Franco Columbu, best known as former Mr. Olympia, died on August 30 at the age of 78. Born on the island of Sardinia in Italy, he won Mr. Olympia the year after Arnold Schwarzenegger retired from bodybuilding, and the two iconic fitness stars became each other’s closest friends.
It’s reported that Columbu drowned while swimming at the beach in the town of San Teodoro in Sardinia at around 2 p.m. local time, while other reports say Columbu suffered a heart attack while swimming. Emergency services airlifted Columbu to a local hospital where he was later pronounced dead. The legendary bodybuilder, Terminator actor, and chiropractor is survived by his wife, Deborah and their daughter, Maria.
Here’s what you need to know about Franco Columbu’s wife and family….
1. Deborah Drake Columbu was His Rock
Franco married Deborah Drake Columbu in 1990, and they’ve been happily together ever since. Naturally, Deborah her husband’s No. 1 fan, and she championed his post-bodybuilding career as he transitioned into movie. Deborah posted the movie poster of One More Round with the caption, “Congrats to Tommy Lee and Melinda, Franco and the cast. We had so much fun watching the film together. It’s a keeper!”
2. Franco’s Family Split Their Time Between LA and Italy
The couple split their time between California and Italy, as Franco’s sisters still lived in Sardinia, and liked to spend July 4 holidays in Lake Tahoe, where Deborah’s family would join. Their family gatherings always included Deborah’s mother, Dorothy, her sister, Laurie, and brother Mike.
Of their large family gatherings in Tahoe, Deborah’s mother wrote on Facebook, “Feeding 49 people 3x a day a bit tiring but we did it and no leftovers!”
3. Franco and Deborah’s Daughter Maria Is a Professional Dancer
Their daughter Maria trained in ballet and now works as a professional dancer. As parents, they encouraged her training, and she went on to study at the renowned La Scala Ballet School in Milan, Italy. In 2015, Deborah proudly posted a photo of her in ballet class on Facebook, in which Schwarzenegger signed and sent his good luck wishes for her budding career. He wrote, “Franco and Debbie, you can be so proud of Maria. She is doing so well. I love her passion for dancing. Love, Arnold.”
4. Arnold Schwarzenegger was Like a Real Brother to Franco
Arnold and Franco stood together through thick and thin, and Schwarzenegger was beloved by the Columbu’s entire extended family. Franco was the best man at his wedding to Maria Shriver, and Deborah and her sister would travel together to Schwarzenegger’s shows. Franco fully supported Schwarzenegger’s campaign for governor saying to TIME magazine, “He wants to do a big, beneficial thing, more than a movie—like straightening out this problem in California.”
Throughout the decades, career changes, and shooting action films together like Last Action Hero, Arnold and Franco remained best friends throughout their lives. Visiting one another’s homes in Los Angeles, and working out together at Gold’s Gym in Venice.
Following the news of Franco’s death Schwarzenegger penned a letter entitled, “To My Best Friend” in which he wrote, “I am devastated today. But I am also so, so grateful for the 54 years of friendship and joy we shared.”
5. Franco’s First Wife was Named Anita
Before finding love with Deborah, he was married to Anita, Fellow bodybuilder Petar Laden, who was also friendly with Schwarzenegger, designed Deborah and Franco’s Sardinia home. The couple also had a residence in Los Angeles. Talking to the L.A. Times Laden in 1986, “Before he developed his line vitamins, [Franco and Anita] had a chiropractic practice together for eight to 10 years.” They divorced sometimes between 1986 and 1990.