Franco Columbu, the former Mr. Olympia who died at the age of 78, was one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s closest friends.
Columbu’s cause of death stemmed from an incident at sea, according to TMZ. TMZ reported that the incident occurred in Columbu’s native Sardinia.
Over the years, Columbu held many bodybuilding titles. He was named Mr. Olympia, Mr. Universe, Mr. World, Mr. International, Mr. Europe and Mr. Italy.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger Labeled Franco Columbu His ‘Partner in Crime’
Schwarzenegger headlined his tribute to Columbu on Medium, “To My Best Friend.”
“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,” Arnold wrote.
“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.”
2. Schwarzenegger Remembered the Pranks & the Life Lessons
The Medium post described the friendship between Schwarzenegger and Columbu in detail.
“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,” wrote Arnold.
He concluded: “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.”
3. Franco Columbu Acted in a Number of Schwarzenegger’s Movies
In addition to being best friends, Franco Columbu acted in several Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicles. According to TMZ, he appeared in some of Arnold’s most famous hits, including “The Terminator,” “The Running Man,” and “Conan the Barbarian.”
In 1977, according to the Blast, they appeared together in “Pumping Iron,” which is a bodybuilding documentary.
The pair shared other careers; they both were bricklayers before turning to bodybuilding.
According to the New York Times, Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu “were brought to California by Joe Weider, the bodybuilding guru, who sponsored them, giving them a place to live and an $80 a week stipend.”
Because the stipend was so low, Columbu told The Times that “he and Mr. Schwarzenegger began a bricklaying and patio business called European Brick Works in 1969.”
4. Schwarzenegger Wrote That He will Look After Columbu’s Wife & Daughter
Franco Columbu leaves behind wife, Deborah, and their daughter, Maria. In his Medium article, Arnold pledged to look after them.
“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,” Arnold wrote.
He added: “And I will be there for Maria and Debbie, so you can rest now with no worries.” Columbu’s daughter Maria is a professional dancer. He married wife Deborah in 1990.
5. Columbu Defended Schwarzenegger in Interviews
When Schwarzenegger decided to run for governor of California, his old friend Franco Columbu leapt to his defense in published interviews. He denied to Time Magazine that Arnold was on dialysis from steroid use.
“Absolutely not!” Columbu told Time. “The first time I heard the dialysis rumor was when we were skiing in Sun Valley. I got a call from someone telling me that Arnold was on dialysis, and I said, ‘No he’s not. He’s here skiing with me.'”
In the same article, Columbu is referred to as Schwarzenegger’s “Sancho Panza,” which refers to Don Quixote’s best friend and squire.
Franco Columbu won the title of Mr. Olympia the year after Arnold Schwarzenegger retired from bodybuilding.