We received sad news today that professional bodybuilder Cedric McMillan died today at age 44. This is his story.

Born in Maplewood, New Jersey, on August 17, 1977, McMillan idolized Arnold Schwarzenegger after seeing Conan the Barbarian as a child. At around 13, his mother bought him a weight set and he began pumping iron. After high school, McMillan joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in South Carolina. Many subsequently thought of this Jersey native as a Southerner, as he came to think of himself. Even as he continued to train and grow, all while pursuing his military career, McMillan wasn’t particularly motivated to enter a bodybuilding contest.

Finally, at a friend’s encouragement, McMillan dieted down and stepped on a stage. His potential was evident from his first pose. In 2007, the year he turned 30, he won the super-heavyweight and overall NPC South Carolina State. The next year he did the same at the Junior USA. And the year after, he did the same yet again at America’s top amateur contest, the NPC Nationals.

Cedric McMillan profile
A classic pose: McMillan winning the 2009 NPC Nationals / Instagram

He went three for three over three years, and, at 32, Cedric McMillan was a pro bodybuilder. His pro placings roller-coasted up and down, depending on his conditioning. He won his first pro show in 2011, but was a distant 11th in the New York Pro that same year. Then, the next year he won the New York Pro. Up, down, up… He was best at the (American) Arnold Classic each March, where he cracked the top six all eight years he entered (2013-20), highlighted by his victory in 2017. In contrast, he struggled at the ultimate bodybuilding contest, the Mr. Olympia, where, in five tries, he never cracked the top six. (McMillan was seventh twice: 2016 and 2019.) The year he won the Arnold and many touted him as the next Mr. O, he was 10th in the Mr. Olympia. Up, down…

Cedric McMillan rarely dialed in the high-def cuts, but he had one of the most aesthetic physiques ever seen on a big man. Standing 6’1” and weighing around 270 in contest shape, he had remarkably proportional development, with no glaring weakness or strength. In fact, his strength was his everything. Big but never freakishly so, he sported pleasing lines and displayed his body masterfully, typically hitting classic shots to classical music. He was like a throwback to an earlier era, which is why Arnold Schwarzenegger was so effusive in his praise of him.

Throughout his roller-coasting career, Cedric McMillan was the very rare elite bodybuilder who kept a 9-5 job. He attained the rank of Army staff sergeant first class and was an instructor at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He was married and had four children. In 2020, he posted dual Instagram videos of he and his son curling. I interviewed him for FLEX magazine a few times, and I remember him insisting I not spruce up what he called his “Ebonics.” He just wanted me to keep it real, so he sounded as down-to-earth as he always was. That was Ced, a military man, a family man, a man of the people.

Cedric McMillan and Arnold Schwarzenegger
2017 Arnold Champ McMillan with his childhood idol / Instagram

After Cedric McMillan won the 2017 Arnold Classic, he stood onstage with his idol, Arnold, and the other members of the top six (sadly, second place finisher Dallas McCarver has also passed away), and he gave one of the best bodybuilding victory speeches of all time because it wasn’t self-congratulatory but it was instead a blueprint for a better way forward:

“I have problems with anxiety. And coming to a show and being here with people that I’m cool with, as opposed to people that got their game face on and they think they got to have a killer instinct in order to come up here in some bikinis and pose, we able to keep it real and not destroy each other.

The last thing I want to say…I just wanted to give a shout-out to this little kid, he eight years old, and he at home laying on the floor in the living room watching Conan the Barbarian, and he turned around and he looked at his mama and he said, ‘I want to be a muscleman when I grow up.’ And that little kid’s name was Cedric. Hey, I did this for you, baby.

So, while you guys can look up here and look at all those different body types, you see so much diversity in us, as well as the diversity that is within you. What I would like to ask is that we appreciate that diversity. You know it’s easy for us to say I don’t like his body type or I don’t think his body type should’ve won, but with the amount of diversity up here that gives you a better chance to find somebody that you can relate to, you know, somebody you can identify yourself with as motivation.

And let’s be straight up, the internet’s making shit worse because people get brave. They won’t say that in the street, you know what I’m saying. But really, I remember when I’d get my [bodybuilding] magazine, I was just happy to see everything in it. And now with so much hate and negative energy in the atmosphere. I wish we could filter that out and keep things positive.”

Yep, Ced kept it real. We extend our condolences to his family, friends, and many fans.