The sport of Strongman was officially created in 1977 when Transworld International created and produced the first World Strongest Man that was aired on CBS Television. That competition led to the formation of Strongman organizations and contests in countries around the globe. Today we have professional strongmen who compete in a circuit of contests on most every continent, with television coverage, Internet streaming, and a host of social media content to constantly entertain and awe the strength sports fans of the 21st century.
Strongman contests have evolved from eccentric- think the cheese hold event, and dangerous – Franco Columbo breaking his leg running with a refrigerator, to grueling and unbelievably heavy. Today’s strongmen are highly specialized athletes who are not former or current powerlifters who did little to no cardio based training for decades and then thrust themselves into Strongman contests when they took off in the late 1990s around the world.
Strongmen who have died during their competitive careers:
OD Wilson, came in 2nd at the 1990 WSM in a controversial decision, but died of a heart attack while at a radio station for a promotion in October 1991. OD was 37 years old, 6 feet 6” tall, 400lbs and had 42” quadriceps. Prior to entering strongman contests, OD had been in the U.S. Military for over ten years, capturing the prestigious U.S. Military Powerlifting Championship, the U.S. Senior National Championship, as well as the IPF World Championship title in 1988. In 1989, OD broke Bill Kazmaier’s ten year old all time Powerlifting total record by lifting 2430 lbs, with a 1002 lb squat, a 566 lb bench press, and an 876 lb deadlift. OD worked as a bodyguard for such celebrities as Michael and Janet Jackson as well as Heavy weight boxer Ray Mercer. Bill Kazmaier described that when he looked into OD eyes he saw a wild animal.
Jon Pall Sigmarsson, of Reykjavik, Iceland died in 1993 while deadlift training in his gym at the age of 33. Jon Pall suffered an aortic rupture while straining. Jon Pall was a triple threat as a strength athlete, having won WSM four times, he was a World Powerlifting Champion in the IPF, and in 1988 he won the bodybuilding title of Mr. Iceland. A coroner’s report cited anabolic steroids as having played a role in Sigmarsson’s untimely demise.
Sigmarsson was one of the most charismatic showmen to compete on strength’s biggest stage and at one time was under contract to Joe Weider. A fierce competitor who had epic rivalries with Bill Kazmaier and Geoff Capes.
Doyle Kenady, died at the age of 50 in Salem, Oregon from a heart attack. Doyle has suffered a heart attack in 1988 that forced him to retire from Powerlifting competition. In 1987 Doyle set the world record in the deadlift with a lift of 903 at the Hawaiian International Competition. Doyle had been a world champion powerlifter as well as a WSM competitor at the 1983 contest, finishing in 7th place. Dave Draper’s message board has a post which states that Doyle would eat up to 5 lbs of beef per day and drink 2 gallons of whole milk daily as well. Doyle has best official lifts of a 913 lb squat, a 561 lb bench press, and a 903lb deadlift. All of Doyle’s best lifts were done at World or National level meets.
Johnny Perry, Nebulon North Carolina was ranked the fourth best Strongman in the world at the time of his death in November 2002. A March 2003 coroner’s report cited large amounts of cocaine, GHB, and Oxycodone in Perry’s body at the time of his death – in addition to an enlarged heart. The report by the toxicologist did not cite steroids or any PEDs as being present at the time of Johnny’s demise. He was 29 at the time of his death.
Jesse Marunde of Sequim, Washington died following a workout at his gym in July of 2007, while he was in hard training for the World Strongest Man Contest in September of that year. Jesse was only 27 years of age and died of a genetically enlarged heart. Jesse had placed 2nd at the 2005 WSM Contest to Marius Pudzianowski, the first man to win 5 WSM titles.
Mike Jenkins died on Thanksgiving morning 2013, due to an enlarged heart caused by steroid abuse as well as the stimulants DMAA and caffeine which forced his weakened heart into dysrhythmia. Mike had won the Arnold Classic in 2012 and was 30 years old at the time of his death. At the time of his death, Mike held the American record in the log press and was closing in on the world log press record of Zydrunas Savickas.