Ronnie Coleman: Then and now. Picture: Peter Brooker/REX/Shutterstock and Netflix
Ronnie Coleman: Then and now. Picture: Peter Brooker/REX/Shutterstock and Netflix

Bodybuilding legend now crippled

RONNIE Coleman never used his college degree in accounting, but numbers have still ruled his life.

The record eight Mr Olympia titles he won as the world's best bodybuilder. The 800-pound squat he famously repped twice. The insane measurements of his chest (150cm) and arms (61cm).

But now the digits that define his existence are incredibly depressing. The five 30mg oxycodone tablets he chews every day. The 10 surgeries to his back and hips that force him to relearn how to walk every year. The two crutches he needs to get anywhere.

Coleman's harrowing fall from the greatest bodybuilder in history to a shell of the man who redefined a sport is documented in a new film uploaded to Netflix this month and it's incredibly difficult to watch.

His rivals used phrases like "there was nobody you could compare him to", "he just wasn't human", "this guy looked like an alien" and "meat was just hanging off his back" to describe the Louisiana native in his prime.

But it's a much different story today as he pays the price of the enormous strain he put on his body for decades - and still refuses to stop working out.


There's dead lifts — and there's dead lifts.
There's dead lifts — and there's dead lifts.

The film, titled Ronnie Coleman: The King, documents Coleman's journey from a simple, country upbringing spent fishing and playing various sports to his domination of the bodybuilding world.

After failing to find work as an accountant post-school, he worked at Dominos before joining the police force in Texas and beginning to add to his already impressive physique by using the force's gym.

A gym owner in Arlington noticed his size and offered him a free membership and a promise he could turn him into a pro.

Coleman started training Monday through Saturday despite working full-time and after debuting in 1992 he shocked the world by upsetting favourite Flex Wheeler at the Mr Olympia contest in New York in 1998.

"I feel bad for people who didn't get to witness what Ronnie was in his prime," Wheeler says. "Pictures and videos don't do justice to the electricity that was in the air (when he competed) and just to gaze your eyes on that person."

"Ronnie Coleman had things on his body we'd never seen on a Mr Olympia prior to him and we probably won't see on a Mr Olympia again," added fellow competitor Shawn Ray said.

Coleman revolutionised the sport by maintaining the symmetry and composition of the sport's best while blowing them away with his incredible size.

Yes sir. Whatever you say.
Yes sir. Whatever you say.

His Mike Tyson-like lisp, laidback demeanour and catch phrases like "light weight baby" and "yeah buddy" made him a huge fan favourite.

"Ronnie just had it all," two-time Mr Olympia Jay Cutler said. "He was bigger than everyone. He was more conditioned than everyone. And he just didn't give a s***. He stood up on that stage and was just like 'I'm here, give me my (title) and I'm leaving with it'.

Arnold Schwarzenegger had taken the sport global in the 1970s but the weights Coleman lifted were on another level.

"Ronnie was lifting weights at the far end of the rack that were dusty," Ray said. "Things nobody would even fathom picking up. And he was doing it with relative ease, with repetitions."

"I wanted to work out with Ronnie," added fellow pro Chris Cormier. "I wanted to see how intense a champion's work ethic was. But you felt like you'd been in a physical fight after that work out."


A look at Coleman's screwed up spine. Picture: Netflix
A look at Coleman's screwed up spine. Picture: Netflix

Coleman won eight consecutive Mr Olympia titles before being dethroned by Cutler in 2006.

He stopped competing a few years later and soon began suffering from chronic injuries to hips - both of which have been replaced - and his lower back.

It's Coleman's eighth surgery that is documented in the film. At this point he'd had so many operations surgeons are forced to cut through the front of his body - temporarily removing his intestines - because there's so much scar tissue in his back.

"The pain is a nine or a 10 (out of 10)," Coleman says. "I've been in pain for so long now I'm just used to it."

Despite this life of agony it's revealed the now 54-year-old still goes to gym at 4.30am every day.

Dr Michael Hisey, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Texas Back Institute, describes Coleman's condition as an "advanced stage of degeneration" from the "wear and tear of all the weight he's put on his back over the years".

But he doesn't go as far as telling Coleman to stop training. "It's what he lives for, so we're just taking care of it," he says.

"If I had to pick, just for his back, (working out) is not the best thing. But for his overall wellbeing, I think he needs to (keep working out)."


Brian Dobson and Ron Coleman.
Brian Dobson and Ron Coleman.

The documentary makes it clear Coleman is responsible for the state he's in today but footage of the gym he's trained in for 30 years showcases a dusty, outdated sweat shop.

"He trained in a dungeon," Glazer said. "In my terms it would be labelled as a s***hole."

But Coleman insists it was responsible for his success. "You get used to a certain thing and you don't want to change. Because that's what's worked for you," he says.

Dobson admits his facility has come under criticism from the bodybuilding community for its training techniques and concedes Coleman's deterioration has been troubling.

"I cried the first time," Dobson said. "To me his strength was supernatural. It was so above and beyond everyone else's, it was very hard to see that. Especially when the hips went and he had to use a walker. That was tough for me."


Now. Picture: Netflix
Now. Picture: Netflix

After his most recent surgery in September this year Coleman excitedly told his 2.8 million Instagram followers how excited he was to be able to walk.

"Two days after surgery and it's a miracle that I can walk," he wrote. "Normally I'm on my way to rehab so they can help me to learn to walk again. This is the best I've felt after my last three surgeries. God is truly blessing me this time around because he knows that I definitely need the inspiration because lately I've been semi-depressed after all my surgeries.

"I'm really in a state of shock because after the same results after the same surgery you kinda get use to being not able to walk and come to expect it."

His life is by no means a complete disaster. He is happily married with four children and started a supplement company that now turns over north of 15 million dollars every year and allows him to travel the globe attending bodybuilding events.

"I can't feel sad for Ronnie Coleman because I knew there'd be a price to pay for what he was doing and I think for him that price was worth it," Ray said.

"He'd say he'd do it again. If you asked me, I'd say it's foolish. I'd never do that. I wouldn't want any of those trophies to have the body Ronnie has at 53, 54 years old."

"It's very sad," Cutler added. "It hits hard for me because I stood next to him and battled him and I admired the way he trained and sometimes thought 'man, I wish I could do that'.

"Now I look at it and think 'what did it?'. I'm not going to know the answer because Ronnie's not going to cry about anything … he's not going to make excuses.

"I feel sorry that it happened but I don't think Ronnie feels bad about it because he did what he had to do to be the greatest bodybuilder of all time. And he'll go down in history as the greatest bodybuilder of all time."

Ronnie Coleman: The King is now streaming on Netflix in Australia

Coleman's veins pulse through his tights in his prime.
Coleman's veins pulse through his tights in his prime.

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