You have to have a certain mentality to be a bodybuilder on a professional level. To shape yourself into a creation of flesh and sinew that is outrageously different from the bodies of your peers is no common or simple task. And, not surprisingly, having that mentality can sometimes push people past the brink of madness. In this feature, we’ll tell of ten bodybuilders who took it over the line, whether it be with their own bodies or the bodies of others.
The saddest thing about bodybuilding is that it’s really not the best activity for your health. Sure, having big muscles looks cool and it’s nice to be able to lift stuff, but it’s not like the inside of your body gets stronger as a result of it. Many bodybuilders focus so hard on their aesthetics that they neglect important health issues. One tragic example is Anthony D’Arezzo, who suffered from cardiopyopathy, a congenital heart defect. Doctors warned him that if he didn’t stop pumping iron and doing steroids, the condition could kill him, but the lure of the gym was too much for D’Arezzo. In 2006, he ignored doctor’s orders and started working out and shooting growth hormones. He flew to Pittsburgh to compete and died of a heart attack in his hotel room the night before the show.
There are some bodybuilders who are all about size — pushing a muscle to the absolute maximum size it can reach. These bodybuilders are specialists, focusing on just one muscle as opposed to making the whole body a harmonious whole. Moustafa Ismail is one of them, and he holds the record for the largest biceps in the world. The rest of Ismail’s frame is harmonious and fit, but his bulging biceps — which he maintains with an insane exercise regimen and seven pounds of protein a day — are 31 inches in diameter. For reference, that’s about as big as an average man’s waist. Ismail denies any claims of cheating with stuff like Synthol injections and complains that it’s very difficult to buy shirts that accommodate his audacious arm muscles.
Anabolic steroids can create astounding changes in even the most gentle personality. San Francisco bodybuilder Gordon Kimbrough was a perfect example. Family members described him as a shy, quiet man who wouldn’t hurt a fly before he started cycling on growth hormone to increase the size and definition of his muscles. The artificial hormones turned him into a very different person, though, and in 1993 he snapped and murdered his fiancée, Kristy Ramsay, in a fit of passion because he thought she’d found another man. Police found him the next day at the scene trying to inject enough Lysol into his neck to kill himself.
When bodybuilders get so obsessed with their size, they can take some desperate measures to get big. One of the most popular aids in recent years has been synthol, a synthetic oil that is directly injected into a muscle to inflate it. The end result looks unnatural and bizarre, but it certainly does the job. Gregg Valentino was, at one point, the man with the largest arms in the world, and he employed synthol to keep them huge. Administering all of those injections took its toll on Valentino, though, and he developed a hematoma in his right arm that started leaking pus. He tried to drain it himself with a syringe and his bicep exploded, making a grotesque, bloody mess that resulted in a trip to the hospital.
It could be argued that the human body is not meant to possess the kind of raw physical strength that some of these bodybuilders bring to the table. If things go bad, they’re capable of causing a lot of damage with their bare hands. Take Ruben Arzu, a massive 300-pound mammoth of a man from Colton, California. How would you feel if you came home from a party and saw him stark naked on your lawn with menace in his eyes? That’s what happened to a Southern California couple in 2011. Arzu attacked the husband immediately, savagely beating him and breaking his jaw. When the wife ran inside to call the police, Arzu grabbed her by the head and fractured her skull. Thankfully, nobody was killed and the rampaging hulk was taken into custody.
Steroids aren’t the only thing that bodybuilders poison their bodies with. One of the greatest foes of a bodybuilder is water weight — to really make your muscles pop with definition, you need to have as little liquid in your system as possible. Many competitors resort to diuretics before they get on stage to push them over the edge, and these can have incredibly scary effects. One of the saddest stories is of Austrian legend Andreas Munzer, who was renowned for his extremely low body fat. In 1996, Munzer was rushed to a hospital complaining of stomach pain and died on the operating table. His autopsy revealed that he had numerous tumors on his liver, his testicles were shrunken and his heart was twice the size of a normal man’s, all a result of his chemical abuse.
The thing with steroids, though, is they turn your temper into something to be feared. Even the most minor slight has been proven to set off a roid-addled bodybuilder, and the results are catastrophic. In 2011, giant bodybuilder Chad Brothers was in the middle of a workout at a Gold’s Gym in Latham, New York, when he tripped and fell off of an elliptical machine. That was all it took to send him on a wild tear through the facility, threatening people and damaging property. Surveillance video sees Brothers rampaging through the gym wired on a lethal combination of PCP and steroids, smashing and toppling extremely heavy gym equipment. When the police showed up to apprehend him, it took two shots with a Taser to bring him down, and he passed out and died an hour later.
One of the scariest things about the effects of human growth hormone on the brain is that it can lurk unnoticed for years. Take Bertil Fox; for most of his life, the St. Kitts-born muscle pro was a genial sort, famous for his incredible muscle density. After winning multiple titles in England and the United States, he returned to St. Kitts with his wife to start his own gym. Then one day in 1997, he walked into the dress shop that his mother-in-law owned and shot her and his wife with a pistol. He claims that it was in self-defense, but the evidence was against him and he was sent to jail for life.
Female bodybuilders aren’t exempt from the insanity either. Having all that testosterone in your body can really wreak havoc on your decision-making skills. Take the case of Sally McNeil. A former Marine, McNeil got involved in professional bodybuilding after leaving the service, along with her husband Ray. McNeil was often seized by insane jealousy, once savagely beating another woman because she believed that Ray was having an affair with her. She also once dropped a 70-pound weight on his car. Things came to a head in April 1996, when she pulled a shotgun on Ray and unloaded it into his chest, killing him instantly. She’s currently in jail and claims that the murder was in self-defense and that Ray was the one who struggled with roid rage.
Bodybuilding is, like many performance arts, a lot of preparation for a tiny little bit of time in the spotlight. All kinds of horrible things go on behind the curtain to get musclemen ready for their judgment. So the absolute worst thing that can happen to a pro is for something to interrupt that brief shining moment. For Australian competitor Gary Himing, he demonstrated the risks in bodybuilding in the most extreme way: by dying on stage. Himing was competing in the Masters division at the IFBB event in Victoria when he collapsed from a heart attack after his set. Amazingly enough, the show continued after his body was removed from the stage.