survive on just acting. As the big man shared on “The Tim Ferriss Show,” he recognized early on that many of his fellow aspiring actors “had to take anything that was offered to them” in order to make ends meet, so he decided to get into real estate on the side to support himself. He bought an apartment complex and then “quickly developed and traded up my buildings and bought more apartment buildings.” He noted the inflation rate in the ’70s made this purchase “unbeatable,” adding that “it was just one of those magic decades.” And according to Schwarzenegger, “I became a millionaire from my real estate investments. That was before my career took off in show business and acting.”

The strong man also worked on improving his mental state around that time. Schwarzenegger revealed he started to meditate heavily, using the Transcendental Meditation technique after he met a teacher of the mindful practice. “I got to the point where I could really disconnect my mind and stay and find a few seconds of this connection and rejuvenate the mind and learn how to focus more and to calm down,” Schwarzenegger remembered.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's big break in Hollywood

After appearing in a few other films, Arnold Schwarzenegger landed his biggest role in “Conan the Barbarian.” He explained on “The Tim Ferriss Show” that after the 1982 film, things took off for him, noting that the movie’s box office success landed him a contract to star in the sequel, “Conan the Destroyer.” It also paved the way for him to appear in “The Terminator” and “Commando.” Even though Schwarzenegger had a thick accent in “Conan the Destroyer,” he amazed audiences with his impossibly perfect body. As Schwarzenegger recalled to NPR, the film’s director, John Milius, “said that if we wouldn’t have had Arnold, we would have had to build one.” The actor added that his accent ended up being “such a valuable tool and an asset” in his career. 

Schwarzenegger then reached a personal achievement in 1983 when he officially became an American citizen. The actor told NPR it was his dream to move from Austria to what he called “the number one country in the world.” And on the day he became a citizen, Schwarzenegger remembered, “I wrapped myself with the American flag and we sang and played music, great American music.”

The truth behind Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator

James Cameron’s 1984 film “The Terminator” has been regarded as one of the best sci-fi movies ever by outlets like Wired, Esquire, and Rotten Tomatoes. The film turned Schwarzenegger into an even bigger star and was Cameron’s breakthrough as a director. In the movie, Schwarzenegger played a time-traveling cyborg that’s tasked with killing the mother of John Connor. Part of the reason that the movie performed so well was the excellent casting decision. Schwarzenegger revealed on “The Tim Ferriss Show” that Cameron once said, “[I]f we wouldn’t have had Schwarzenegger, then we couldn’t have done the movie because only he sounded like a machine. It was so believable that he actually played a machine.”

Coinciding with the popular sci-fi film was the rise of the action hero in the ’80s. Other big men like Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme started to become major stars in the decade, which helped Schwarzenegger’s career. He did note on “The Tim Ferriss Show” that the success of the action genre “was a little bit beyond my control, but I benefited from that.”

In the midst of all the action movies, Schwarzenegger married Maria Shriver, John F. Kennedy’s niece. Schwarzenegger finished a day of filming “Predator,” flew to Massachusetts, and arrived the day before his wedding, via Screen Rant. The ceremony was held on April 26, 1986, and Schwarzenegger returned to film the rest of “Predator” by April 30.

How Arnold Schwarzenegger helped save one of his movies

The screenwriters behind “Alien” drummed up a screenplay based on a Philip K. Dick story about a human being who heads to Mars but cannot totally recall much. The film, which went on to be called “Total Recall,” ran into multiple issues, and as the Los Angeles Times noted, it was once referred to as “The 10 Greatest Unproduced Films in Hollywood.” Per the publication, Arnold Schwarzenegger originally passed on the role, and it was set to go ahead with Patrick Swayze when the production company went bankrupt. But then, as one of the movie’s writers put it in the LA Times, “Arnold rescued it single-handedly.” The future governor both took the part and got Carolco to produce the film, which reportedly cost between $50 million and $60 million to make.

“Total Recall” was a huge success: Per Box Office Mojo, it pulled in a cool $261 million worldwide. What’s more, it was up for a BAFTA, a Hugo Award, and multiple Academy Awards, winning the Oscar for visual effects. Roger Ebert called it “one of the most complex and visually interesting science fiction movies in a long time” and Michael Wilmington described it in the Los Angeles Times (via MetaCritic) as “entertainingly raw and brutal.” And as The Ringer noted, the very lucrative hits kept on coming for Schwarzenegger: “Terminator 2,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “True Lies,” “Jingle All the Way,” and “Batman & Robin” were some of the other flicks he starred in throughout the ’90s.

Health struggles caught up with Arnold Schwarzenegger

In 1997, Arnold Schwarzenegger found himself in the hospital. He elected to have heart surgery “to replace an aortic valve,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Even though Schwarzenegger previously admitted to taking steroids as a bodybuilder, the performance enhancing drugs allegedly had no connection to the heart issue. “This is a congenital condition that’s existed in his family. We expect a very short recovery period,” a spokesperson for the actor said, per the LA Times. Schwarzenegger said he’d “never felt sick” but just wanted to get ahead of this while he was “young and healthy.” In 2020, Schwarzenegger again had a heart procedure. This time, to get “a new aortic valve to go along with my new pulmonary valve from my last surgery,” he shared in an Instagram post.

The same year as his first heart surgery, Schwarzenegger promoted his film “Batman & Robin” starring George Clooney as the crime fighting superhero. As The Guardian pointed out, many comic book fans considered it “one of the worst films ever made.” As the villain Mr. Freeze, Schwarzenegger’s icy one-liners left many viewers feeling cold; Vulture considered the movie Schwarzenegger’s second worst ever. But he made out well in the end with a huge paycheck. As Clooney revealed on “The Howard Stern Show,” Schwarzenegger reportedly earned $25 million for his role while Clooney made about $1 million.

