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Joe Gold, at 82; bodybuilder and founder of famous gym

LOS ANGELES -- Joe Gold, the legendary bodybuilder who opened the first Gold's Gym and later launched the World Gym franchise, died Monday at Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital in Marina del Rey on the west side of Los Angeles. He was 82.

Mr. Gold had been hospitalized for a few days, said Mike Uretz, chief executive of World Gym International. The cause of death was not reported.

Mr. Gold opened Gold's Gym in the Venice section of Los Angeles in the mid-1960s. He sold it and the rights to the Gold name six years later. The new owners franchised Gold's Gyms, which grew to include hundreds of sites.

In 1977, Mr. Gold got back into the gym business with the World Gym chain, which now has more than 300 locations.

To bodybuilding insiders, Mr. Gold is known as much for the equipment he designed as for gyms. A machinist, Mr. Gold found ways to make workout machines enabling bodybuilders to go beyond dumbbells and barbells.

John Balik, publisher of Iron Man magazine, said Monday that, along with Vic Tanny and Jack LaLanne, Mr. Gold was a seminal figure in the fitness world because of his creative designs.

''Before Joe, a lot of things were designed for the 'look,' " said Balik. ''Joe loved to fiddle and create until he got things that felt right. The gym became in a sense a laboratory for his ideas on how to make pieces of equipment better."

Among Mr. Gold's devotees in the early days was bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to California in 1968, won the Mr. Universe title, became an action movie star and, in 2003, was elected California governor. Gold's Gym was famous as the place where Schwarzenegger trained and, when Mr. Gold opened World Gym on Main Street in nearby Santa Monica, Schwarzenegger followed.

''Joe Gold was a bodybuilding legend, a pioneer, but above all, deep in his heart, he was a bodybuilding fan," Schwarzenegger said in a statement Monday. The governor called Mr. Gold ''a trusted friend and father figure" who was instrumental in his training during his days as a bodybuilder.

In 1991, when Mr. Gold fell ill, Schwarzenegger ran World Gym for him for a year or two.

''He did it out of friendship with Joe," Uretz said. ''As soon as he saw that Joe was better and needed something to do, he just gave him the whole thing back."

Mr. Gold credited Schwarzenegger, who starred in ''Pumping Iron" (1977), for popularizing bodybuilding. Much of the documentary was filmed at the original Gold's Gym, which by then Mr. Gold had sold.

In 1992, Schwarzenegger told the Los Angeles Times that when he began working out at Gold's Gym after arriving in Los Angeles from Austria, ''I had no money and [Gold] let me train in his gym for free."

''He was the first person to give me advice," Schwarzenegger said. ''He also gave everyone nicknames. I kept thinking he would call me, `Hey, Big Arms!' or `Hey, Monster!' And he called me 'Balloon Belly.'

''He thought I had this massive body and that my abdominals were not defined enough. Instead of saying define your 'abs' more or train your waist more, he would say, 'Hi, Balloon Belly.' It inspired me to kill myself working out my abs."

Mr. Gold was born March 10, 1922, in East Los Angeles. He was the son of a junk dealer, and went to school at Belvedere junior and Roosevelt senior high schools. Schoolmate Harold Zinkin, who recounted the history of Santa Monica's Muscle Beach in a 1999 book, said Monday that Mr. Gold led a group of friends in creating the Dugout Athletic Club, a ''workout gym" in an auto-repair shop.

Zinkin, a champion weightlifter who invented the Universal Gym Machine and who remained a close friend of Mr. Gold, said Mr. Gold wore ''high-top shoes and tight Levis and tight shirts that showed shoulders and arms," prompting his friends to call him ''L'il Abner," after the muscle-bound comic book character created by Al Capp.

In his teens, Mr. Gold discovered Muscle Beach, where stuntmen, acrobats, and bodybuilders gathered. He began going there regularly to work out, play beach volleyball, and socialize.

''We were like a family, comparing new tricks and helping each other," LaLanne told the Times Monday. LaLanne, who said he would drive overnight from the San Francisco Bay Area on Fridays to be at the beach on weekends, was also a close friend of Mr. Gold.

Mr. Gold actually opened his first gym in New Orleans, where he had gone as a member of the merchant marine. During World War II, he joined the Navy and was badly injured when a torpedo exploded alongside his ship in the Philippines. He spent six months in a hospital and, although he recovered for the most part, he later suffered from crippling pain and spent much of his last years in a wheelchair.

''But when he came to the gym it was a matter of pride that he walked in," Uretz said, noting that Mr. Gold would use arm braces to help him walk. Even when Mr. Gold was in a wheelchair, Uretz said, ''You never noticed, because he was so powerful."

After the war, Mr. Gold returned to Muscle Beach and at various times went off as a chief boatswain with the merchant marine. In the late-1950s, he was recruited from the beach by sultry film star Mae West, who got an idea for a ''chorus line" of bodybuilders to back her up in an act she then created in Las Vegas. Besides Mr. Gold, the eight-man chorus line included Irvin ''Zabo" Koszewski and Miklos ''Mickey" Hargitay, who also won the Mr. Universe title and married actress Jayne Mansfield.

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