November-December 2013 | LOU FERRIGNO

LOU FERRIGNO
Lou FerrignoLOU FERRIGNOLou breaks out the Hulk pose with Tim Strange, host of  Spike TV’s “Search and Restore.”

10 MINUTES WITH...

LOU FERRIGNO

The gentle giant gave Coastal Style an exclusive interview during his recent visit to Ocean City.He was compelling and compassionate during his conversation with associate editor Nick Brandi as they discussed his early years, life in Hollywood, superheroe

Written By: Nick Brandi | Photographer: Grant L. Gursky

Just when you thought we pulled out all the superhero stops with our exclusive interview with Superman director Richard Donner, the team at Coastal Style went one better. We got The Incredible Hulk, too — or, rather, his equally incredible portrayer, Lou Ferrigno, who was also big-hearted enough to grant CSM an exclusive sit-down when he was in Ocean City recently for the 16th annual Endless Summer Cruisin’ show. And just as with Donner, Ferrigno was as nice, open and generous as a person could be (even though we had absolutely no intention of making him angry). Read on to see how this larger-than-life yet down-to-earth man overcame mountains of adversity to become the very symbol of power and an inspiration to millions around the world. 


NB: Wow, Lou, it’s a pleasure to meet you! You still look amazing – or should I say “incredible” — and what are you now, 62 years old?
LF: I’m 61 until November 9th; don’t rush me! [Smiles and winks.]

 
Let me confirm your vital stats, okay?
Shoot.

 
How tall are you?
About 6’ 5”.

 
What do you weigh?
Nowadays about 250, which is where I’m most comfortable at this point in my life.

 
What did you weigh in your prime?
285.

 
Your arms are still huge. What do they currently measure?
Probably 19”–19.5”.

 
So, obviously, you still hit the gym regularly.
Yes, five or six times a week – and I’m just as passionate about it now as I was when I was competing.


Are you on a special or highly restricted diet?
I wouldn’t say highly restricted, really. I just avoid eating greasy or fried food as much as possible and try not to eat anything too late.

 
Do you have any guilty-pleasure foods?
I have something of a sweet tooth, but I keep that under control.

 
When did you get serious about weightlifting?
I would say when I was about 12 years old.


What made you start?
It was a combination of factors, really. To begin with, I had a very tough father, who didn’t really approve of me because I wasn’t the perfect son he’d dreamed of.

 
How were you “imperfect”?
A series of ear infections when I was very young left me with permanent hearing loss of about 70%–80%, which made me less than the ideal son in my father’s eyes because I had a weakness or vulnerability.

 
To be honest, I heard that your father could be described as abusive. What do you think?
At times, I’d have to admit he was, yes. Seeing how he felt about me, I naturally became very introverted, shy and had a massive inferiority complex. Combine that with the world of comic books I had drifted into, and I eventually became kind of obsessed with power and the concept of it. That’s when I decided to make my body as physically powerful as I could, to overcome the adversity I’d experienced as a youth and to prove to my father, as well as myself, that I wasn’t weak or disadvantaged after all.


Is your father still with us?
He passed away 10 years ago.
 
 
Were you on speaking terms?
We had a love-hate relationship pretty much to the end. I found out he died about six weeks after the fact. He died very angry, but I forgave him because I wanted to make sure I didn’t become like him, which is what would have happened if I’d allowed myself to be swallowed up by my pain and resentment.

 
My research reveals that you had achieved some significant milestones in the world of professional bodybuilding. What would you say were the highlights of your bodybuilding career?
Well, to begin with, I was – and still am – the youngest person in history to have won the Mr. Universe competition, at age 21. I also won Mr. America that same year, 1973. Then I won Mr. Universe again the following year. I also participated in the first-ever World’s Strongest Man competition, in 1977, winning both the steel-bar bend and car-lift events.

 
Aren't those amazing results considering your vast size, which is thought of as a disadvantage in professional bodybuilding?
Yes, you could certainly say that, and yes, being bigger, specifically taller, is definitely is a disadvantage in bodybuilding.
 
 
Taking all that into consideration, who is the greatest bodybuilder of all time, in your opinion?
Can it be more than one person?


Sure.
Then I’d say Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steve Reeves. 

 
Very humble of you to have omitted yourself from the list.
Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you’d meant excluding myself.

 
I didn’t.
[Laughs] Okay, then, I would include myself among the other two because I think what I achieved at 6’5” was just as exceptional as what Arnold achieved at 6’2”. But don’t get me wrong: Arnold was amazing, and I think he’s probably the best, most intense competitor I’ve ever encountered – in any realm.

 
Do you guys ever bump into each other?
Once in a while, sure.

 
Is it tense or cordial?
Oh, it’s very cordial. We have a good rapport, and we respect each other very much.

 
What were your favorite comic books growing up and who are your favorite superheroes?
My favorites are Superman, The Hulk and Spider-Man.

 
Who would win in a fight, Superman or The Hulk?
[With a wink and a smile] Why, The Hulk of course!
 
 
At this point in time you’ve seen four different people play the Hulk’s alter-ego, Bruce Banner. Which one really nailed it the best?
Well, I’m probably biased on that question, but for me it was definitely the first one, Bill Bixby. After that I guess it was Edward Norton.


