ESCONDIDO, CA--Steve Reeves, whose Italian-made muscleman movies spawned over 100 imitations and whom MSTies got to ogle in episode 408 - HERCULES UNCHAINED and episode 502 - HERCULES, died May 1, 2000. He was 74.
Reeves died at Palomar Medical Center here of complications from lymphoma, a form of cancer, which had been diagnosed eight weeks ago.
Reeves was born in Glasgow, MT, on January 21, 1926, to a rancher and his wife. His father was killed in a farming accident before Steve was two years old. When Steve was ten, he and his mother moved to Oakland, CA. As he grew older, he became interested in bodybuilding and became a protege of Ed Yarick, an experienced trainer who operated a famous bodybuilding gym. During World War II Steve enlisted in the Army and was sent to fight in the Philippines. When he returned from the war, he came back to Yarick's gym and redoubled his efforts--efforts that soon began to pay off. He won the Mr. Pacific Coast title in both 1946 and 1947 and then was crowned Mr. America. It was then that he began to get noticed by filmmakers. One was Cecil B. DeMille, who was looking for someone to play the Biblical hero Samson. But DeMille asked Reeves to shed 20 pounds for the role, Steve refused and the role was given to Victor Mature. Steve continued his bodybuilding career: He placed second in both the 1948 Mr. Universe and the Mr. USA contest and gained top honors in the Mr. World competition that same year. Two years later, he won Mr. Universe for 1950. In the early 1950s, Steve appeared on Broadway in "The Vamp" starring Carol Channing. His first movie role was in 1954's "Jailbait" (directed by Ed Wood); his second film that year was much better--the big-budget movie musical "Athena" (with Debbie Reynolds, a film that, ironically, poked fun at the national health and fitness movement then sweeping the country).
Also in the 1950s, Reeves had a few TV appearances on shows including "Love That Bob," and "Burns And Allen." Reeves' physique landed him the title role in 1957's "Hercules," made in Italy. It was a huge success throughout Europe. In 1959, Reeves became one of the world's biggest box office draws based on the success of "Hercules." The next year he made the sequel, "Hercules Unchained." Hollywood producer Joseph E. Levine bought the distribution rights to both movies and brought them to America, where they were also hits. Suddenly, Reeves was an international star. Steve began making films back-to-back (or pec-to-pec): 1959's "Goliath and the Barbarians," "The White Warrior," 1960's "The Giant of Marathon," "Morgan The Pirate," "Thief of Baghdad," 1961's "Last Days of Pompeii," "Duel of the Titans," "The Trojan War," 1962's "The Avenger," "Son of Spartacus" (a.k.a. "The Slave"), 1963's "Sandokan The Great" (a.k.a. "Pirates of the Seven Seas") and "The Shortest Day."
Unknown to his many fans, however, Reeves suffered a terrible injury. During the 1959 filming of "The Last Days of Pompeii," Steve's chariot slammed into a tree, dislocating his shoulder. From then on, each stunt he performed in every succeeding movie injured the shoulder a little more until finally he was forced to end his film career.
Reeves reportedly turned down $100,000 for the role of James Bond in "Dr. No" (1962). Reeves produced and starred in his last movie, a western called "A Long Ride from Hell" in 1967.
In 1963, he married a Polish countess, Aline Czarzawicz and the couple retired to a ranch near San Diego to raise horses. She died of complications from a stroke in 1989.
Though he could no longer work out with heavy weights, Reeves continued to have a great influence on the bodybuilding world. He continued following a rigid fitness regimen, championing drug-free bodybuilding through his Steve Reeves International Society Web site and writing a workout guide, "Building the Classic Physique the Natural Way."