The shady stories that came out about Arnold Schwarzenegger

Though he was one of the biggest movie stars in the world, Arnold Schwarzenegger faced major allegations at the start of the new millennium. In 2001, Premiere Magazine published an article called “Arnold the Barbarian.” While in London in the previous year, Schwarzenegger allegedly tried to inappropriately touch multiple women during a press tour. Anna Richardson from “Big Screen” claimed the actor touched her breasts. “I left the room quite shaken,” she remembered. “What was more upsetting was that his people rushed to protect him and scapegoated me, and not one person came to apologize afterward.” The article went on to detail other alleged incidents of Schwarzenegger, including during the “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” era. One employee of the film claimed Schwarzenegger fondled his co-star Linda Hamilton in a limo in front of director James Cameron. “The whole thing made me sick,” the source said. According to The New York Times, “Schwarzenegger dismissed the assertions as ‘trash.'”

In 2004, Richardson sued the actor for the aforementioned alleged incident and said “his staff later damaged her reputation by contending she encouraged his behavior,” CBS reported. Richardson and Schwarzenegger settled the libel suit in 2006, according to a statement obtained by the outlet.

How Arnold Schwarzenegger became the Governator

Appearing on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he planned to run for the governorship of California. This came as a result of the 2003 recall of California’s governor Gray Davis — the first governor recall election in the state’s history. As ABC7 recalled, 135 candidates ran for the same position, a roster that featured “media mogul Arianna Huffington, actor Gary Coleman, and Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt.” Schwarzenegger ran under the Republican party, and in the lead up to the vote, the actor faced a handful of criticisms, including even more accusations of sexual misconduct, per the Los Angeles Times. According to The New York Times, the candidate denied most of the allegations before admitting, “Yes, I have behaved badly sometimes.” He also offered an apology to “offended people.” Ultimately, Schwarzenegger won the position.

Showing his popularity with the state, Schwarzenegger easily secured his re-election bid in 2006 with 57% of the votes, per The Guardian. “This without any doubt is my favorite sequel,” he reportedly said at a victory rally. As the outlet pointed out, the win was also impressive because it occurred after voters “humiliated” the Governator by voting against proposals he’d backed, including one that would involve redoing California’s districts, per the LA Times.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's shocking admission

Towards the end of his time as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger made a soft return to acting. Fellow ’80s action star Sylvester Stallone used Schwarzenegger in a cameo role in the 2010 film “The Expendables.” In an interview for Bodybuilding.com, the former governor explained about the role, “Sly gave me a chance to work for four days, but it looked like I worked for weeks on the movie. They shot so much footage, from six in the morning to late at night.” The two men appeared in the first three films of the franchise together so when Stallone dropped out of “The Expendables 4,” so did Schwarzenegger. “There is no Expendables without Sly,” Schwarzenegger told Entertainment Weekly. “I would never do the movie without him, no.”

In his personal life, Schwarzenegger revealed a shocking truth to his Maria Shriver after leaving office. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the actor and politician admitted he’d cheated on his wife and had a kid outside of their marriage. Schwarzenegger had an affair with Mildred Baena, a member of the family’s housekeeping staff, and the two ultimately welcomed a son, Joseph Baena, in 1997.

In a statement, Schwarzenegger said, “There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused. I have apologized to Maria, my children and my family. I am truly sorry.” Shriver moved out of the family home and the couple separated as a result of the scandal that tore the Schwarzenegger family apart.

Back to the action for Arnold Schwarzenegger

As promised, Skynet’s most famous machine came back. Arnold Schwarzenegger went on to reprise his role in the 2015 film “Terminator Genisys” and then “Terminator: Dark Fate” in 2019. However, the action icon revealed that performing some of his own stunts was very different as a veteran actor than when he first started. “You realize that you are older now — times have changed and you have to prepare much better, much more,” he told Bodybuilding.com. “You have to work out harder. You have to do more cardiovascular training, more stretching, more warming up for the scenes. But, I noticed that anything is possible if you prep the right way.”

More than just continuing his roles in action movies, Schwarzenegger went from a politician to a TV star to fill the role of a TV star-turned-politician. In 2015, Schwarzenegger became the face of the “Celebrity Apprentice,” replacing Donald Trump, who had decided to run for president. Trump tweeted (via CNN) his support for the actor to take over his role and referred to Schwarzenegger as “my friend.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger remained an outspoken public figure

Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about his decades long friendship with Donald Trump in a 2017 interview for CNN, revealing that Trump wanted to contribute to his campaign for governor but Schwarzenegger turned away the money because it came from a casino. And for the 2016 presidential election, even as a member of the Republican party, Schwarzenegger admitted he didn’t cast a vote for Trump. The actor also urged “others not to vote for him,” a move that most likely “ticked him off.” He went on to explain that one of the main reasons he didn’t vote for his friend was “just along the issue that he wanted to bring coal back.” Schwarzenegger said that ever since he got into politics, he’d been “fighting for clean environment.” Obviously, those two platforms aren’t exactly compatible. 

Out of office, Schwarzenegger has continued to be a political activist and provide details of his personal life. Like when he urged people to stay at home in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic in a video where he also happened to be feeding carrots to his pet donkey Lulu and mini pony Whiskey. “We will get through this together,” he added in the caption. A year later, the former governor posted a video on Facebook showing him receiving a vaccine shot. And Schwarzenegger explained in a comment that he believed “you should know your strengths and listen to the experts” like Dr. Fauci. As a time-traveling robo-assassin would probably say, “I’ll be vaxxed.”

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