What kind of guy was Bill Bixby?
Bill was the best; actually, I considered him a mentor. Bill was a very genuine person but also a very private person. He was an actor, director and producer. He was an amazing guy and so talented. Take any modern drama series like “Law & Order” or even “Breaking Bad”; he’d have been phenomenal in either of those shows.
 
 
You were on The Celebrity Apprentice, correct?
Yes.


Many feel you weren’t treated all that well during your time there.
The other contestants thought that The Incredible Hulk was going to arrive on the set – all brawn, no brains. But, I wound up being the only athlete to make it on the show for that season, and I raised over $100,000 for my charity. There was a lot of jealousy and backstabbing going on with them, but I wanted to remain dignified and not lower myself to their level.

 
How was Donald Trump? Do you think that his epic-level pomposity is just an act, or do you think he’s really like that?
I actually have no problem with Donald Trump and respect where he’s coming from. The thing about Donald is that he respects you if you’re a hard worker, but he doesn’t like the BS. He’s basically very honest and says what he really thinks, which I find refreshing. I like Donald Trump.

 
Did you enjoy your time on King of Queens?
Yes, I did. It was fun.

 
Was Kevin James cool to work with?
Most comedians, especially him, are subdued and low-key when they’re not performing. But Kevin just came alive when the cameras rolled. He was very creative comedically and a nice man. I learned a lot from him.


You also know Stan Lee, right?
Oh my God, I love Stan Lee! He’s going to be 91 years old, and he’s got more energy than the three of us put together. I chose him to present me the Lifetime Achievement Award at Muscle Beach because I owe it all to him. If he hadn’t created The Incredible Hulk, I might never have found the inspiration to do what I did in my life. If there were no Stan Lee, there’d be no me.

 
On to more controversial subjects, you had the opportunity to get to know Michael Jackson.
He was my friend for 20 years.


I knew that you’d trained him, but I didn’t know you were friends for so long. Well, then, do you think he’s been misunderstood by the public and by history?
I certainly do. About 132 witnesses had testified to acquit him, and I think they all got it right. I think he was just being a big brother to those kids and nothing more. He was around my kids, and they loved him. His own kids absolutely adored him, and I witnessed that. It’s tragic really; there is a dark cloud attached to his legacy that I think doesn’t deserve to be there.

 
Who’s the most talented actor you ever worked with?
God, there are so many. Well, Bill [Bixby] was one, like I told you, but another one who stands out is Mickey Rourke, who I never actually worked with as an actor, but I did train him for a while. He’s a very fine and talented method actor; he really becomes his roles.

 
Who’s the most difficult celebrity you ever worked with?
I guess it would have to be [comedienne] Lisa Lampinelli. Just so difficult, so crazy and no class whatsoever. So many people would come up to me to complain how negative she was and how unpleasant she was to be around. Sadly, they were right.


What person living or dead would you most like to have dinner with?
Marlon Brando.
 
 
Whom do you admire more than anyone in the world?
My wife.

 
So, what are you doing to keep busy these days?
I made two movies, actually. One is called “The Liberator,” which is about an ex-military man who lost everything – his wife, his daughter and his money – in the wake of a scandal, so he’s basically become a pariah. In order to get his family back, and to set the record straight, he writes a tell-all book that attracts the attention of his former colleagues, who don’t want him to blow the whistle on them. So they send assassins to take him out. That will come out in the movies or on TV in about nine months. The other movie is called “The Scorpion King: The Lost Throne,” and I think it’s scheduled to come out in May of 2014.
 
 
Very exciting. What’s The Scorpion King about?
I’m sorry, but I’m under contractual obligation with Universal not to talk about it.

 
I understand. Can you at least say who costars with you in the movie?
Sure. Rutger Hauer [“Blade Runner”], Michael Biehn [“The Terminator”], Ellen Hollman [“Spartacus: War of the Damned”], Esme Bianco [“Game of Thrones”] and Victor Webster [“Continuum”].
 
 
What would you like your legacy to be?
I want to be remembered as a guy who came from nothing yet achieved all his dreams despite what many would consider a handicap, yet he made sure he gave back to the community and did what he could to empower others along the way.

 
And since nobody lives forever, what about your epitaph?
“Lived by and for the truth.”
 

I hear you have a website you’re pretty enthusiastic about?
I do! It’s called FerrignoFit.com, and it offers people customized meal plans, 
expert fitness tips — you don’t even need a personal trainer — life advice, videos and much more for just $99 for a 12-week program. The site is very well put 
together, and I’m very proud of it.
 

And we underdogs the world over are proud of you, Lou. Thank you for being our friend, our champion and our real-life superhero.
That’s extremely kind of you. I think as long as we believe in ourselves and never give up, chances are that our fondest dreams will eventually come true.
 
 
Editor’s note: Special thanks to Comcast Spotlight’s Patricia Ilczuk-Lavanceau, who made Lou Ferrigno’s exclusive interview with Coastal Style possible. Mr. Ferrigno was this year’s special guest at the 16th Annual Endless Summer Crusin’ show, at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. In 2014, look out for the 24th Annual Crusin’ Ocean City show, May 15-18, the OC Car & Truck show, June 21-22, as well as the Endless Summer Crusin’ show, Oct. 9-12, all at the Inlet parking lot and Roland E. Powell Convention Center.
 


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