The 2004 death of bodybuilding pioneer Joe Gold brought to an end an important chapter in the history of the country’s fitness revolution.
Three years later, the recent closing of his local gym, known as Joe’s Best Gym, saddened many of his followers as it shut the final door for the family of friends here who cherished his legendary standard of excellence in bodybuilding. Joe’s legacy will continue on with the worldwide franchises of World Gym, his reincarnation, and Gold’s Gym, his namesake.
In talking with longtime friends, several thoughts are repeated over and over. There will never be another Joe Gold. He was unique. He was a loyal friend and an esteemed mentor. He was the glue that held everything together. It’s important to perpetuate his memory.
In the ’60s, before Joe opened his gym, there were only two places to go — Vince’s in Hollywood or the Dungeon in Santa Monica. Joe’s gym kept the bodybuilders in Venice.
It was like Cheers, the television show. It was a place where people could come and meet. You might not know someone well, but you could still make small talk.
Joe turned respectable a sport that started out as an underground subculture. Surprise was expressed that Venice hasn’t embraced Joe more for his contribution for putting it on the map as the premier bodybuilding community.
Here is a peek into what Joe was like as remembered by a few of his friends.
ï Frank Columb, a friend since 1960, recalls Joe, at that time, as being the kind of person you could take to or you might dislike intensely.
“In the ’60s he could be very outspoken, to put it kindly,” he says. “That rubbed people the wrong way. He was very vocal then. He mellowed out when he got older.”
Joe was the best man at Frank’s first wedding.
“He would be best man at someone’s wedding and the marriage wouldn’t last,” says Frank. “It was like the kiss of death.”
ï Jim Morris, a friend since 1961, recalls Joe’s love of animals. When Joe died, he left three dogs and two cats. The two male pedigreed Australian sheep dogs and two cats found homes.
“No one wanted the mixed-breed female, Hope, so she came to live with me and my dog James as a companion for James,” says Jim. “James passed away last year and now Hope is the joy of my life.
One of the gym members, a policewoman, found Hope as a puppy in the railroad yards of East L.A. and brought her to the gym. Joe said to leave her and he would ask the members if anyone wanted her. But no one wanted a mixed-breed female with a broken leg. So, kind-hearted Joe kept her. And I am so glad he did.
ï Franco Columbu, who started training at the gym in 1969, recalls Joe always fixing and remaking the equipment.
“When I didn’t like a handle on something like the triceps machine I would go to him and say, ‘This doesn’t work. You need to do it this way’,” he says. “Then he would say, ‘Oh, ok.’ This is something that I never saw in any other gym after that. He had a mechanics shop in his house and he would go there and work on it in the afternoon and the next day it was done.”
Early on, Joe had nicknames for everyone.
“A guy walked in, became a member — he made up a name for him” says Franco.
“Arnold [Schwartzenegger] used to be Bulk Top. He had a great stomach, a great waist, but one day he was relaxing and his stomach stuck out a little bit. Joe turns around and says to him, ‘Your new name is Balloon Belly.’ Then Arnold’s name was changed to Austrian Oak.
“I used to have long hair and they called me Sardinian Sampson.
“Joe had a very simple personality where he was friendly to everybody and was really fun but didn’t put up with any monkey business in the gym. If someone made trouble, he would give him his money back and let him go.”
ï Raymond “Sunday” Cavileer is one person whose nickname stuck. He lives in Orange County and would go to the gym only on Sunday. Today, people might not know who Raymond is, but mention Sunday and they’ll recognize the name right away.
Sunday remembers going to gym equipment shows with Joe.
“The salesmen would cringe when he came around the corner because he had no problem telling them what was wrong with their equipment and he always seemed to want to do it in front of some guy they were trying to make a sale to,” he says. “But they listened to him. Engineers always liked to hear what Joe had to say.
Joe always had a project going. A lot of people will sit around talking about doing stuff. Joe would always do it. He took chances.”
ï Heide Sutter says she was the first female to ever join the weight pen at the beach, in 1969, and the first female to go into Gold’s Gym on Pacific.
“Joe was really understanding,” she says. “Some people weren’t. One man came in and said, ‘I want women in my playpen, not in my weight pen.’ Joe wasn’t one of those. He was a very compassionate man.”