It’s a sad day for the bodybuilding community. Franco Columbu, a former Mr. Olympia and one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s closest friends, has died tragically at 78 on 30th of August, 2019.
Franco died on Friday, with reports out of Italy saying the legendary bodybuilder lost his life in an incident at sea in his native Sardinia.
Franco Columbu was transported to the hospital of Nuoro, he died at the San Francesco in the early afternoon. La Nuova reports that Columbu drowned while swimming at the beach in the town of San Teodoro in Sardinia at around 2 p.m. local time. Other reports says that Columbu suffered a heart attack while swimming. Emergency services airlifted Columbu to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Columbu is perhaps best remembered for his longtime friendship with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The two of them emigrated to America together in 1969 and started out as bricklayers before breaking into the world of competitive bodybuilding.
Schwarzenegger penned a tribute to Columbu on Medium on August 30. It was titled, “To My Best Friend.” Schwarzenegger referred to Columbu as his “partner in crime” and said that during their time training together they “laughed at every moment along the way.” Schwarzenegger said, “I am devastated today. But I am also so, so grateful for the 54 years of friendship and joy we shared.” The post included images of the pair posing in their heyday, on movie sets together and playing chess in their later years:
You’ve heard me say that I don’t like when people call me a self-made man.
You’ve even heard me say that you’re part of the reason I could never accept that label.
But I wanted you to know why.
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.
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.
I am devastated today. But I am also so, so grateful for the 54 years of friendship and joy we shared. 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.
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. And I will be there for Maria and Debbie, so you can rest now with no worries.
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.
Franco won Mr. Olympia way back in 1976, the year after Arnold retired from the famous bodybuilding competition. Franco won again in 1981, the year after Arnold’s comeback win.
In addition to his success as a bodybuilder, weightlifter and boxer, Franco also had a long career acting on TV and in movies.
Rest in Peace Franco, you will never be forgotten.
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