1968 Kraft Sport Revue (German). Franco’s first magazine cover. His name is misspelled inside (Franco Colombo); his title is “Mr. Italy.” He was then living in Munich, Germany, as was his best friend and training partner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom he’d met in 1965. In September 1968, Columbu finished second in the short class of the NABBA Mr. Universe. Arnold won the Pro Mr. U and shortly thereafter moved to America.
December 1969 Muscular Development. First American cover. With the financial support of muscle mogul Joe Weider, Franco moved to Southern California in the summer of ’69 and was again living and training with Arnold. When he won both the IFBB and NABBA Mr. Universe short classes that September, he was catapulted into the bodybuilding limelight at 28. Still, editors mangled his name: Colombo again.
February 1971 Muscle Builder/Power. Having won the 1970 IFBB Mr. Universe, he was regularly featured in Weider ads and articles. This typical Weider cover of the era presented the Cali sand-and-tan lifestyle.
February 1972 Muscle Builder/Power. An emblematic shot of him posing with Arnold. Franco, who won the Mr. World in 1971, officially entered his first Mr. Olympia in 1972. (He appears to have also competed in 1969.) Oh, and once again, his name was misspelled!
May 1973 Muscle Builder/Power. A pose that shows why Franco possessed two of the all-time greatest pecs. Having thickened up, he placed second to Arnold in 1973’s three-man Mr. Olympia. He was also effectively second to Arnold in 1974 and the Pumping Iron year of 1975, winning the Olympia lightweight class while Arnold took the heavyweight and overall titles.
How To Become More Powerful, 1974 self-published 32-page booklet. Though never a world powerlifting champion, the 5’5” and 180-something Columbu was known for his phenomenal strength, especially in the deadlift. With a cowriter, he authored numerous training and diet books and booklets in the ’70s and ’80s.
October 1977 Muscle Builder/Power. Posing in the Santa Monica Mountains, Columbu displays his all-time best shape, which, with Arnold retired, won him the 1976 Mr. Olympia. He was on top of the bodybuilding world. However, by the day this issue hit the stands, in the year Pumping Iron catapulted bodybuilding into the limelight, he’d suffered a dislocated knee with a refrigerator on his back in the first World’s Strongest Man competition—seemingly a career-ending injury.
April 1981 Muscle & Fitness. A typically lighthearted ’80s M&F cover. In the year he turned 40, Columbu, then working as a chiropractor, was preparing for his comeback.
February 1982 Muscle Digest. Franco won the 1981 Mr. Olympia, but it remains one of bodybuilding’s most controversial decisions. Though he still flexed his remarkably dense pecs (if with gynecomastia) and ludicrously wide back, his legs, never a strength, were notably downsized four years after the WSM refrigerator injury. As seen on this cover, the next four placers (clockwise from upper right)—a transformed Tom Platz (3rd), spot-on Roy Callender (4th), Chris Dickerson (2nd), and Danny Padilla (5th)—all had their champions. Debate amongst yourselves.
June 1992 Flex. A fitting final bodybuilding cover for Franco Columbu (1941-2019)—hanging with Arnold, his best friend for 54 years, shirtless in the sunshine at Muscle Beach in the mid-’70s, joking, laughing, on one of those days they wished would never end.